Last week there was precisely one day when it was possible to get outside and garden. Every other day was “blessed” with wind and rain, in biblical quantities, though happily the only damage we incurred from the hurricane that swept through was broken glass in the greenhouse. I am painfully aware that this makes us extremely lucky. The greenhouse is a hassle, but my livelihood doesn’t depend on it being in tip top operating condition, and our house remains warm and dry. We didn’t even experience power cuts for long, just a few hours one afternoon to allow much needed repairs to be made to the network. I am very grateful. I was even more grateful that this parcel arrived on that one day of relative calm.

exciting parcel

I love receiving parcels of any sort – who doesn’t – but my favorite kind contains plants. This one was even more exciting than normal as it contained trees.

well swaddled trees

trees revealed

lots of buds

Beautifully packaged, three plum trees and a sorbus. I bought from R. V. Roger on VP’s recommendation, and they are wonderfully healthy bare root specimens, with good shape and lots of buds. When we first moved here I despaired of being able to plant trees at all, there are so many overhead cables, not to mention a wonderful view of the sea that we want to maintain from various windows! Its amazing what you can persuade yourself you have room for when you really want to though, and by choosing bush-trained plums they will remain a reasonably size and also be easier to harvest. So, as soon as the parcel arrived I carefully unwrapped it, saving the straw and plastic for “useful purposes”, and got on with planting. I’d long since worked out where each was going, and happily the soil in this garden is a pleasure to dig, even when well soaked by the seemingly endless rain. It would have been a different story in my previous garden, with its heavy clay.

Another advantage to buying bush-trained plum trees is that they don’t need staking, so in short order they were planted in the back garden. I know it will be years before I am blessed with the kind of plum harvest that requires jam making and the consumption of many, many pies, but I am very excited to have them.

opal plum tree

‘Opal’ is an early season plum, and has an RHS Award of Garden Merit (actually all three do). Apparently it should provide really tasty fruit over several weeks, so no glut.

Blue Tit Plum

‘Blue Tit’ is a mid season plum, and even as a bush should also help with privacy. As you can see I have made a start on staining the fence in the back garden. I am so not looking forward to getting to the trellis. I hate painting trellis, particularly when I have to be really careful not to blob paint on the other side!

Marjories Seedling Plum

Finally I have ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, a late season plum. They are all self fertile, and hopefully will provide several months of delicious home grown plums in due course. And blossom. Lots of lovely blossom.

I fell in love with Sorbus vilmorinii thanks to a photograph on Patient Gardener’s blog. The native British sorbus is said to protect a household from evil, so I am hoping their Chinese cousin will do the same. Even if it doesn’t, it will give me creamy-white flowers, leaves that turn crimson in autumn, and berries which will turn from red through pink to white over the course of the seasons, and will hopefully last well in to winter. I felt slightly guilty for not picking one of our native Sorbus aucuparia trees, since the berries would be preferred by the local bird population, but hey, I grow plenty of other plants with the birds in mind and I fell for vilmorinii!

So where did I put it. Therein hangs a tale. I’d planned to plant it in the front garden on the opposite side of what will eventually become a path from the silver birches I planted a few weeks ago. But when I came to discuss the exact planting site with TNG we decided that we would much rather have it on the other side of the path, to keep the view of the sea that we get as we come out of the front door. Which was fine, except then it would have been too close to the birches. Happily I had already decided to move the birches anyway. I promised myself, when we moved here, that I wouldn’t allow myself to fall in to the trap of just doing what I had done before when it came to choosing plants and plant combinations. Some of this comes easily, since soil and climate are so different here. But when I planted the birches I didn’t even think about planting them other than as a close trio, just as I had done in my previous garden. Which made me cross, because if I had just taken a step back and thought more about it I would have realised that I could get an interestingly different effect – and better screening of the house opposite – by spreading them out more. In the end, because of where we decide to plant the sorbus they are not actually spread out much more anyway, but at least I thought about it this time! And as the day darkened and the slight warmth fled, I planted the sorbus having marked with canes where I was going to move the birches to on the next available gardening day.

perfect day

Which was today! No wind, blue sky, sunshine, warm enough in my sheltered back garden to eat my breakfast toast outside. Perfect.

sorbus vilmorinii

Here is Sorbus vilmorinii, with a short vertical stake because that is what the nursery told me to use. They are also, incidentally, totally unimpressed by all this root trainer business! They definitely believe that field grown trees, delivered root pruned and bare rooted, establish the best, so I will be interested to see how the development of the sorbus and birches compared – not that it is really fair to compare two such different trees, but they are aproximately the same size.

betula utilis jacquemontii

The trio of birches is now far closer to the road, and I am excited about planting up the rest of this area now. I am going to get rid of the two evergreen shrubs behind the sorbus, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with them, although they need some renovation pruning to correct bare patches, but I want plants here that give me more seasons of interest, and I also want to plant this area alongside the drive in such a way that it looks good from both sides, rather than hiding the rest of the front garden.

So there you have it. For someone who wasn’t going to be able to plant many – if any – trees I seem to be doing pretty well. A trio of birches, a sorbus, three plums, two black elders, an Amelanchier, a magnolia, an acer, a conference pear and somewhere, currently smothered by an Acanthus mollis plant that has leapt at the opportunity provided by the removal of the conifers. Which brings me to Lucy@Loose and Leafy’s tree following challenge. The challenge is to pick a tree – it doesn’t have to be in your garden – and follow it through the year, observing what it does, when leaves, blossom, fruit appear and disappear, what critters, if any, use it. But my dilemma is, which to choose? In the end I have chosen none of the above. They have all – apart from the acer, which I will be obsessive about anyway – been planted by me. So I will inevitably be paying them close attention. I hope. But at the side of the house, in a rather inconvenient spot, alongside the compost bins, bordering the park, is a hawthorn. And I don’t pay it nearly as much attention as it deserves. A case in point, I completely forgot to take a photo of it today before the light went. So I will have to introduce it properly another time, but here is a teaser of it in full bloom at the beginning of last June:


Why don’t you sign up for Lucy’s challenge too? In the mean time, hope you are all staying safe, warm and dry, and that weather isn’t getting you down too much, whatever the weather in your neck of the woods. I am choosing to believe that, here in the UK, this seemingly endless cycle of storms is, in fact, going to end soon and we will have a good Spring. Fingers crossed…

55 thoughts on “Juggling with Trees

  1. Follow a tree for a year, hmmm… sounds like a good idea and just might do it, will see…

    Today’s weather was fabulous, a respite from all those rainy and windy weather we’ve been having. So sunny and bright that it actually reminded us of Spain (in winter). Still we focused our activities to indoor pursuits although the warmth of sun going through the window was extra appreciated. The packaging of those trees looked superb indeed, protecting the plant very well from potential damage that may happen in transit. Although my imagination went hyperactive too and thought it also looked sinister too, that instead of trees it could have contained a body, lol! :)

    1. Oh yes, do pick a tree and follow it, you have so many interesting ones! Your indoor chores must have been very important to have kept you from outdoor play, I’m impressed! And apparently you are not alone in thinking that my bundle of tree-centered joy could have been a body. Not quite sure what that says about the type of people I associate with in the blogosphere…

  2. Hi Janet,

    I’ve had my eye on vilmorinii for years since I saw some gorgeous specimens at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens… As it’s a fairly large one, I plan to get Sorbus pseudovilmorinii instead, which grows to 4m instead and will hopefully be more reasonable for a small garden :)

    Why am I seemingly the only person that didn’t know fruits could be trained as bushes???!!! Grrr. So, how large are the bushes meant to get? I think I’ll get my mum a Damson and maybe something for myself…

    1. Hmm, “bush” might be a bit misleading, it is as much to do with the tree form, which branches from low down, as ultimate size, which will still be up to 3.5m eventually, but they can be kept in check by pruning as and when required. I still have a sneaking suspicion that eventually I will find it hard to harvest all the plums from the “back” without re-structuring the borders a little, we just thought it was worth it. Enjoy your trees, of whatever stature, when you get them – and you can buy plums grafted on to pixy stock which keeps them to 2.5m ish, but this root stock isn’t recommended for windy sites, which ours sometimes is.

      1. Hi Janet,

        Ah, so they are still relatively large; just not as large as normal. I think I can manage 3.5m and considering it’ll be a good 10-20 years before it’s fully mature, I’m happy enough with that. I remember when I was younger, a house down our road had a plum which was more ‘bush’ or rounded in shape and easy enough to climb (and steal the plums when he was at work. Naughty me) So I’m assuming that one was a bush type… hrm, if I wasn’t planning on moving I’d have the perfect spot for it; on the slope where I go to the upper tier and am a metre higher than the borders below. At least it would be easier then to get most of the fruits. Not that I’d be eating them because I’m intolerant to a lot of fruits (mainly citrus, I believe)

  3. I’m glad you’ve chosen a hawthorn. It’s a tree I’ve wondered about following too as their leaves, blossoms and berries are beautiful. But the ones where I live (and there are many) are waist-deep in undergrowth for most of the summer – which makes them difficult to photograph close up. You will have proper access to yours so you will be able to see what it’s ‘doing’.

    Your post has revealed the answer to an ancient mystery. The coffins of ancient Egyptians, previously thought to contain the bodies of powerful people, have plum trees inside instead.

    1. Hi Lucy, hawthorns are beautiful aren’t they! It’ll be interesting to keep a closer watch on mine, though the birds probably like it being more private ;-) I fear you could be right about the truth about egyptian mummies, though it raises some interesting questions about those death masks…

  4. We bought our garrya from RV Roger but we went to buy it at the nursery which is not too far away from us. Since then the nursery itself has really changed. I suppose like all gardeners, nurserymen have their own way of doing things which they think of as the best way. You;ll need to factor in that the birches have had an extra move.

    Marjories Seedling is one of our plum varieties,

    1. Hi Sue, you’re right about the extra move – and given that even container grown trees to establish OK eventually, I’m not too bothered! Marjorie seems to be a general favourite, lots of people told me they like it, am looking forward to finding out for myself eventually. Must practice my patience…

  5. Gosh, you have been busy! The trees looked so well packaged, and who knows what that straw can be used for ! I will join the ‘Follow a tree’ challenge, thanks for the heads-up, sounds interesting, and a fantastic resource for those who need more info before they select a new one.

    1. Hi Jane, I seem to remember seeing something about growing potatoes in straw, which I may look up as I was seduced into buying some I don’t really have room for by Mark Dianco’s writing! Either that or strawberries. I hadn’t thought of Lucy’s meme being a good resource, but you are right, everyone who chooses an ornamental will be providing us with invaluable resource. How exciting. Really glad you are going to join in.

  6. We’ve had more ggod gardening weather although the wind is back! Great to be outside and doing some proper gardening at last. Coincidence I’ve just bought two plums to go where the Leylandii were, I’m waiting until tomorrow to plant them as I’m supposed to be giving a ‘master class’ on planting trees to the local gardening group, ha! ha!

    1. Hi Christina, it does seem to be a bit one step forwards followed by two steps back weather wise. Actually it is probably two steps forward and one back, certainly Spring is beginning to make itself felt. Are your plums container grown or bare rooted? I’d love to be a fly on the wall for your masterclass, there seem to be as many ways of planting trees as there are gardeners, or at least tree nursery owners!

  7. Sorbus vilmorinii has been on my list ever since I saw it at Rosemoor. I love the colour of the berries and you have chosen a really good spot for it. We’ve discovered this morning three more of the woodland trees came down in the storm last Friday. It leaves a gap…

    1. Hi Jessica, sorry you had such storm damage, it is always sad to lose trees, but hey, a gap, that’s hard to not get excited about… Shall watch out for what you fill it with!

  8. An enjoyable, interesting post and terrific pictures.
    It’s good to see that you’re tree following this year. xx

    1. Thanks Flighty, am hoping the forecast it right and the weather is going to be fine tomorrow so that I can introduce the hawthorn properly!

  9. You were busy on the only lovely warm sunny day, we are now back to rain all day so far but at least the wind has dropped a bit. You are going to have so much blossom in the spring, it will look really beautiful. The bees will love all the blossom and the birds , the fruit in the autumn, hope they don’t take too many of your plums, or will you net them when the time comes?

    1. HI Pauline, I must admit I am really looking forward to all that blossom, can’t wait to see if it will all happen at once, or in some sort of sequence. Do you think they birds will remember all the lovely fruit when they see the strangely unattractive (to them) sorbus berries?! I can’t see me netting the plums, I think I will just do as I do with the raspberries, and assume there will be enough for both of us, but who knows, I might get really possessive and fanatical about it!

  10. Glad you’ve had some gardening weather Janet. We have had the first warm days of the year, with some sunshine too, so I should be getting out there in the next couple of weeks I hope! Enjoy the gardening temperatures and hope it stays calm!

    1. Hi Cathy, I am working on the staying calm bit, not helped by too much work and now broken panes of glass in the greenhouse!

  11. Great pictures Janet! I’ve never seen how they ship a tree. I’m interested to see how those plums work out, because I’ve always wanted a smaller manageable plum in the garden. Thank goodness you are managing the storms okay–we hear about them from across the pond. We’ve had a few days of spring-like weather here, but today, I’m getting out the boards to start building a makeshift ark. We are being inundated.

    1. Thanks Susan, I’ve had trees delivered in all manner of packaging, but this was certainly the most thorough – and as others have commented, the most body-like! Hope your rain stops soon, it does get one down, not being able to work outside at all.

  12. You can never have too many plums in my opinion – some years they have a rest but when they all decide to have a rest at the same time – disaster. My best fruiter was at my plot – which I now longer have – it will be sorely missed this year.

    1. Hi Elaine, my thoughts exactly, home grown taste so much better, and the good ones are expensive to buy in the shops anyway.

  13. I don’t think Egyptian mummies were wrapped in black plastic. I’ m very impressed how well wrapped your trees were.
    Sorbus vilmorinii is lovely. I’m always surprised how the flower colour varies from white through to deepest pink.

    1. Hi Chloris, what about the straw ;-) I am looking forward to tracking the colour change of the berries.

  14. How exciting to receive your trees and to get them planted out too. They do sound a wonderful choice. I’ve been planting trees here as well – the one benefit of so much rain is that the earth is so easy for digging. Unfortunately one of our Hawthorns has also come down following the latest storm, so we have a new gap to fill!

    1. Hi Wendy, sorry to hear about your hawthorn, though as you say, having a gap to fill can be exciting. Digging in this soil is a breeze after my heavy clay, I always felt about a stone heavier after working in that soil when it was wet, thanks to the extra weight of soil clinging to my boots!

  15. Hi Janet – I must have missed this post yesterday so was confused with your weather discussion. Hope you had a decent-ish day today to get the birch replanted. How lovely to have the 3 different plums – our very elderly plum tree has worn itself out we think, and any plums were a mile or so above ground so accessible only by starlings so a year ago I out in a ‘Czar’ on Pixie rootstock. Perhaps there may be a plum or two this year? You have reminded me about that pinky berried sorbus – I remember seeing pictures and am now swithering a bit as I was wondering whether to find space for ‘Joseph Rock’ – decisons, decisons! Great packaging on your trees – took me a moment to appreciate the mummy connection, duh! ;)

    1. Hi Cathy, sorry for the confusion! Birches all safely re-homed and making me feel all excited about the planting opportunity between them and the sorbus. I already have a long list of potential candidates, and an emerging feeling about what I want from the space. I love this stage. I shan’t dare to hope for plums this year, but I suppose I could get lucky, will wait to see whether there is much blossom I suppose! Choosing trees is always hard, because you know that for every one you plump for there is a list a mile long that, by extension, you have given up the chance of growing! Good luck deciding.

  16. some interesting juggling Janet, ‘where there’s a will there’s away’ as the saying goes and you have made a nice collection of trees, I look forward to seeing their progress and that of your hawthorn enjoying it virtually, I planted 10 here when I came 12 years ago and none have done very well, I’m glad you came safely through the storms, Frances

    1. Hi Frances, where I used to live on the other side of the Island, where it is more exposed to the south westerlies, they planted loads of hawthorn to act as a wind barrier. None of them have grown higher than 8′, and that was 40 years ago! They are lucky in that willow grows really well there, and gives them a useful harvest of canes each year too. I am going to enjoy watching my trees grow over the years, and having to alter the planting to suit the changing environment that results.

  17. How exciting to have new trees! And I am very impressed with how they were packaged. They look very nice. I hope all the rain you’re getting will be just the right amount for a fabulous spring display, and that the sun and warmth comes soon for you.

    1. The packaging was amazing, wasn’t it! A fabulous spring display sounds wonderful, lets hope we both get one to enjoy, and the sooner the better!

  18. Blimey Janet, you’ve planted a veritable forest. Good for you – and also for reminding me that I still haven’t moved my trio of B. jacquemontii. But then it has been so darn wet and awful that it hasn’t really been possible. And despite your best wishes – yes, I have been getting a bit low truth be told. But a bit of sun has finally, hopefully knocked that on the head. Hopefully. Dave

    1. I know! I’ll be cursing myself in 15 years, but in the mean time, such joy! I was going to ask after your poor rejected birches. Sorry you’ve still not had a good dry patch, I am so fortunate to have such well drained soil here, I am still adjusting to the greater latitude – and to the way it means I have to watch out for things drying out in a way I have never had to before. Although no this year. Hope your soil starts drying out and warming up and generally becoming co-operative, must be such a pain when you earn your living from gardening, everything must pile up in a quite alarming way, and lets face it, March is always a bit of a panic inducer as it is!

  19. If I had to guess what was in that package, trees would have been furthest from my mind. How lovely to get your new trees just as the weather improved. It will be nice to see how they fair in your garden Janet.
    The Sorbus is going to look a million dollars in your front garden.

    1. Hi Angie, I have to admit I am really excited about the sorbus, it will really change the feel of that area of the front garden, and should be so pretty once it really gets going. Of course I am also dreaming of blossom and plums…

  20. That’s a pretty impressive list of trees so far :) I look forward to following their progress. Hope that we do have a lovely balmy spring and fair summer …

    1. I think I may have to stop now Sara!! Besides, don’t want to shade out all the sunny areas, I’ve never had full sun to plant for before! Fingers crossed on the weather front, we all need cheering up – and drying out.

  21. Now I felt a sense of déjà vu reading your post Janet as a similar looking parcel arrived here early last week albeit from another source. Mine contained a bare rooted malus which I took outside to unwrap not taking into account the fact that it was on the windy side. You can imagine the scenario but I was able to scrabble around and retrieve most of the straw with my strawberries in mind :) We’ve only managed to plant it today at the same relocating two other fairly young pears. Your trees look fabulous and I look forward to reading more about them as they settle in. Now I’m after a plum for the allotment so guess where I’m off to have a reccie :)

    1. I was wondering whether you’d managed to get himself to plant thged crabapple! How lovely. Happy plum tree buying, look forward to seeing what you plump for. Plot or garden?

  22. I’ve heard that planting a tree bare root is the absolute best way to do it. Your trees are going to be a fabulous addition to your garden. :o) That sorbus is a beauty. I wish it grew here.

    1. I do like planting bare root trees, they certainly establish fastest than conventional container grown ones. Sorry for your sorbus envy…

  23. Oh, this is going to be so much fun to watch how your trees and those of others around the world travel through the seasons. I’m participating in the tree following, too. I’m glad you haven’t had much damage from all the horrible weather. We’ve been following it all and thinking of friends in the U.K. Take care!

    1. Isn’t it! I am excited about the tree following, I think we will all learn a lot too, glad you are joining in the fun. We’ve been broadly lucky with the weather, wind damage mostly, to greenhouse, which is inconvenient, but nothing like having to deal with being flooded out. Or like dealing with the amazingly cold and snowy weather the US has been experiencing. Crazy times.

  24. We used to have lots of storm damage on our greenhouse each winter when we lived in Ireland. I’m glad to have left these storms behind! Planting trees is such a rewarding affaire. Well done for choosing S. vilmorinii – it’s one of my favourite Sorbus!

    1. Hi Annette, the sorbus seems to be a very popular choice, I am looking forward to watching it develop. Damage to greenhouses is really inconvenient, isn’t it. I have been spending hours pondering how best to ensure we limit the damage in future years.

  25. Belatedly finding the time to catch up with your posts has had the added benefit of reading through some very interesting comments! The sorbus trees in the college grounds caught my eye early on in my studies. Such a beautiful tree and the berries are stunning. If I had my own garden, I’d be planting sorbus and betula as well. I’ve signed up for tree following as well but it’s a hard choice to make – I was thinking about following the butchered plane trees under my window but, if they recover this year, they don’t do much anyway! My best bet, I think, it to follow one of my fruit trees! It’s a great meme isn’t it?

    1. I do love the comments – TNG refuses to read my blog posts for a few days so that he can enjoy them! The sorbus is clearly a source of envy/plant lust for lots of people, its quite nice to be on the other side of this for once, and be the possessor rather than the obsessor! BTW, thank you again for causing me to buy the Coronilla ‘Citrina’, it is a glorious plant, slightly shambolic in habit but such a prolific flowerer, I adore it! I think the fruit tree option would get my vote, not least because it would be so informative, given I am a newby fruit tree owner myself.

  26. I am glad you, your home and your garden survived the storms. Despite the narrow focus of most American media, news of the weather in Great Brattain manged to penetrate the round-the-clock coverage of our snow and ice storms. And speaking of narrow, the narrow-minded over here are using our unusual cold as incidental ammunition to call the whole topic of climate change passé.

    1. Hi Les, I am impressed that our weather made it on to your news! We’ve been understandably obsessed, although even then coverage varied dramatically according to where the damage was occurring. The closer you are to London, or prime commuter towns, the more coverage. As for the climate change deniers, I despair, honestly, the science is compelling, the evidence impressive, and although tying any one weather pattern to it is a little dodgy, the fact that the theory predicted just the change in patterns as you and we have been experiencing is more than a little worrying, given it is happening over 20 years earlier than expected.

  27. Janet I love getting trees in the mail too. I planted several new ones last year and the yr before…. and hope they make it through the winter and start finally growing. And I love the idea that the native British sorbus is said to protect a household from evil. I am doing the tree following too and think I will pick my trusty native maple until some of the new trees grow. Though I am sure I will update the new trees through a tree post all about them too. I love trees and Lucy’s challenge is a great one.

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