Thank you for visiting our blog. If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them. I am often asked for trees for small gardens, and so I have developed a little list of my all-time favorites. I’ve grown most in my own garden and the rest in friend’s gardens. These are sturdy, easy to grow and in many cases reasonably drought tolerant. I have given the average full size for each, but if that looks too big for your garden, be assured that they can be kept to a smaller size with regular pruning.
CRAPE MYRTLE, Lagerstromia. There are many varieties, from shrub form to small trees to 25′. Deciduous. summer blooming. Fall color in most; spectacular in some (Muskogee, which is pink and Natchez, which blooms white). Heat loving, reasonably drought tolerant, gorgeous bark. Rounded head. When this one is blooming (right now), I love to sit in a particular chair which I have placed just so, and watch the sun set behind its lovely pink and green canopy (Muskogee). When the flowers finish, the seed heads form and when they open, the local finches declare a feast! This is my all-time favorite tree since I was very little and started noticing trees. It grew in a friend’s garden and I thought it was the loveliest thing in bloom that I had ever seen; and loved running my hand along its water colored bark. Still do.
CEANOTHUS RAY HARTMAN, Ray Hartman ceanothus. There are many varieties of Ceanothus, and some are small trees/large shrubs. Evergreen. It has a rounded head. Drought tolerant. 15 – 20’x 15 – 20′. This can be considered a large bush, but pruned to a tree, it can have a delightful umbrella shape and provide shade in a small space. Being evergreen, it can also provide some privacy year-round. I think all the Ceanothus are beautiful, but this one really stands out with its broadly rounded, quilted, medium-to-dark green leaves and broad branching structure make it a really desirable tree in the small garden. Its fragrant blue flowers bloom in the spring.
PINEAPPLE GUAVA, Feijoa sellowiana. 18 – 25′, can take heavy pruning in spring, so don’t worry if you want something smaller. Drought tolerant, but looks best with regular, deep watering Pretty white flowers with red centers (very sweet, edible petals, which my resident mockingbird enjoys very much) followed by delicious fruit. It has an open canopy so the shade is dappled. The overall color is very similar to an olive tree with grey-green leaves on the upper surface and whitish on the lower. Of course, with any plant you want to produce fruit it needs water, even though the tree is drought tolerant. If you want beautiful and fruit, it is only moderately so. I have one in a pot that makes a very decorative patio tree and one on my hillside that is larger and provides a moderate amount of shade. I LOVE the fruit!
CITRUS. What can I say?! ALL of them! Who can resist the idea of picking juicy, sweet fruit from their own garden? Not me. And, they make really beautiful trees with their bright green, glossy leaves, fragrant flowers and brightly colored fruit. The canopy of a citrus tree tends to provide dense shade. Allow at least 8′ for a full-sized citrus tree, although they can be pruned to a smaller size. Again, they produce fruit, so they are not drought tolerant. But the fruit is so much better than what is purchased in a market.
LAGUNARIA PATERSONIA, PRIMROSE TREE. This is a tree I was aware of, but didn’t fully appreciate until I walked by it one-day last week in the nursery. The soft pink flowers, which had just opened, drew me closer with its sweet scent. Not overpowering, but really, really nice! It has light green leaves and when its young it has a somewhat pyramidal shape. When it matures it becomes more umbrella shaped, thereby providing a nice shade underneath. It grows to to 20 – 25′ and is evergreen.
AGONIS BURGUNDY. This tree is (to my knowledge) a third generation Agonis tree. The parent is a really large tree, but this one, the grandchild, is pretty small at about 15′. It produces no noticeable blooms, but has color in its leaves. The new growth comes on a pinkish-burgundy and then matures to a rich green. The branches are thin and very flexible, so even a very light breeze makes it sway. It is so nice to have movement in the garden – and year-round color in the leaves.
PINK MELALEUCA, Melaleuca nesophila. This tree grows normally to 15’ or 20′. The really great thing about it, though, is that it does not grow straight. It twists and turns as it grows and attains a bonsai look in its horizontal growth. It produces pink flowers in the spring and has a white, shedding bark. It is evergreen. It probably won’t provide much shade, but the wonderful form it takes as it grows can become a conversation piece.
ACACIA CULTRIFORMIS, Knife-leaf acacia. This big shrub or small tree, depending on how it is pruned, has small, angular, blue-green leaves and little puff-balls of yellow flowers in the Spring. Grows to 15’ – 20′ high and wide. Its spreading nature is great if you are wanting to provide some shade in an area of your garden. Its branches are flexible and narrow, so they sway nicely in the breeze. If you are looking for privacy, this Acacia is dense enough to provide that, too.
CALIFORNIA HOLLY or TOYON, Heteromeles arbutifolia. I love this California native for its long, dark green, surf-board shaped leaves, the pretty clusters of small white flowers in summer and the red berries in fall and winter. It is evergreen and grows to 15’ – 20′. It can be a great big bush if left alone, but it can also be trimmed to be a small tree. Tough as nails and drought tolerant. I have just planted one where I want to block the view of the neighbors’ stucco wall in a small space near my entry. Also, remember, planting natives draws the native fauna to feast. I look forward to enjoying birds feeding on the red berries this fall and winter.
GOLD MEDALLION TREE, Cassia leptophylla. Pure, joyous sunshine in a tree! There are so many blooms, it glows! Bees love it! Hummers love it! Butterflies love it! It grows quickly to 20’ – 25′ and is mostly evergreen (if we have a really cold spell in winter then it will drop some leaves). The way the leaves grow on the branches, they look like bright green feathers. Bloom is in July – August, and sometimes later, too. It has an umbrella shape and so can cast a nice shade for a part of your patio where it might be too hot in summer.