The many varieties
of Sorbus – both mountain ash and Swedish whitebeam
– have bestowed clusters of flowers, colourful
leaves and striking berries on Rosemary Verey’s
Gloucestershire garden. Here she selects some of her
Now and the next two months are the best times to plant
in your garden, so they have enough time for their roots
to settle before the hard weather sets in. Make your
selection from a catalogue or by visiting a good nursery.
One visit is worth 100 catalogues, but anyone anticipating
planting new trees will have looked around and taken
We have been delighted with the Sorbus
we were advised to plant on our alkaline soil (limestone),
in the Cotswolds. The Sorbus family divides into two
sections, the mountain ash (aucuparia) with pinnate
leaves and the Swedish whitebeam (aria) with simple
They are a wise choice for drier conditions and even
They give major interest in spring with their flowers,
in summer they provide shade so are ideal lawn trees,
and in autumn their berries
and leaves provide a diversity of colour.
I do not recommend
our native mountain ash or rowan for the garden, the
berries ripen in August and the birds will immediately
steal them. My two selections with red berries are Sorbus
commixta ‘Embley’ (left) (AGM), an upright
6-7 metre tree with outstanding and long-lasting colour
in October and November and generous clusters of orange-red
sargentiana, named for Charles Sprague Sargent,
director of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, has pinnate
leaves up to 12 inches long, with 6-inch leaflets. These
turn brilliant vermilion tones in late autumn. The bunches
of scarlet berries are huge: I’ve counted up to
400 in a single cluster. Find a specimen with branches
coming from near the ground, so you can appreciate the
berries at eye level.
Joseph Rock went plant hunting in China, around 1900,
for Professor Sargent, and brought back a yellow-berried
form – named S.
‘Joseph Rock’ (AGM). It fruits reliably
every autumn, and the birds ignore them until food is
Do include S.
cashmiriana, an upright 5-6 metre tree with fern-like
leaves and large pure white berries. In our garden the
birds tend to peck and drop them.
S. hupehensis (AGM) is different in that its foliage
has a grey tinge, looking silvery in sunlight. The berries
start pink, turning to white. It is too large for a
small lawn, but does well used as a windbreak or to
hide an ugly building, or in a Sorbus collection.
My last choice is S.
vilmorinii (AGM). Catalogues tell you it will grow
to 6 metres, but on our poor Cotswold soil it has remained
small, only 3 metres, so we can appreciate the clusters
of pendulous berries (below). These start rosy red,
changing to pink and then to white. It fascinates visitors
when all these colours show simultaneously!
In the aria section,
the Swedish whitebeams have simple, ovate
leaves. In spring S.
aria ‘Lutescens’ (AGM) is striking in
the distance with silvery leaves looking like flowers.
Later they turn green with grey undersides. The fruits
are cherry like.
latifolia, the ‘Service tree of Fontainbleau’
is broad-headed with russet-yellow berries. You can
see S. l. ‘Mitchellii’ (AGM) at the Westonbirt
Arboretum, Gloucestershire. This whitebeam was discovered
by the late Alan Mitchell. It has a rounded head and
reaches 8-10 metres, and is distinct for its massive
leaves, about 15 cm each way. I used S. ‘Leonard
Sprenger’ in a tree planting for friends and they
are delighted with the large flowerheads and great clusters
of orange-red fruits.
General thoughts when buying and planting trees:
1. Ask the nursery to mark on the trunk which side faces
2. Dig a square hole (not round) and loosen the sides
with a fork
3. Have enough good compost
in a wheelbarrow, also a stake/s,
4. Lay a stake across your hole to mark the ultimate
level of the soil – this is to guide you for depth
5. Spread the roots out and carefully place the stake
to avoid these
6. Infill with compost, allowing this to filter between
the roots, firming often
7. Secure the main stem to the stake/s
8. When planting in grass allow enough open soil around
the trunk to prevent mower damage
9. Water well then either lay flat stones or carpet
around the trunk to retain moisture
Note: AGM = Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden
See also the Helping Hands workshop:
to plant and stake a tree
to store bare rooted trees
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com