Plants for a purpose: trees for small gardens

Trees for small gardens

Even the smallest garden benefits from including at least one tree – if chosen well, they provide year-round colour and interest, benefit wildlife and can make a small garden seem bigger. There’s a host of beautiful trees that can be grown in a small garden, and some that will thrive in a container. Here, we share some of our favourite trees for small gardens. There are options to suit every garden style and trees that will provide fabulous autumn foliage, beautiful spring blossom and delicious fruit for you or vibrant berries for the birds. Our choices include recommendations from the Gardeners’ World team and familiar faces from across the gardening industry.

Find more planting inspiration:


Sorbus vilmorinii

Sorbus vilmorinii has feathery foliage and berries that fade from red to white
Sorbus vilmorinii has feathery foliage and berries that fade from red to white

Chosen by Nick Bailey, Gardeners’ World presenter

Few so-called small garden trees are actually small, but this mountain ash forms a near perfect lollipop never taller than 5m. Its pale pinnate leaves have a delicate fern-like quality, which set off the white spring flowers and even whiter hanging clusters of autumn fruits, a treat.


Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’

Corylus maxima 'Purpurea' chosen by Frances Tophill
Known as purple filbert, this hardy, deciduous tree grows to around 6m tall

Chosen by Frances Tophill, Gardeners’ World presenter

In a small garden, you need something that will work hard for its space. With a hazel, like Corylus maximaPurpurea’, the flowers may not be traditional blossoms, but the catkins, really bring that feeling of joy as spring emerges, the purple leaves look lovely through the year, and in autumn (if you’re able to fit two) you get delicious cob nuts, and coppice wood to provide timber for pea sticks and structures.


Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’

Acer 'Osakazuki' is one of the best maples for autumn colour and grows to around 2.7m
Acer ‘Osakazuki’ is one of the best maples for autumn colour and grows to around 2.7m

Chosen by Toby Buckland, Gardeners’ World presenter

I love Japanese maples because they’re so dynamic. The red/green winter twigs are vibrant and bright, the unfurling foliage is as soft as chiffon and the autumn colour is spectacular. My favourite is Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ which, come November, tints a vivid crimson.


Prunus serrulata

Japanese cherry trees are pollution-tolerant small trees making them ideal for small city gardens
Japanese cherry trees are pollution-tolerant small trees, making them ideal for compact city gardens

Chosen by Manoj Malde, garden designer

Japanese cherries are proving to be drought tolerant trees through our hot summers, making them a great choice for future-proofing our gardens. I love growing Prunus serrulata ‘Pink Perfection’ as a multi-stem, as it gives me an interesting branch structure to look at in winter, while providing a profusion of pink flowers in late spring.


Sorbus aria

Sorbus aria is native to the south of England and grows to around 12m tall
Sorbus aria is native to the south of England and grows to around 12m tall

Chosen by Sue Kent, Gardeners’ World presenter

Sorbus aria (whitebeam) is a deciduous upright tree. For me the beautiful silver, white and grey lines of colour in the bark are part of its attraction, in spring this is complemented by small clusters of white flowers. The airy growth makes it perfect for a small garden, and if you choose a variety such as ‘Aurea’ the leaves are a lovely yellowy-light green, ensuring it never feels too heavy. Autumn interest is provided by dark red fruit.


Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Cornus controversa 'Variegata' grows to around 15m
Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ grows to 15m and in autumn it has yellow foliage and black fruits

Chosen by Emma Crawforth, horticultural editor

Known as the wedding-cake tree, as it grows into well-organised tiers of branches, Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ is a favourite for giving the wow factor from spring to autumn. Deciduous, this tree will drop its variegated foliage in autumn, leaving an attractive winter silhouette.

This variety is loved even by those who don’t usually like variegated plants, because the white-edged leaves contribute to its glamour, while in summer, the small white flowers add a little sparkle! It has an RHS Award of Garden Merit, suits a range of soils and needs a sunny or only partially shaded spot.


Apple tree

Apple trees can be trained as espaliers, which grow flat against a wall, to take up less space than a standard tree
Apple trees can be trained as espaliers, which grow flat against a wall, to take up less space than a standard tree

Chosen by James Alexander-Sinclair, columnist and garden designer

If your garden is really tiny then you need a tree that is adaptable and amenable to pruning. The best option would be fruity – probably an apple on a dwarf rootstock. Blossom as light and pink as a cloud of cupcakes and edible fruit in the autumn. Pretty ideal.


Cercis siliquastrum

The spring blossom of Cercis siliquastrum appears before the leaves
The spring blossom of Cercis siliquastrum appears before the leaves, clothing the bare stems in blooms

Chosen by Lily Middleton, content creator

A Judas tree is a great choice for smaller gardens, it’s slow growing, reaching just 4m in 20 years, and it packs a punch throughout the year. I love its display of magenta flowers in spring, but it also pulls its weight throughout summer with vibrant foliage, autumn colour and architectural impact in winter. It’ll be on my wishlist as soon as I have a slightly larger space than my tiny balcony!


Malus domestica ‘Lord Lambourne’

Apple 'Lord Lambourne' is a reliable cropper, at its best late-September to early-October
Apple ‘Lord Lambourne’ is a reliable cropper, at its best late-September to early-October

Chosen by Oliver Parsons, horticultural sub-editor

Grown on a dwarfing rootstock, this can be a perfect apple tree for a small garden. Mine lost one of its main stems when I planted it, so it’s rather lop-sided, but it still fruits heavily – I thin it mercilessly in early summer to make sure that the crop that I get is worthy of the fruit bowl.


Flamingo tree

Flamingo trees grow to 2.5m tall, making them ideal for small gardens or even large containers
Flamingo trees grow to 2.5m tall, making them ideal for small gardens or even large containers

Chosen by Catherine Mansley, digital editor

If you’re after big impact from a small tree then look no further than a flamingo tree (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ or ‘Flamingo’). Its spring foliage is variegated with splashes of cream and bright pink, and when the leaves drop in autumn, its orange stems are revealed. It can be grown as a large shrub or trained as a small standard tree.

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