Understory trees, they’re called, and I love them.
They are wonderful for small gardens because they naturally grow to only a very manageable size. In larger spaces, these are the trees we need to fill in that layer between the tops of our tall trees–our maples and pines, for instance–and the ground below.
Understory trees give us a whole new layer in the garden and help close the gap between the flowers near the ground and the sky above.
I also love understory trees because they seem to me to be especially beautiful. Many trees flower and produce fruit, but understory trees flower and give fruit right at eye level.
Here are a few of my favorites. These grow well where I live in zone 6 on the east coast of the U.S. They may grow well for you, too, but I hope they at least inspire you to search out the small trees that grow well in your place.
- Carolina silverbell (halesia carolina): Possibly my all-time favorite tree. Beautiful shape. Amazing, delicate bell-like flowers in late spring.
- Japanese Snowbell (styrax japonicus): Simply wonderful. The shape is umbrella-like and perfect for a small patio. The dangling flowers are beautiful in very late spring. White blooming and pink blooming varieties are available.
- Redbud (cercis canadensis): An eastern U.S. native. This purple spring-bloomer comes in many special varieties.
- White Fringetree (chionanthus virginicus): Another beautiful native selection. The fringe-like flowers in spring have an incredible scent. This is another good choice for a small patio.
- Witch Hazel (hamamelis): Witch hazels are yet another wonderful native understory tree. These come in many colors, some scented, and they are especially valued because they bloom in late winter when nothing else is in flower.