Time to sing the praises of Sorbus! This genus comprises around 100 trees and shrubs including whitebeams (simple leaves) and rowans (compound leaves).
The rowans are an excellent choice for a small garden as they do not make big trees and they offer something all year round. Their berries range from white to yellow, orange, red and even pink and as the birds favour the darker berries first, if you have room to plant a selection, you are sure to keep them fed well into the winter months. Sorbus koehneana (white berries) and Sorbus rosieness (dark pink berries)
are particular favourites of mine. The former looks most striking against an evergreen backdrop and the latter will make an impact almost anywhere in the garden. They are tolerant of a wide range of soils – the Common Rowan or Sorbus aucuparia is thriving in the wet clay of our watermeadow.
If I had to choose one, it would be Sorbus alnifolia, also known as Korean Mountain Ash. This rare but elegant tree grows to around 17 m and offers something throughout the year. The leaves emerge in spring and are closely followed by dense clusters of showy white flowers. Once the sepals shed, the magnificent crimson/cerise berries emerge. As if this was not enough, the leaves then turn a wonderful scarlet/orange in autumn – a final display before it sleeps for the winter. I have three of these planted on a bank in my garden and I never tire of them.
Atthe other end of the spectrum is the Sorbus aria or Common Whitebeam. Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’ is the most widely planted clone and whenever I see this, I marvel at its beautiful simplicity. It offers no autumn colour and its flowers and berries are insignificant but all this is made up for, to my mind, by its smooth bark, regular domed shape and elegant leaves which unfold erect and silvery, like magnolia blooms in early spring. The under leaves remain startlingly silvery white, giving the crown a steely grey cast which is particularly heart-warming against a bright blue spring sky.
If you are looking for a small specimen tree, do consider the Sorbus genus.