Beating about the birch
Birch trees (Betula) are an obvious choice for my fledgling garden. They usually tolerate less than perfect soils and exposed sites and they are not too big. They generally have elegant habits and usually have bark that is at least pleasant and often spectacular. They were among the first trees I planted, two years ago, in the garden.
The time has come to plant more, and, unfortunately, to move some that have not done as I planned.
The main problem is that my B. utilis jacquemontii ‘Long Stem’ which I somehow got into my head would be elegant, upright plants with pure white stems have proved to be nothing of the sort! Planted in spring 2018 they did very little other than survive the first, dry year. Then last year they put on a burst of growth that looked fine at first but which then flung itself at the ground. My elegant clump of three trees is now three weeping trees 1.5m high.
I know that weeping trees are attractive to some but I think they need using very carefully and three together will be a tangled mess in a few years so I now have to move them and put them in different places so they can develop properly and (preferably) be out of sight! The problem is that to get any height on these trees I have to stake the leaders till they get to the desired height and then let them drop. It will be interesting (and terrifying) to attempt to bend these stems upright and tie them to a cane without them breaking.
So I have their replacements ordered and coming today I hope, for the prime position where they can be seen from the living room window, to the north, so they will be lit up in winter when the sun shines. I have now got over my infatuation with white-stemmed birch (though there are a couple of others planted which are behaving as I wished) and have broadened my horizons. I have chosen Betula utilis subsp. albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’ Betula utilis subsp. albosinensis var. septentrionalis ‘China Ruby’ and Betula utilis subsp. albosinensis var. septentrionalis ‘Kansu’. (what a mouthful – no wonder they are so popular)
No pics for now since I don’t have them yet!
Generally B. utilis subsp. albosinensis var. septentrionalis, often called the Chinese red birch is a medium-sized tree, about 30m high and the bark peels, revealing layers of pink and orange. They may not be as immediately striking as the white-stemmed birches but they have a complexity of colouring that is very satisfying. Autumn colour is not exceptional but is usually a decent yellow.
For brevity, ‘Pink Champagne’ is a cultivar that arose at Stone Lane Gardens, Devon from seed collected in Gansu province in China by Dr Pan of the Chinese Academy of Forestry and has bark in orange and pink, with a white lustre from the waxy ‘bloom’ so distinctive in these birches. It is supposed to have deep green leaves and a neat shape as a mature tree. It was collected at Kaolan, near Lanchow, Gansu, China
‘China Ruby’ is supposed to be one of the smallest growing of these birches and was selected at Hilliers Nursery in Hampshire (UK) and is from a collection in China made by Wilson. It was named by Brian Humphrey in 1994 from a 3-stemmed tree plamted at Cambridge Botanic Garden. The bark is deep salmon pink that can look almost red when wet.
And then ‘Kansu’ (from Gansu) is supposed to be one of the biggest of this group and has peeling bark in shades of copper and pink. I only have one of these and may remove the leader so it branches low down (if it survives in transit, of course, and the job has not been done for me). *
These birch all have larger leaves than the common birch and a more ‘muscular’ habit, with thicker limbs. In spring they have long and fairly noticeable catkins which, though green, are pretty enough but these are not grown for their floral display. Birch have rather surface roots which I am hoping will help dry out my soil but they can make underplanting tricky as they form a matt of roots. In the last garden they grew upwards into nearby wooden raised beds and made it difficult to grow anything in the beds. But their light shade means that while you can’t grow petunias under them (why would you?), woodland shrubs and spring bulbs and hellebores will thrive. There is something quite sociable about birch. Other plants will grow around them and they always look best in groups for some reason.
I am trying to be sensible with these ‘foundation’ plantings and despite my desire to make the whole place a botanic garden with bits of everything scattered around (that will come later), I am planting a group of three of ‘Pink Champagne’ and of ‘China Ruby’, partly so they make a greater impact but also for garden design reasons.
At the moment I hanker to spend money on silly little plants but, as long as you don’t put them somewhere stupid you never regret buying and planting a tree.
Now where to put those weeping birch.
* These trees are all from Future Forests in Galway. I have used them before and they are very helpful, easy to deal with and the plants ordered so far have been very good. Not everything from the first planting has thrived but that was down to that drought year and maurading rabbits not the plants.
Please note – I do not receive any remuneration from companies mentioned in this blog, or discount so this is not an ad, just my personal experience as an ordinary customer and the name is given as a supplier of these plants for information for Irish readers. Remember that plants from mail order suppliers are usually smaller than from garden centres, for shipping reasons, but small plants often establish better than large ones.
Certainly, all very beautiful and attractive trees. One you don’t mention and which I like very much is Betula ‘White Light’ – , a cross between B. costata and B.utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ made by the late John Buckley of Birdhill, Co. Tipperary. It has good bark colour and the foliage colours well in autumn. I have a few other birches in the garden, some seed grown, and they all add to the garden. One complaint about B. utilis ‘Jacquemontii is that it is very shallow-rooted and planting or working the ground under them is quite a challenge.
Yes I agree about the surface roots. I did not mention ‘Spider Alley’ either, another Irish tree that I have planted at work but not at home yet. I was a bit unsure of it at first but she is maturing into a very handsome tree.
Mixed?! Gads, that is one of my pet peeves in landscapes (other than home gardens). I am presently working with a grove of California sycamore into which someone added London plane sycamores. The London plane sycamores ‘look’ like they are sycamores with problems. They sort of fit in, but are not quite compatible. As the others mature, I intend to remove the London planes. Our birches are the common European white birch, which happen to be the best for the particular application. When we want more for another area, we relocate seedlings. No other birches are allowed. I don’t want them to look like the London plane sycamores among the California sycamores. If we ever plant river birch or any other sort of birch, it will be in a different region, where they do not need to be compatible with the others. They are not the greatest trees in our region, but they are so pretty amongst the redwoods.
I understand your point and your problems but I am not planting ‘mixed’ birch although I am planting three of each of two and a single of another. But this is not a wild or landscape situation but a garden. I agree that for landscape purposes a drift of lots of one knd may be better but I am compromising between that and my desire to grow everything!
I am about to do that with palms, and I hope no one sees it. It is not easy to hide trees that get so tall. There is only one planned formal row of desert fan palms alternating with dwarf palmettos, which should be quite compatible because they are completely different. There might be a single Canary Island date palm across the driveway. The problem is that there are a few other visually incompatible palms, with only limited space in which to put them. I do not want to spread them out among the redwoods. If I can find homes for the most incompatible palms, and limit the herd to three or four compatible types, it ‘might’ work. I am afraid that it will look like a garage sale.