Discover trees that fit small spaces

  • Wednesday, April 25, 2012 8:30am
  • Life

Libbie Soden can’t even come up with words to describe acer circinatum, more commonly known to tree aficionados as Pacific Fire vine maple.

“It’s just …” and there Soden’s vocabulary vanishes. “Oh,” she sighs, beaming with delight at the tree.

Red buds burst with bright purple. The leaves will grow to look like they’ve been carefully etched by a painter.

Soden, the president of the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens Foundation, is ebullient when it comes to describing all trees, but she has a big affection for the area dedicated to small trees.

Along the western border of the parking lot is the Small Urban Tree display.

During all four seasons these trees have something new to show. In winter, it’s the spare architecture of the branches and the stunning texture of bark. In the fall, leaves leap out like an Impressionist painting before they fall off and pirouette to the ground. They burst open with the hope of spring. Summer brings fresh rounds of flowers.

Small trees, such as Pacific Fire, Eskimo Sunset, paperbark maple, Golden Chain and Camperdown Elm, among others, are beautiful and practical.

Since they typically grow no taller than 30 feet, they don’t interfere with power lines.

“Everybody now has smaller lots,” Soden said. A decade ago when the arboretum built the small tree garden in a strip of turf bordering the parking lot and private homes, they needed to avoid growing up into overhead power lines. Designers also were hesitant to plant trees that would overwhelm the space.

“We tried to choose trees that were interesting — trees you don’t see in the run-of-the-mill landscape — that work well in small spaces,” Soden said. “They’re going to be short.”

Some plants, including styrax obassia or Fragrant Snowbell, can be considered a large shrub or small tree. A cascade of perfumed white blossoms dangle from the branches in late spring.

Now is the time to plant small trees in a home garden, experts say. The soil is warming up and there’s little risk of frost.

Most local nurseries should be stocked with an abundance of product.

Steve Smith, at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, said his gardens have several small trees from which to choose.

Ornamental cherry trees now are being grown on dwarfed root stalk, allowing for the beautiful color without a tree that needs pruning, Smith said.

Most varieties will require at least one year of watering and close attention before they’re well established, Soden said.

Strolling among the arboretum’s display is a good way to see how these trees mature.

Bring a camera and notepad and then begin planning what might work well in your back yard.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Small tree walk

The Evergreen Arboretum and Garden’s Small Urban Tree display is just to the right of the entrance to the arboretum at 145 Alverson Blvd., Everett. Admission is free. The arboretum is open daily from dawn to dusk.

For more information, go to www.evergreenarboretum.com or call 425-257-8597.

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