Good Trees

Good trees, brief but excellent working title. I have many a working title for one of these little articles of mine. Some disappear very quickly and some are kept. Good trees seems to some it up for today; although I particularly liked ‘200 word rant about gravel’ myself.


I wonder though, if I should at this stage say a little something about the names of plants and the reasons perhaps I like to stick to the botanical name where I can. There are several, but principally it is so both customer/client and I know exactly which plant we are currently discussing. It is not for the reason of ‘professional mysticism’ which is an excuse I have bandied about on occasion and was purely ironic in use.


The plant classification system was created by Carl Linnaeus in the 18 Century and is used to describe all living things by family, species, sub-species and variety. The reasons and scientific taxonomy behind each family name are very complicated and far beyond me. However the use of Linnaean listing and its’ use of Latin clearly and precisely describe which plant is being chosen, hopefully avoiding the confusion of being asked for a Japonica, providing a Chaenomeles and the client meaning a Camellia. It happens. It’s annoying for both parties and invariably it is me that looses the cost of the replacement.


So, how do you pronounce Latin? That’s not overly important but, with the best intentions, I find that imagining or having a slight northern accent helps. But, there is no correct way. Latin is very, very closely related to Spanish as I am sure you are aware and therefore pronouncing all the letters and using short vowel sounds is best for me. So, the Chaenomeles already mentioned is pronounced Kay-(a)-no-may-lees. Two I’s together is ee-eye.


Plant names are always in 2 parts. Firstly, what’s known as the Genus. This is the main plant name, such as Cercis (pronounced sir-siss), followed by the species name –canadensis- which often describes who or where the plant was discovered or first listed, or is descriptive of its form or leaf shape; canadesis in this case appertaining to Canada and then often a name in English which is the variety name. So there may be many Cercis canadesis on the planet, but in this case we are looking at ‘Forest Pansy’ because it has nicer flowers.


Plant names always follow the simple yet strict rules of Capital for the first name, lower case for the second name and a name which is usually in the mother tongue of the founder or classifier, always capitalized and in (‘) marks. Genus and species are always italicized, the cultivar is not. Bit complicated to describe here, but very simple way of classifying somewhere in the region of 10million species of living thing.220, 000 of which are flowering plants. And think for a moment that scientists think we have only classified about 10% of the planets’ population.


Plant names can be very descriptive with a little understanding. They can also be totally and wholly baffling. Acer palmatum ‘Atropurporeum’. A mouthful indeed. That’s the nice Japanese maple with the purple leaves which generally has to be grown in semi or dappled shade in high summer in Spain. But its name describes it perfectly. It is foremost an Acer. Same family as sycamore trees. If you look at the way the leaves come out of the branch and the shape and size of the bud you will notice the similarity and that is why it is put in that family. Secondly, palmatum. Why? Doesn’t look like a palm but many years ago the plant describers thought it did and so, hence the name. It is the name for Japanese Maples. Atropurporeum. Literally Latin for Very purple. Because there is after all a green one, a garnet red coloured one, a blood red one, an ordinary red one, a very green one with highly cut leaves, a yellow one and incidentally about another 170 with Japanese names to choose from.


So enough already! Back to what I want to look at. Good trees. Really good trees. Easily available and easy to grow and covered in flowers and giving shade and life to the garden canopy. Adding height and depth to the planting and creating the possibilities of secret hideaways from the kids or neighbours and beautiful scents to drift across the terrace in the spring evenings, bringing romance, and a touch of lost youth back to our middle aged lives. Yes, I am including me. Got your attention back? Good. Thought I’d lost it for a moment


Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’.


As first mentioned above and what got me going about names. It is one of 4 Judas trees that I found and I am sure there will be more. A little about the tree though. It is simply stunning when seen in maturity. Purple-pink flowers cover the bark of the tree. They spring from the branches themselves and not the more usual terminal shoots. As the flowers subside the leaves start to unfurl, revealing a heart shaped reddish leaf which gradually changes colour through out the year, finally turning deep purple before falling off. Yes it’s deciduous. The only downside. Therefore doesn’t need to be near the pool. But it is tough and very hardy and ideal for higher gardens and once established doesn’t need too much water.


Catalpa bignonioides Aurea’.


One of 4 or 5 Indian bean trees. Grown mainly because of the seed pods that hang down from the branches during the summer. The pods can be up to a foot in length, and looks both interesting and strange. The flowers though are simply gorgeous. They don’t last long, but worth the time they are there. White petals with deep pink or carmine throats. This variety of the Catalpa has a light green, almost yellow leaf and adds lightness to a mix of trees. Creating a focal point within a typically dark canopy.








Jacaranda mimosifolia.

A Latin descriptive name for the Jacaranda with the leaves like a mimosa. You will of course know this tree by its beautiful mauve-blue flowers and grows well in the hills near the coast. This variety is hardy down to 0 degrees centigrade, making it unsuitable for some high, inland gardens. It’s a superb form and is fast growing, reaching anything up to 45 to 50 feet in height. In the summer the flowers are superseded by flat seed pods, providing a bit more interest, but principally, it makes an excellent shade tree. A cluster of Jacaranda has a better effect than just one on its own, creating a shaded area for sitting or lying, or an area that can be under planted with some more exotic plants such as Tree ferns which need to be out of the direct sunlight of southern Spanish summer.


Acacia dealbata.


What more can be said about a mimosa. There are several species of mimosa, most providing those fantastic yellow flowers. Evergreen Mimosa - Acacia bailyana - is hardy down to -10 degrees, and provides a fast growing, shade providing tree, similar in habit to the Jacaranda but doesn’t live as long. In tree terms a few decades is a comparatively short time. The bright yellow clusters of flowers are synonymous with this part of Spain and the sweet scent is welcome in the evenings. Other Acacia trees worth finding are Acacia pendulata, a weeping tree. A small tree, ideal for providing shade and frost hardy to about -5 degrees centigrade. Acacia bayliana purpurea, having purplish leaves. And, Acacia melonoxylon. This is a large tree, and suitable only for those of you with a bit of space, but it is frost hardy and gives incredible pale cream flowers. Just a little different.


If you would like to know how a mimosa tree is classified, just purely for an example of why I design landscapes and didn’t become a taxonomist like my Grandmother. A mimosa is as follows: Kingdom – Plantea, Division – Angiosperma, Class – Dycotyledonae, Subclass – Rosidae, Order – Fabales, family – Fabacea, Subfamily – Mimosoideae, genus – Acacia, Species – dealbata. And since learning that lot, I have discovered there is now new class or super class called Rosopsida and, to be honest, I don’t know where that fits in!



Evergreen and deciduous trees.


 Magnolia grandiflora is just that. A magnolia with a big flower. But it can be a very big flower and is a spectacular tree in maturity. Variety, Exmouth and Goliath have flowers over 9 niches across and superb fragrance. There are very many imported Italian stock trees in the garden centres now and well worth having at least one. They tend to be conical in form and are potentially quite big. For my money I prefer the deciduous Magnolias because I think you get more phases of interest. And there are a lot to choose from. Here are just a few.

Magnolia lillifloraNigra’.

A Lilly flowered form as described by the name and in this case a dark green leaf and deep purple flowers. Grows to about 15 feet or so, but hardy to about -15 degrees, so once more ideal territory in the hills. But it does need a little water but will cope with full sun in high summer. Magnolia kobus is tolerant of dry soils once established, and is happier away from the coast because it doesn’t like salty winds. But is ideal for some hilly gardens. And Magnolia cambellii Darjeeling will deal with full sun if you can water it. The rich fragrant, deep purple flowers make it worthwhile as a focal point, but have something quite light behind it to show off the blooms.


So, some good trees there then. Difficult to choose really from about 22,000 in common cultivation but I think looking at the varieties expand the garden range somewhat. There is always one more to go and always a better tree somewhere. Remember it’s really form and function, then colour and then if it smells nice that’s a bonus. And on that note, avoid Magnolia tripetala. Looks lovely but it doesn’t smell nice at all.


Hope I’ve still got you thinking. Please, any questions to me on e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The site needs an upgrade, but the email works, or, if you would like to talk to a human, phone my colleague Steve on 679 464 857. Or direct through the lovely Lou at the paper. Cheers for now.



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