Birches are not just white, and while the very popular Betula utilis ssp jacquemontii is undeniably stunning, especially when planted as a multi stem or a feature tree, it is considered by some to be massively overplanted.
Other species, strains and cultivars offer a fabulous range of coloured barks and often stunning autumn foliage, something that jacquemontii surprisingly lacks.
Paul Bartlett, Garden Manager from the National Collection of Birch at Stone Lane Gardens & Nursery in Chagford, Devon, suggests five great, garden alternatives.
Betula utilis ‘Mt Luoji’
This lovely form of Himalayan birch comes from the mountains of Sichuan province, China. With smooth, luxuriant dark chocolate bark. Contrasting pale lenticels circle the trunk. The satin smooth bark peels away in large translucent sheets, glowing as if on fire when backlit by a low sun. The darker bark of this birch makes an unusual and striking foil to the more common white barked birch.
Betula utilis ‘Forest Blush’
This Himalayan birch comes from the Yunnan province in China, and is quite distinct from other forms. The beautifully smooth, pale bark has a base colour of orange-red overlain with a misty white bloom, which gives it a soft pink appearance, enhanced by its striking orange lenticels. The dark green leaves are waxier and more deeply veined than other Betula utilis, with an exaggerated re-curved margin.
Betula ‘Kerscott Charm’
A lovely hybrid tree from a garden in North Devon. Beautiful cream bark with a hint of peach, which peel in large scrolls. Prominent and attractively long lenticels swirl around the trunk. Good autumn colour and slightly weeping branchlets. A hybrid of Betula ermanii and another birch species, probably Betula pendula.
The North American Paper birch can come in a variety of bark colours, depending on its provenance. The white barked varieties are very vigorous with smooth white bark that is freely peeling. Autumn leaf colour is a rich yellow or orange-yellow. Paper birch is one of the fastest-growing birches, with great robustness and strength.
Betula ermanii ‘Mt Zao Purple’
This unusual cultivar has a base bark colour of purple overlain with creamy orange, combined with very prominent horizontal bands of pale lenticels creating an almost striped appearance. It is a lovely stately tree, very much in demand due to the outstanding, freely peeling bark. The lenticels on the trunks are very striking – they seem to swirl round the trunk and coalesce. Autumn leaf colour is always a rich orange. Will grow in well-drained soils but will achieve greater stature in a more moist area.
Stone Lane Gardens in Devon has National Collections of birch and also runs a nursery specialising in birch. Buying trees from its nursery directly supports its charity that keeps the garden and nursery open. The fabulous, mystical woodland garden is a ‘must visit’, full of mature, statuesque trees in all their glory. You can see mature trees in the garden and get friendly, expert advice on what to grow in yours, with some fantastic trees you may not see elsewhere. Garden open all year round. Nursery open by appointment only. Trees can be ordered from the website www.stonelanegardens.com and delivered throughout the UK.
Tel 01647 231311