Trees for Small Gardens: Amelanchier lamarckii

The ever popular Amelanchier lamarckii, also called juneberry and snowy mespilus, is what I call a “grafter” because through much of the year it earns its place in the garden with flowers, berries, and spectacular changing colour. The tree is often sold as a shrub and since it will take most types of pruning – however brutal – in many gardens it will maintain shrublike proportions indefinitely.

And if this firework is allowed to take off it will give you so much more!

As a tree it is generally sold as either a single-stem or multi-stem. I prefer the multi-stemmed trees, which can be crown lifted every year or so to produce an umbrella shaped canopy over graceful branches. Light filters through the leaves, giving an intimate space below the canopy that is perfect for underplanting; and the elegantly curving branches frame the garden beyond.

Amelanchier blossom
Amelanchier lamarckii in full blossom with copper leaves unfurling

And about those fireworks! In March or April soft, white starlike blossoms emerge from the reddish buds, covering the tree. The arrival of the flowers is closely followed by the leaves which first appear as small, tightly curled pink prawnlike shapes arching from the branches. When these unfurl they are copper gradually fading into green… the round, fresh green leaves, about 5cm across, cover the tree in May, while the berries ripen to purple-black in June.

Amelanchier berries01
The sweet berries of Amelanchier lamarckii ripening to purple-black in June. They don’t last long!

I am told the berries are sweet and edible, but don’t want to deprive the blackbirds’ reward for their fly by grabs! The ripe berries don’t last more than a few days because the birds devour them. And the grand finale comes in autumn when the leaves turn orange, red and even hot pink before they fall.

Maintenance

The eventual height of this tree is 8-12 metres, with a spread of 4-8 metres according to the Royal Horticultural Society. If your space is limited you will have to prune to maintain your desired height and also canopy clearance, every year or so. The rate of growth is not particularly fast, and of course the ultimate height and spread depends on growing conditions. I have planted them in gardens in West Yorkshire and over ten years they have reached the desired size, and we are now able to prune them easily with a pair of long handled loppers and a step ladder. It is an interesting and continual sculpting project, in fact.

If you don’t want to prune to keep your tree small, and instead make fewer, carefully judged cuts to sculpt, or make no cuts at all, you can get the more difficult to find Amelanchier “La Paloma”, which is very similar to Amelanchier lamarckii but only grows to four metres high and four metres wide over twenty years. At the time of writing this blog it can be purchased online from Ornamental Trees Ltd, West Yorkshire.

The official line is that Amelanchiers prefer acid soil but I have found they are happy in many Yorkshire locations with neutral soil. If in doubt you can always give them some ericaceous feed, or spread used coffee grounds around the base to slightly acidify the soil if you are willing to be a little experimental in your approach! They grow well in light to medium shade and do colour up in autumn, but will have the best autumn colour in a sunnier spot. They are very easy to grow, even for beginners.

Amelanchier Yorkshire Autumn
Amelanchier “La Paloma” in full autumn glory

Plant Associations

The various features of this tree can be paired up harmoniously with other plants. Underplant with Lunaria annua var. albiflora (white flowered honesty) and you might have the white flowers of the Lunaria at the same time as those of the Amelanchier. The purple flowers of Lunaria annua will also harmonise nicely with the coppery spring leaves if the pairing is given a “lift” with yellow or white Tulips.

I have underplanted Amelanchier lamarckii with Brunnera macrophylla “Looking Glass”, and the silver, heart shaped leaves of the latter sing in the shade of the tree and tie in with the white flowers. The delicate blue flowers of the Brunnera are sweet on their own, anyway. Digitalis purpurea alba (white foxglove) adds a lift in late spring or early summer when the Brunneras have finished flowering. You can also underplant with evergreens and semi evergreens to ensure a strong composition all year. I recommend semi-evergreen Epimedium × youngianum “Niveum” and evergreen Sarcococca ruscifolia var. chinensis. With shiny leaves, and fragrant flowers in deepest winter this elegant subshrub has a lovely, loose but compact structure and will provide food for foraging bees who have awakened during warm spells.

Amelanchier stems
Graceful curving stems of Amelanchier lamarckii underplanted with Brunnera macrophylla “Looking Glass” and Carex elata “Aurea” (golden sedge). Self seeded Aquilegia in the foreground add cheeky pink serendipity.

If you want to find the right spot to plant an Amelanchier in your garden or you would like garden design advice or an informal chat you can get in touch with me at cheri@earthworksnorth.co.uk or via my website. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

DSC_0317
Young leaves of Amelanchier lamarckii and the star shaped flower sepals left after the petals have fallen in a white snow. At the centre of the sepals is the ovule, each of which will swell to a juicy seed-containing berry.
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