“Could you recommend some umbrella-shaped trees or bushes that grow to be less than 15 feet and that I could use in my garden?”
As if by divine providence, I was just delivered a book titled “Trees,” by Susan Roth, and now feel eminently qualified to answer Daria’s question.
Actually, the book in question is one of “Taylor’s Gardening Guides,” a wonderful series published by Houghton Mifflin. Each volume in the series opens with general planting and maintenance guidelines on the type of plant to be discussed. This is followed by some 300 photographs of different species and varieties of the plant type in question – whether trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials or annuals – and ends with specific cultural tips on the care of each.
Few trees grow to a height of 15 feet or less, but the ones that do are memorable. For example, no garden should be without a crimson or purple Japanese maple, a small tree whose delicately cut foliage provokes oohs and ahs from tree watchers everywhere. The problem is, how do you keep the exquisite Japanese maple leaves from curling up and turning crispy brown? This time of year, the Japanese maple is the most fetching tree in the garden. Its leaves have just broken dormancy, and they have such a fresh, neat and finished look, fashioned as if by a master craftsman with snowflake-like precision.
Advertised as a shade tree, the Japanese maple requires some sunlight to flourish. It seems likely its leaves’ eventual browning is as much a reaction to the salts in our soil and water as to the presence of too much sun or too little humidity.
Moving into the sun, there are quite a few varieties of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) that grow no more than 15 feet tall, including red-flowered “Cherokee” and “Dallas Red,” pink-flowered “Seminole” and “Miami,” and lavender-flowered “Wichita” and “Muskogee.” The beauty of crape myrtle is not confined to its heavy panicles of flowers, but is also evident in its deciduous foliage that turns fiery colors before dropping off in the fall, and in its bark, a smooth, multicolored, exfoliating subject for bare-branched winter contemplation.
There are also many varieties of ornamental cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and almonds, all less than 15 feet at maturity, that are grown for their flowers rather than their fruit. Many have weeping- or umbrella-type growth habits with blinding springtime flower displays in either white or pink. There is also a grafted dwarf mulberry (Morus alba “Pendula”) with weeping branches.
Lastly, there are several exotic magnolias, with flowers in the white to pink to purple range, that will not grow over 15 feet in height.