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Top specimen trees for garden focal points

The long vistas you see in stately home gardens, with sweeping avenues drawing the eye to a single majestic tree, are designed to highlight a rare specimen, often brought by sea to England at great expense and considerable difficulty from a remote part of the world. While your garden is likely to be somewhat smaller, the same principle applies, and a well-chosen specimen tree can create a real impact, whether chosen for its canopy shape, foliage or colourful flowers.

Positioning and size

Where you place your specimen depends on the shape of your plot and the eventual size of the tree, but as a rule of thumb, the view of the tree from the house or patio should not be blocked by other plants. A weeping willow might work well in the centre of a lawn, but is likely to grow very tall, so it may be better closer to a boundary or next to a pond, whereas a dwarf blue pine or a Japanese maple will remain below three metres tall for at least 20 years. When buying a specimen tree, always seek the advice of the experts at the nursery or garden centre to avoid making an expensive mistake.

Specimen trees with colourful or unusual foliage

If it’s a statement colour you’re after, the beautiful deep scarlet of the Japanese maple acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ is hard to beat. The conifer family also offers enormous colour variety with examples like the lovely, icy blue tones of the Colorado blue spruce. The curly fronds of a witch hazel are very striking, and the pink catkins of the golden alder tree look spectacular in early spring. For autumn colour, the sweetgum tree has foliage in wonderful vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and purple, and the photinia tree offers a lovely contrast between the glowing red of new growth and the deep green of its more nature leaves.

Colourful flowers and vibrant blooms

Flowering cherry trees create a wonderful display in late spring and with weeping, dwarf and miniature varieties suitable for patio containers available, you’re bound to find the right variety for your garden. Magnolia and lilac trees also produce an abundance of blossoms, and North American redbud trees include varieties like pink pom pom and Chinese red, with beautiful small flowers in spring and lovely heart-shaped leaves that turn golden in autumn.

Wisteria trees are showstoppers too, and the pendulous purple flowers of the black dragon variety are undeniably stunning. Berries can be just as eye-catching as flowers. A holly tree can look incredible once the bright red berries form, and the spiked variegated leaves are impressive too.

Specimen fruit and nut trees

Fig trees are both attractive and productive, and plenty of pear and apple trees can look great as a focal point too. Plum, damson, and apricot trees are another possibility, and even a single tree can give you a sizeable annual crop. The Ingrid almond tree has pink, fragrant flowers in spring, and fruits with velvet-covered almonds in early autumn.

It may be time to release your inner landscape architect and create a charming vista of your own this year with a specimen tree.

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