Amelanchier could possibly be considered a Holy Grail plant. It’s a small tree that fulfils the often asked for request of a tree that can be planted in a small, town garden. It provides several seasons of interest, from its masses of white star-shaped flowers in spring, to its colourful leaves in autumn and its edible fruits in mid-summer.
There are around 10 species of amelanchier, also known as snowy mespilus. They are all attractive trees with a haze of white flowers creating a snowy effect in spring. They are all hardy small trees and shrubs, mainly found in North America but with a few in Europe and Asia. The flowers are classic Rosaceae in form – five-petaled stars of either white or pink. They usually appear on bare branches just before the first leaves, which then unfurl in attractive bronze shades, later becoming richly coloured in the autumn.
The best-known species in the UK are A. canadensis and A. lamarckii. The two species are similar in appearance, with distinguishing features being that A. canadensis should have the more erect habit, while lamarckii has a more spreading habit and potential to become a small tree, not just a large shrub. Both produce a good display of spring blossom but racemes of canadensis are a little more erect to lamarckii’s more pendent ones.
Amelanchiers are ideal for small and low-maintenance gardens because few problems affect them once they are established. They are available in single and multi-stemmed form and enjoy growing on clay in an open position. They are not fussy but they don’t do well on a limey soil. Therefore, not suitable for all of us in Steyning!
Some species do sucker and these can be stooled or a selection of the stems removed after flowering. The lower branches of shrubs can also be removed, cleaning the lower part of the stem to allow for underplanting. Shade-loving, low-growing perennials like geranium, brunnera and ferns would do well. Also Tulips, especially those in pink or purple shades. If you don’t mind a bit of a contrast then try Tulipa orange emporer, this combination can be quite striking and will demand your attention whatever corner of the garden you plant them.