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WOULDN'T it be great to have a wood in your own back garden! And why not? It may sound a little adventurous, but even in a small plot it's possible.

Tree sales have reached the sky lately because everyone's been planting for the new Millennium. There is, after all, something hugely satisfying about knowing the fruits of your labours will be there long after you're gone!

So create your own mini-wood, choosing trees carefully, and over the years keep them in proportion with careful pruning.

Evergreens are out because they become too heavy and dominant. You'll also want to avoid too many flowering trees, which will produce an almost unsightly jumble of colour for only quite a short period.

What you must strive for is shape, texture, and an airy lightness - and this is best achieved with native deciduous trees. They have a lovely freshness in the spring when the new foliage breaks out, they are shady without being gloomy in summer, and are a riot of rich and subtle shades in the autumn. In the winter, the beauty of your mini wood will be in the network of branches and twigs, and the patterns and colours of the bark.

Multi-stemmed trees make the best possible use of a small space, creating the impression of a dense grove of trees. The birch variety (Betula) can be bought from nurseries but they are expensive. So, with a little patience, you should make your own display.

Buy whips - single stemmed seedlings - which are cheap, plant them and let them establish for a season, then cut them back to the third or fourth bud from the bottom and they'll soon take off.

Young trees tend to grow quite fast in the first few years so in a surprisingly short time you will have the makings of your wood.

Alders (Alnus) are closely related to birch. There is a wide variety of lovely forms with grey or gunmetal coloured bark. Common alder (A. glutinosa Imperialis) is quite a small tree with deeply incised ferny foliage. The grey alder (A. incana), and the American thin-leafed alder (A. tenuifolia) are also well worth growing.

Our native silver birch (Betula pendula) is fine for multi-stemming, while B. ermanii, river birch (B. nigra), and the Himalayan birch (B. utilis var. jacquemontii) are outstanding for bark colour in the winter.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), another birch cousin, is usually a hedging plant, but grown as a specimen it is extremely elegant. Birch, alder and hornbeam all produce catkins in the spring.

You may also want to try beech (Fagus), which will normally grow too large, but not the narrow forms like (F. sylvatica Dawyck), and the purple cut-leaf (F.s. Rohan Obelisk). The southern beech (Nothofagus) is a beauty which comes from Tierra del Fuego and Australasia and is becoming increasingly popular in here. Try the N. antarctica variety.

Woods are as attractive on the ground as above it, of course. By creating a wood that lets in plenty of light, producing a dappled shade, you are able to underplant it with spring flowers like snowdrops (Galanthus), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum), and for late summer and autumn flowering (C. hederifolium), and the different varieties of the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). These will be followed by the bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), and the Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica), primroses (Primula vulgaris) and wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa). In the summer our native Iris foetidissima, foxgloves and hardy geraniums will do well.


START sowing salad crops - lettuce and radish - at 10-day intervals for summer succession cropping.

SOW leeks in well-prepared soil in open ground.

UNDER cover with heat, sow lobelia and impatiens for summer bedding.

POPPIES put on a wonderful show. Sow them where they are to bloom in flower borders and among shrubs.


QAll my neighbours pruned their roses three or four weeks ago, but I haven't done mine yet. Will they suffer as a result? - Carol James, Portsmouth

A No. People often jump the gun with pruning roses and a hard frost could have damaged those done too early. The first couple of weeks in April is the best time to hard prune.

QI want the edge of my pond to be a real picture this year. Can you recommend some irises to plant by the water? - Colin Harvey, Leeds

A Yes - and don't they look great! Try our native yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus), the Japanese iris (I. ensata), and the lovely American blue flag (I. versicolor).
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Lyte, Charles
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 2, 2000
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