Plant of the Month: Cercis canadensis Forest Pansy

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a fantastic multi-stemmed tree that can be used in even the smallest gardens to provide height, structure, colour and seasonal interest throughout the year. There’s not much to dislike about this versatile little tree and the RHS seems to agree by giving it an award of gardening merit.

Its purple, heart-shaped leaves are not the only ornamental quality of this tree. It forms small crimson, pea like spring flowers that cling to bare wood, seemingly dangling in mid-air as they are unsupported by any foliage and are attached directly onto the stem of the tree. The foliage turns a lovely yellow in autumn and the zig/zag, twisting effect of the winter stems provide a different structure to most other deciduous shrubs in the winter garden.

There are six species of Cercis from temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Cercis canadensis is found in south-east Canada, the eastern United States and north-east Mexico. It has been grown in Britain since 1730. Forest Pansy is by far the most common form grown these days.

For best results, Cercis is best grown in fertile, moist but well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade. Hardiness is not a problem with Cercis canadensis, as this species comes from areas where winters are cold and conversely, summers are hot. Cercis are best planted young and once established, these members of the legume family hate being moved.

Cercis is best planted as the main focal point of a border or as a specimen in a lawn, however underplanting with spring flowering perennials like hellebores  or with a shrubby back drop of sarcococca confuse. By doing this you can extend the season and provide an extra blast  of colour before the flowers and foliage arrive in spring. Once the foliage covers this great little tree you  have a dramatic purple back drop for all your summer flowering perennials.