23 May 2022

Gardening with Jo: Trees for a reason this season

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Trees for a reason this season

File photo: Gardening with Jo: Trees for a reason this season

As promised last week, I’ve been looking at trees that are best for each circumstance and have come up with the following list, to hopefully cover the main circumstances our customers encounter.

We think of this as ‘trees for a reason’, or to fit a purpose - where you need the trees you choose to either play a particular role; like provide screening and privacy, or suit specific conditions.

Screening & privacy

Portuguese Laurel or Prunus Lusitanica Angustifolia is a wonderful plant as it has so many uses. It has dark green, long and slightly pointed leaves on rich red stems, very like the colours of the Portuguese flag! It is native to southern France, Northern Spain and Portugal.

As well as being a very popular option for hedging, it is also an ideal species for growing as larger pieces of topiary or as a standard tree. It’s a really useful tree to create privacy above a wall or hedge. It grows naturally into a spherical shape and grows well with few problems.

The lollipop-shaped trees can be grown in pots or planters as well as in the open ground and can create beautiful large specimens with the right amount of pruning. We love them clipped into dome shapes over time which creates a wonderful formal look, reminiscent of Victorian estate gardens.

Prunus Laurocerasus ‘Novita’ is a variety of laurel selected for its exceptional hardiness. A fast-growing evergreen with large, glossy, rich green leaves, it is ideal for hedging or screening or as a space-filler under trees. Long, upright clusters of scented white flowers open on untrimmed plants in April, followed by glossy black berries.

Ilex Nellie Stevens is lovely holly with deep dark leaves, which is self-pollinating so guarantees an abundance of berries in the autumn and winter.

Windy & exposed sites

Alnus Cordata or Italian Alder is a large, vigorous deciduous tree with rounded green leaves and long - up to 10cm - catkins. It's a great tree for a shelter belt and isn’t particularly fussy as to its soil. The Italian Alder grows in excess of 12metres high in eventual height and can take an exposed position.


Cotoneaster Cornubia is a vigorous, semi-evergreen tree or shrub. It can be grown as a hedge screen or as a tree. It grows to around seven metres tall and provides year round interest, with dark green leaves, white clusters of flowers at midsummer and masses of red berries in autumn when the leaves turn yellow. This is also a fantastic tree for screening.

Pyracantha Red Coumn / Red Firethorn creates a dense and spiny evergreen hedge with bunches of small white flowers in summer and a magnificent show of round red berries in autumn. Loved by birds, its upright habit makes it ideal as a hedge, or for training against a wall. It is fast growing so will cover quite quickly to an eventual height of around 8-9 feet, spreading even wider.

Sound barrier

Pinus Sylvestris is a Scotch Pine we have been growing in our fields in Caragh, making them strong and bulky. Their needled blue green foliage and orange burnt red bark makes a lovely contrast.

The trunk is easily recognisable with a rugged texture, turning reddish brown near the top as it matures. Elevated above a tall trunk sits the bushy, upright crown that is host to dozens of grey-brown pine cones developing from the female flowers. With a mature height in excess of 10 metres, this conifer is suited to large gardens or woodland settings. For a small garden, you may want to look at our other pine trees. The growth rate of Pinus Sylvestris is relatively fast for a conifer, making it ideal for a sound barrier, screening and as a boundary tree.

Thuja Plicatta, or Western Red Cedar, is similar looking to Leylandii but not quite as fast growing so easier to maintain. Thuja have thick, olive green foliage that creates an ideal sound barrier as well as a dense privacy screen.

Thuja Smaragd or Emerald as it is also known is an evergreen conifer making a slow-growing conical shrub with erect sprays of bright green foliage. Plant individually as a specimen conifer or in a group or a formal row. It needs little, if any, trimming as it keeps its shape well. It has a growth rate of 30cm per year.

Large sites

Quercus Robur, or Irish Oak, is a wonderfully rugged and very handsome deciduous tree providing a rich habitat for other plants and valuable source of food for wildlife. It is ultimately a large tree with a broad head of spectacularly spreading branches filled with small clusters of catkins each spring. Masses of acorns follow in attractive autumn tints of bright yellow and russet brown. Ideal for larger gardens and open spaces.

Prunus Avium, the Wild Cherry, is one of the great glories of the woodland in spring, and makes an excellent specimen tree. Its distinctive spreading branches are laden with masses of bowl-shaped white flowers in April and May, and its autumn performance is no less spectacular when the leaves turn fiery red and orange. With shining reddish-brown bark and a broadly conical shape, this tree has a lot to offer in winter too.

Betula Pendula, or Silver Birch, is a graceful and attractive tree with its light airy foliage and distinctive white peeling bark. It has been an inspiration to writers, poets and artists in every season throughout the centuries. It is native to Ireland and its striking bark colour is one of the main reasons that the silver birch has become such a widely planted garden tree.

Small site

Prunus Yoshimo is an ideal small garden tree that is wide spreading. The Yoshimo cherry (cultivated for centuries in Yoshimo, Japan and introduced to Europe and America in 1902) is now one of the most popular flowering cherries worldwide. It has delicate, single white, sometimes blush, flowers in March-April that have a subtle, almond-like scent and emerge in a cloud of well packed clusters.


Betula ‘Jaquimontii’, or Himalayan Birch, is a distinctive upright tree noted for its dazzling white stems that look good all year round, even when the foliage has gone. Fresh green summer foliage turns rich gold colour in the autumn. Although beautiful as a specimen tree, these trees are excellent to create an avenue effect, or in groups of three or five in an impressive bed. The wispy, light foliage makes it ideal for underplanting as it lets a good amount of light through.

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