When is a shrub a tree? And why are they so use­ful? Ruth Goudy ex­plains

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

Shrubs or trees?

THERE is a group of plants I call ‘the in­be­tween­ers’. They are the plants that are nei­ther tree nor shrub, but have qual­i­ties of both and they are in­valu­able when it comes to giv­ing a gar­den shape.

I em­ployed this term when a cus­tomer ap­proached ask­ing for a small tree that he would like to buy for his mother’s gar­den, as a present. As I talked through all the trees that we rec­om­mend for small gar­dens he kept say­ing ‘no that will be too big’. Per­haps rather slow on the up­take, I fi­nally grasped that he was look­ing for a plant that had the ‘feel­ing’ of be­ing a tree, but which was not tech­ni­cally a tree at all. In the end he chose an Acer Pal­ma­tum that was grafted onto a stem so that it would only grow to about five foot high.

Graft­ing is what clever plants­peo­ple do when they take the stem of one plant, cut the top and then grow an­other shrub onto it. I have never done this and it seems to me a cross be­tween su­per­glue and magic, but I have seen the re­sults and it re­ally works. We have sev­eral favourite spec­i­mens of graft­ing at the nurs­ery. The Salix Hakuro Nishiki is one of them. It has beau­ti­ful pink and white, flamin­go­like fo­liage that many mis­take for flow­ers when it comes into the leaf in the spring.

An­other ex­am­ple is flow­er­ing cherry grafted on a stem to look like a stan­dard. By do­ing this at a low height it gives the bush the look of a ball of blos­som in the spring and an at­trac­tive green struc­ture through the sum­mer. Both these plants are per­fect in a cen­tral bed in a lawn or, due to their size, they can be kept in a pot on a pa­tio or doorstep.

Of course there are hor­ti­cul­tural def­i­ni­tions of tree and shrub and, be­ing a book lover, I took great plea­sure in re­search­ing these. It is re­mark­ably straight­for­ward. Both are ‘woody’ plants, both have roots, but a tree has a main trunk while shrubs are multi-stemmed, of­ten branch­ing near the ground and are typ­i­cally not as tall as trees. I feel that, rather like the English lan­guage, these def­i­ni­tions are ab­so­lutely cry­ing out for ex­cep­tions to be made and con­tra­dic­tions to be pointed out.

In­stead of be­ing pedan­tic though, I thought I would share with you some larger plants that we be­lieve give the sense of hav­ing a tree in your gar­den yet on a smaller scale. These all have their own char­ac­ter­is­tics that bring an im­pres­sion of land­scape and airi­ness and some­times shade to the gar­den.

The first, Cor­nus, is one of my all time favourites. This is not to be con­fused with the Cor­nus that we grow for the bright red, orange and yel­low stems in win­ter. This is Cor­nus Kousa Chi­nen­sis, or an­other favourite, Cor­nus Con­tro­versa Var­ie­gata. What I like about these plants is their feel­ing of place­ment. They have lay­ered, open branches that means they sit well in a bor­der or on their own in a lawn.

With lay­ered, open branches Cor­nus sits well in a bor­der or on a lawn

The dain­tily flow­ered Ame­lanchier

Ruth Goudy

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