Monday, 15 July 2013



I have always been very impressed with large specimen plants given pride of place in the landscape.
When studying for my National Diploma at Essex Institute of Agriculture at the end of the sixties there was a magnificent Cedar, (Cedrus atlantica glauca) on the college lawns. I was determined to have one for my garden, so ten years later I planted one in my small garden in Darlington. Six years later I realised my wee garden was just not big enough, though my young specimen was a real show stopper. Ever since then I have always planted a few specimen plants where ever space permitted.
Every garden, no matter how small can accommodate at least one specimen plant that makes that garden special if only for two to three weeks each year.
My first garden in St. Mary’s was very small but I planted a weeping birch tree, Betula pendula Youngii and trained the main stem ten feet up a tall cane before I allowed it to start weeping. When I left six years later it was just reaching the perfect specimen stage.
I have seen numerous gardens around Dundee that are very special with one having a particularly large and colourful Azalea, others with a Camelia, Eucalyptus, Cedar, a long tall fence smothered in Clematis Montana and a lovely specimen of bright red Chaenomeles Crimson and Gold.
Although my present garden is not huge it is big enough to allow me to indulge in a few medium sized specimen plants. This creates impact almost all year round as there is always one part of the garden looking good in each season.

Spring specimens are plentiful but space available will dictate number and type. Rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and even Forsythia will all make very impressive specimens if given ample space to grow unimpeded. If you have a good length of tall fencing plant a clematis montana rubens and let it ramble at free will. It will take a few years to thicken up but once established it covers itself in flowers every year. If you want an impressive tree plant the upright cherry, Prunus amanogawa, or if you have more space try Kanzan or Prunus shirotae both of which have immense flower power.

Summer specimens continue with the white scented shrub Philadelphus and Viburnum mariesii with its horizontal branches covered in white flowers. An excellent small tree is the golden leaved Robinia frisia but can be a bit fickle if we continue to get cold wet winters. It doesn’t mind the cold but not if its roots are in wet soil. Eucryphia can grow very tall as a small tree and gets smothered in white flowers in summer, but it is hard to beat a good climbing rose if you have space to let it grow to its full potential. My white Mme Alfred Carrier is over twelve feet tall and still growing and my scarlet Dublin Bay on a south facing wall about the same height. However they will need pruning in winter to maintain shape, removing some old wood and keeping a balance of young growths.

Autumn specimens are short lived when autumn colour is the theme, but some plants are so vivid they linger in the memory for a long time. Most rowan trees give brilliant autumn colour as well as all forms of maple and if space is plentiful try oaks, beech and hornbeam. Rowans also have loads of highly coloured berries of red, white, yellow and pink. The flowering cherries are also brilliant in autumn as well as spring. My best Japanese maple specimen is the coral bark maple Acer palmatum Sangokaku.

Winter specimens are a bit scarcer, but the maple Acer sangokaku has bright scarlet bark and twigs which are brilliant when the sun hits them. It is a small tree but deserves plenty of space to grow. My specimen fits in perfectly in my winter garden full of deciduous shrubs with highly coloured stems such as dogwoods, Kerria, red stemmed willows and Leycesteria. It is also a great specimen to add height to a heather garden.
A bigger specimen tree is the white stemmed birch tree Betula jacquemontii. It is important to make sure you get a well branched good specimen with a straight stem. As it grows remove just a few of the lower branches to expose the white trunk which peels off to reveal a warmer shade of white bark. In time this bark turns white. My tree is about ten years old and nearly twenty feet tall.

Plant of the week

Petunias are one of my favourite summer flowering bedding plants used for tubs and hanging baskets and come in numerous bright colours. They need warmth and sunny weather to bring out the flowers so recent summers have not been the best. I would never be without the large flowered blue variety as it is good to have strong dark blues amongst the other reds and yellow flowers and the blue form has a fantastic scent. They mix very well with geraniums, Impatiens, lobelia and French marigolds.


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