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.