That’s an order.
We have a fantastic palette of native species to choose from up here in the Highlands. Orange-barked Scots Pine, Sessile Oak (slow-growing and long-lived), Birch, tremulous Aspen, Whitebeam, Rowan (berried Mountain Ash), Wild Cherry, Bird Cherry and a host of good-looking Willows plus many, many more. I love them all. To distraction and back again. But if you’re lucky enough to have grounds or policies to populate with new trees right now, if you’re on the brink of re-landscaping or just looking to enhance a smaller piece of ground, go on, give free rein to your arboreal imagination, look a little closer at the options and see what you can throw into the mix that’s a little different!
One of my favourite natives, the Wild Cherry or Gean (Prunus Avium), is already a broad-crowned blossom-drenched stunner but you can double-up on
impact with the double-flowered ‘Flore Plena’. Totally gorgeous.
If you think you’ve got the space why not try Blue Atlas Cedar? Yep, it eventually turns into a huge blue/grey spikey tower of enormous character but long before that happens you get decades of charming evergreen (everblue?) presence in the garden. Neat, sculptural, highly attractive – try making one the blue star of one of your larger shrub beds.
Crab Apple, the wild one (Malus Sylvestris), is a Scottish native but there are so many varieties there’s no excuse for not adding a ‘Hupehensis’, a ‘Red Sentinel’ or a deep pink ‘Profusion’ while you’re finding spaces for smaller trees. And don’t forget the Japanese Maples; it’s true they don’t seem to like cold winds, late frosts or exposed locations (I’m 100% with them on all of that) but, in a relatively sheltered spot, being challenged to thrive this far north just won’t bother them and their leaf colour really can’t be beaten. If dark leaves are your thing, get yourself an Acer Palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ and then plant it next to your Tulipifera Aureomarginata. The contrast in full summer will make you so joyful you’ll do cartwheels round your garden.
If you’re fond of the delicacy of a fluttering Birch crown, take a look at Gleditsia ‘Sunburst’ (Honey Locust). Golden-green foliage, tall and feathery. Or Liriodendron Tulipefera, the Tulip Tree, available in a neat fastigiate form for smaller spaces and as gorgeous variegated ‘Aureomarginata’ if you’re captivated, as I am, by marbled leaves.
How about a Walnut tree (Juglans Regia)? Plant it in an undisturbed corner and leave it alone to grow quietly into a stately specimen that’ll still be around to watch over your grandkids. Gingko Biloba with its intriguingly sculptural form grows just fine here, and Persian Ironwood (Parrotia Persica) does well in the right spot. Sadly Ash dieback is a serious threat to all Ash trees at the moment but, if you can get hold of Fraxinus Augustifolia ‘Raywood’ with a secure, disease-free provenance, well then you’re treating yourself. It’s an outstandingly beautiful tree, graceful, luminous green in spring and with exceptional claret-red leaf colour in autumn.
Finally, I’m a big fan of Chestnuts. Yes, I am. Not planted all that often these days – I think we’re a bit nervous about potential ultimate size and that broad crown – but both Sweet Chestnut and Horse Chestnut are just the grandest of trees with magnificent spring spikes of flowers (‘Briottii’ even has pink ones). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sobEaRpag6Y The oldest tree in Scotland is the Castanea Sativa (Sweet Chestnut) at Castle Leod near Strathpeffer. It was planted by Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots mother, in 1556. Mary of Guise had intelligence enough to turn down an offer of marriage from Henry VIII, who’s proposal, a short while after he’d beheaded his last wife, was the epitome of back-handed compliments. “I’m a big man,” he is reported to have said, “and I need a big wife.” Thinking of the recently deceased Anne Boleyn, Mary is said to have replied, ” I may be a big woman but I have a very little neck…” I hope she then did a big flounce. She married James V of Scotland instead.
Perhaps Mary loved those shiny, serrated leaves or maybe she just liked eating chestnuts. Who knows? But I can’t think of a better tree to plant if you want somebody with a love of history and a love of trees to take time out to comment 450 years after you’ve popped your clogs.