Trees for small gardens

Every garden should have a tree, even if it’s a really small one. Trees are the ultimate low-maintenance garden plant – choose the right one for your garden and it’ll happily look after itself, rewarding you with year after year of ornamental colour and structure without any fuss at all.

Apple tree

Whatever size your garden – even if you just have a balcony – there are many kinds of small tree which can fit the space you have to fill. Even if it’s as small a space as a container, there are all sorts of dwarf trees which are suitable for patio growing, including dwarf conifers, dwarf fruit trees and acers.

If you have a courtyard or urban garden, the addition of a small tree can turn it into a tranquil space to relax with shade and privacy. It’s well worth lifting a few paving slabs to plant a tree in a paved garden so that you can give your tree plenty of root space, then you won’t have to worry about watering or repotting it.

If you plan to plant a tree in a small garden, choose a variety that will typically grow to no more than 4-8m in height. Trees that are getting too large can always be topped and kept to the right size, but you don’t want a large root system growing under the house. A tree’s root system eventually grows to about twice the size of the tree, so it’s important to allow sufficient space from the house.

Why trees are so important

Trees play an enormous part in the good biological health of our surroundings, as well as our own personal health and wellbeing. They’re essential in any landscape, both in the countryside but possibly even more so within a city, where temperatures are warmer and pollution levels are high. With green space diminishing and trees often felled to make way for new developments, it’s a great idea to plant a tree in your garden whether it’s big or small.

  • Trees do the most effective job of filtering and cleansing the air. By the natural process of photosynthesis, they convert carbon dioxide in the air into pure oxygen for us to breath, and they do this more efficiently than any technology ever could.
  • Trees provide cool shade and moisten the air, helping to keep temperatures down in harsh urban environments. The combination of high air temperatures and pollution is particularly toxic.
  • Trees help reduce flooding – their root systems are sometimes more than twice the size of the actual tree and the whole system is constantly absorbing water from the ground. After heavy rainfall, drains can’t always cope which results in flood. In simple terms, the more trees there are to absorb water from the ground, the lesser the risk of flooding, or the quicker a flood is cleared.
  • Many trees provide a rich source of nectar for bees as well as a habitat for pollinators and wild birds. By planting a tree in your garden, you’ll also be offering a new nesting and feeding space for wild birds, safe from predators within its canopy.

10 great small trees

olive tree

These attractive silver-leaved trees like a hot, sunny location. They’re extremely drought tolerant and compact enough to grow happily in a container, making them ideal for growing on the patio or a sunny terrace. Olives take a while to ripen so they may not quite get to harvesting stage after a UK summer, but their ornamental appeal and neat, structural habit makes them a wonderful tree to grow in a small space. They can also be pruned into a neat ‘lollipop’ shape, which sits well with contemporary or classic styles. 


Acer (Japanese Maple)
Japanese Maples are slow growing with a fairly compact eventual height, depending on which variety you choose. Their distinctive, delicate foliage provides a long season of interest, often changing colour from spring, through to summer and autumn. Many varieties have spectacular autumn colour, with colours ranging from fiery red to orange, pink, purple and yellow. Acers are ericaceous, so unless you have acid soil they’re perfectly happy grown in a pot with ericaceous compost.

crab apple

Crab apple
Crab apples and other small fruit trees, like cherry, peach and apricot, are ideal for wildlife gardens, with nectar-rich blooms which attracts bees in spring, followed by summer and autumn fruit for wild birds. Many fruit trees are quite compact in size and suitable for a small garden. All crab apple or pear trees tend to be fairly small, but if buying a cherry or apple tree, check the eventual size of that variety, as some can get quite large.

birch trees

Some birches, such as common silver birch, can get very tall, although they can be suitable for a small garden if topped at a height of around 8-10ft. One of the best birch varieties for growing in a small garden is Betula utilis var. jacquemontii – a beautiful upright variety with striking white bark. You can get single or multi-stemed trees, which are both suitable for small gardens, however the multi-stemmed tends to be lower growing.


These magnificent trees produce a wonderful display of blooms during spring, so they’re a great low-maintenance way of injecting lots of spring colour into a small garden. Magnolias are all fairly compact – Magnolia stellata is one of the smallest, producing masses of white star-like blooms.


Also known as Sumac, this fantastic small tree really has a lot to offer when it comes to seasonal interest. With bold green foliage which turns to glowing shades or red and orange in autumn, along with attractive upright red flower clusters which last well into winter, it really is a tree for all seasons. Plus, the flower clusters can be dried and used to season dishes, it goes particularly well with middle-eastern food or as a topping on humous. Growing to a height of less than 8m, it’s perfectly well suited to a small sunny garden.


This wonderful small tree is ideal for planting in a front garden or small rear garden, typically reaching a maximum height of around 5m. The foliage is bronze tinted and provides a long season of contrasting colour in the garden, along with a fantastic display of white flowers in spring. This tree can tolerate a bit of shade, too, so it’s useful for enclosed gardens which receive less sunlight.


Arbutus, also known as Strawberry Tree, is a compact tree with a structural rounded habit. It has dense evergreen foliage which provides year-round screening, with the addition of unusual round yellow and red berries for colour. Arbutus look great in a small garden and are extremely low maintenance.

fan palm

Fan palm
Hardy palms are ideal for growing in sheltered small gardens and can also live happily in a large container. The Mediterranean fan palm (pictured) is a good choice, with broad fan-like leaves which grow outwards from a woody trunk. This low-maintenance and easy to grow palm creates an exotic look and is ideal for a sunny or partially shaded spot. Combine it with bright flowering plants to really accent the tropical theme.


Rowan, also known as Mountain Ash, is a wonderful variety with plenty of seasonal interest, and it’s great for wildlife too. The delicate green foliage emerges in spring along with a mass of white flower clusters which bees love. In autumn the foliage turns to rich shades of red and orange, followed by heavy clusters of eye-catching red berries. Growing to a compact size and exceptionally reliable, it’s a fantastic low-maintenance choice for any garden.


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RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

I visited the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 today – what a day! It’s always a privilege to be able to go to this amazing show. The Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens and Grand Pavilion are truly inspirational (not to mention colourful) and it’s hard to come away without wanting to add a bit of Chelsea magic into your own outdoor space.

David Harber and Savills Garden

The concepts behind the garden designs are both of the moment and thought provoking, highlighting human and global issues that are right at the forefront of today’s agenda, and how plants can help combat these in both environmental and therapeutic ways.

The planting combinations cover all conditions that you’d find in a typical UK garden as well as abroad, including planting ideas for shade, sun, dry or moist, damp soils. One thing I noticed this year is the spectrum of vibrant shades used. Soft and airy planting schemes are a lovely thing, but bold, vivid flowers are definitely making a comeback. Gone are the days of brash bedding plants that put the younger garden market off colour. This year you can really see how it’s possible to make a wonderfully tasteful planting scheme using plants of contrasting colours – bright orange flowers are partnered with ultra-violet and yellow, for example. I just love it! I’ve always liked this colourful style of planting, you just have to forget everything you know about clashing colours when it comes to flowers, I just don’t believe there are any two flowers that clash when planted together. The wonderful Beth Chatto, who sadly passed away this spring, always included all colours in her planting schemes. I will always remember one of her planting tips for borders, which I was told by a former Head Gardener of Trinity College in Cambridge while I worked there. This was to plant cool shades towards the ends of a border and more vibrant, warm shades in the middle. You wouldn’t necessarily notice it to look at, but it’ll draw your eye through the border and balance out perfectly. Since then, I’ve always seen the beauty in plants of all colours and how they complement each other to give a beautiful overall effect. So I would say, be brave with colour this year – you won’t regret it!

geum-anchusaGeum 'Totally Tangerine' and Anchusa 'Loddon Royalist'

I was busy putting my photos on Instagram for a lot of the day – here are some of the highlights:

A landscape of drought-tolerant plants in Sarah Price's M&G Garden

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Plants for coastal gardens

Living just eight miles from the Essex coast, I’m quite familier with working in coastal conditions and recommending plants which will thrive near the sea. The salty air, harsh exposure and light, dry soil can be difficult for some plants, so as always, success depends on choosing the right ones. Some of my client’s gardens are right next to the sea:

Seaside gardens tend to follow a certain theme, and that’s mainly down to the selection of plants and structural landscaping which are optimised to make the most of the conditions. Some plants just find combination of dry soil, exposed site and salty air a bit too challenging, resulting in scorched leaves or generally poor garden performance. But there are many kinds which will flourish and provide a wonderful display and lush, colourful surrounding, and these are repeatedly used in coastal gardens.


Another factor to bear in mind with coastal gardens is the dry, sandy soil. Unlike heavier soils, such as clay, chalk or loam, seaside gardens have very free draining sandy soil which doesn’t stay moist for long after watering or rain. When choosing plants for a dry, sandy site, try to choose varieties which tolerate drought well. Not only will selecting appropriate dry-loving plants save you water, but it means you’ll have more time to enjoy the garden, rather than watering it!

Design ideas for coastal gardens

Creating a rock, sand or shingle garden is a great way of incorporating plants that will thrive in a coastal position, as well as echoing the surrounding landscape. There are lots of Mediterranean plants which suit gravel gardens and can be planted in borders surrounding a gravel area, such as cistus, lavender, nerines, euphorbia and echinops. When choosing gravel, bear in mind that a 25kg bag should roughly cover an area of around one square metre. It will also be beneficial to the overall appearance of the garden to use a type of gravel or shingle that complements or matches other stone features in the garden. Before applying gravel, it’s a good idea to initially cover the area with a semi-permeable membrane to supress weeds.

Coastal gardens can be sun-soaked, which is great for sun lovers, but by planting a small tree or large shrub, you can create some shade which will not only avoid your garden becoming too hot and parched, but also to adds variation in planting within your garden. Some small trees, such as acers, thrive in typically coastal acid soils, but they don’t like a lot of exposure – however they can thrive beautifully in a sheltered seaside garden. Hawthorn is known for its ability to thrive in coastal conditions and can look very ornamental when it’s grown as a small tree. They’re prone to shooting out low twiggy branches, but if these are removed to expose a clean trunk, the overall habit is very pleasing. Bay is also an excellent choice for year-round structure and shade, plus you can use its leaves to flavour Mediterranean dishes. Most kinds of viburnum are also great for coastal gardens, with a long season of interest. Once you’ve created a bit of shade, this opens up the opportunity to grow some shade-loving plants beneath them, such as periwinkle, ferns, Japanese anemones and hellebores.

Seating area

You can make the most of a sun trap by turning it into a seating area, surrounded by tropical foliage plants, such as cannas and palms. Palms tolerate coastal conditions perfectly well and will add a touch of the Mediterranean to your own patch. Surrounding a sunny seating area with pots filled with sun and drought loving plants, such as geraniums or pelargoniums, will add colour and heighten the exotic charm.

Prairie-style gardens are very popular and also work well incorporated with gravel pathways and seating areas. Use ornamental grasses combined with upright summer flowering perennials, such as echinacea, rudbeckia and sedum (all of which suit sunny, dry conditions) and plant them in mounded beds to create this look.

If you have a large lawn, try dedicating a corner of it to long grass and turn it into a wilderness garden. To create your meadow area, lift the existing grass, cultivate the soil and sow with meadow flowers and rye grass. Water it well until it’s established, then mow a meandering pathway through it. A small apple or cherry tree planted within the wilderness garden will complete the look. A wilderness garden is low-maintenance and easy to manage – all you need to do is strim the grass down after summer, then let it grow back again in the spring.

If your coastal garden is sloped, add levels to create more planting area and useable space. There are a number of ways to add levels into a sloped garden – increasingly popular is the use of circular areas, either using paving or a brick-edged lawn, with steps leading between each lebel. Alternatively, you can use a series of retaining walls and have stepped straight levels. The use of walls also offers the opportunity to plant rockery plants which will hang over the edges, such as aubrieta and erigeron, or even to use succulents within the wall to add a sense of natural maturity.

Rockery pelargonium

Plants for coastal gardens

Here’s my pick of some of the plants I see thriving in coastal gardens every day:

Herbs for coastal gardens


Rosemary (pictured), thyme, oregano and sage do really well in hot, dry conditions and are known for their multiple culinary uses. What’s more, they’re all fully hardy, so they’ll provide you with a long season of fresh flavour in your cooking, year after year.

Trees for coastal gardens


Hawthorn (pictured), cordyline, holly, arbutus and Pinus mugo are all small trees which are ideal for growing in small coastal gardens or in more confined spaces. Larger trees include hornbeam, thuja, maritime pine and Turkey oak, all of which can become quite substantial over time, creating shade and seclusion in a big, open space.

Shrubs for coastal gardens


Thorny shrubs such as pyracantha (pictured) and berberis tend to do really well in coastal gardens, both of which look great in a shrubbery, providing plenty of seasonal interest from flowers and berries. Eleagnus and euonymus both add year-round colour with their variegated gold and green foliage. Another popular coastal shrub is escallonia – a wonderful bushy evergreen with glossy leaves and bright pink or white flowers during summer. If your garden is less exposed, or slightly further back from the sea, shrubs such as pittosporum, ribes, spiraea, phormium, hibiscus and forsythia also do well.

Hedging for coastal gardens


Create a low hedge with Lonicera nitida – a small-leaved bushy evergreen variety which makes a great alternative to box or privet, coping well with the salty air and strong winds. Euonymus, yew (pictured), beech, hawthorn and fuchsia are also great choices for hedging in seaside gardens.

Perennials for coastal gardens


Most hardy perennials will be fine in a coastal garden, but there are some that will do particularly well. You can create a fantastic border combination with these seaside classics: achillea, crocosmia, echinops (pictured), erysimum, euphorbia, geranium, kniphofia, rudbeckia, leucanthemum, sedum and verbena. Gardens right next to the sea are often exposed, sunny and bright – adding as much colour as possible means that it won’t look bland or washed out.

Rock garden plants for coastal gardens


Some of the most commonly used rock or gravel garden plants for coastal gardens include erigeron (pictured), ophiopogon, aubrieta, saxifraga, tulips, diascia, ceratostigma and alliums. Plant them so that they cascade over retaining walls, within the cracks in dry walling, or in gravel garden borders.






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Gardening supplement – Your Home magazine June 2018

I created a gardening supplement for Your Home magazine (June 2018 issue – available to buy from 2nd May 2018). It was such a fun project and I learned a lot in the process. I’ve uploaded a selection of the features from the supplement to my Media page.

And here’s me showing it off! (The cover wasn’t my choice but the rest of it is my work!)

See features from the Your Home June 2018 Gardening Supplement (Garden Style)


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Growing crinums

There’s nothing quite like crinums for creating a big impact in the garden in late summer. If you’re looking to grow something a bit different, or have a gap you’d like to fill with something impressive and statuesque, give crinums a try!


Flowering in late summer with giant lily-like blooms, they’re just what any garden needs to pick up the slack when the summer displays are slowing down. Not only do the blooms look magnificent, but their fragrance is absolutely heavenly. Each flower is held up high by a tall, sturdy stem (reaching up to 1.5m in height) and they look great towering gracefully in mixed borders or shrubberies, particularly when planted close to a pond.

Crinums, also known as swamp lilies, are bulbous perennials and come from sub-tropical areas including South America and South Africa. As their common name suggests, in the wild they’re found growing in boggy, marshy or swampy areas. That said, they don’t like to sit in wet soil all the time. A sunny border with deep, rich, free-draining soil is perfect for them. They love warm moist soil, and a typical UK summer provides just the right amount of both warm and wet conditions for them to thrive. Despite their more exotic origins, they’re quite hardy – they tolerate frost and can cope with a mild winter in sheltered gardens. To be on the safe side, they can easily be lifted and stored in a frost-free place over winter.


Alternatively, crinums can also be grown indoors. If you have a conservatory or ornamental greenhouse, they make a superb addition to your indoor displays and the smell truly delight the senses.

Find out how to grow crinums, and also some great planting partners for inspiration, on my guest post on Farmer Gracy’s blog ->

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My visit to Kew Gardens

I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew today to visit my friend, Miranda, who works there, and have a snoop at what goes on behind the scenes. Miranda propagates rare plants in the tropical nursery, so aside from the spectacular displays that are open to the public, I got to see some amazing rare species that are growing in the private glasshouses.

Here I am in the tropical nursery with the tiniest waterlily in the world (taken from Miranda’s Twitter) – it’s one of only a very small amount that exist, which was successfully propagted in that very nursery.

Here are some Instagram highlights from me from today:

The Hive at Kew Gardens #kewgardens #thehive

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Lovely Adiantum at #kewgardens #fern

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Weather-wise, today was a gloomy day so not great for taking photos. But Miranda’s captured some perfect shots – follow her on Instagram @kewplantswoman for some wonderful insights like this:

Wood anemone growing in an old tree stump, what a lovely idea.

A post shared by Miranda 🌿 (@kewplantswoman) on

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Growing bearded iris

If you’re planning on visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or watching the coverage on TV this year, there’s no doubt you’ll see plenty of bearded irises on display in the Grand Pavilion and Show Gardens. Flowering in early summer with magnificent honey-scented blooms raised tall above their neat, architectural foliage, they’re always a big feature at the show.


Versatile bearded irises are perfectly at home in most sunny borders, providing classic cottage-garden charm, and sit just as comfortably within a contemporary planting scheme. One of the best things about bearded iris is their resilience and strong garden performance – their ability to withstand freezing winter temperatures as well as very hot conditions and drought in the summer. Despite their grand, exotic-looking flowers, these non-fussy plants are fully hardy, meaning they can live in your garden for a very long time, repeating their beautiful display in early summer year after year.

Bearded Irises are also low maintenance, so they’re ideal if you’d rather spend more time enjoying the garden than working in it! Their foliage forms a neat upright fan shape which looks good for most of the year, and each stem bears multiple blooms which provide a fabulous display of colour and scent between May and June.


There are some technical terms about the blooms which are useful to note – they’re composed of three main parts – the ‘standards’ are the upper petals, the ‘falls’ are the lower petals and the ‘beard’, which is the fuzzy area within the flower throat.

Some varieties are two tone, with the standards and falls in differing shades or sometimes contrasting colours. Others have a bicolour flower, which often is edged or blushed. Some are just one colour all over for a more subtle effect, or for use within an already busy planting scheme.

Bearded Iris ‘Royal Satin’bearded-iris-black.jpg

If you like dark, almost black flowers, look no further than Gracy’s elite Iris ‘Royal Satin’. This is one great example of a ‘simple’ single-coloured iris which certainly doesn’t compromise on impact. The very dark mauve-blue blooms look really striking in mixed border, adding dramatic pinpoints to areas of soft, pastel shades, or equally so amongst foliage plants and shrubs.

Find out how to grow bearded irises and how you can save 25% on the fantastic range of bearded irises this week on my latest guest post on Farmer Gracy’s blog ->

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