17 Aug 2022

Gardening with Jo: Trees for a reason

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Trees for a reason

Prunus Avium

We are often asked for trees that screen or cut out noise, and have come up with the following list, to hopefully cover the main circumstances our customers encounter. We think of this as ‘trees for a reason’, or to fit a purpose

Screening & privacy

Portuguese Laurel or Prunus Lusitanica Angustifolia is a wonderful plant for so many uses. It has dark green, long and slightly pointed leaves on rich red stems, very like the colours of the Portuguese flag! it is native to Southern France, Northern Spain and Portugal.

As well as being a very popular option for hedging, it is also an ideal species for growing as larger pieces of topiary or as a standard tree. It’s a really useful tree to create privacy above a wall or hedge that grows naturally into a spherical shape and grows well with little problems.

The Lollipop shaped trees can be grown in pots or planters as well as in the open ground and can create beautiful large specimens with the right amount of pruning. We love them clipped into dome shapes over time which creates a wonderful formal look, reminiscent of Victorian estate gardens.

Seaside & coastal sites

Quercus Ilex makes a robust and sturdy barrier, it is hardy and thrives in all well-drained soils. It is suitable for coastal areas, tolerates shade and copes well with air pollution. It also has a medium growth rate (20 – 30 cm/year) which responds well to trimming.

A large tree with attractive, corrugated bark and leathery evergreen leaves, it takes its name from Ilex which is the Latin name for holly. The leaves are glossy, dark green above and pale whitish-grey with dense short hairs below. Producing edible acorns in autumn, it is slow growing and tolerant of regular pruning, and when left to develop naturally, will eventually form a very large tree.

Fagus Sylvatica, or Beech, either in tree or hedge form, is a popular but glorious sight around the country and is an extremely smart option for a hedge and windbreak. It is semi-evergreen with its striking autumn / winter colours and also as a tree has the added benefit of giving some coverage in the winter months without the price tag of the evergreen options. It is, however, slow growing so unless you are very patient then we would recommend a slightly larger size.

Windy & exposed sites

Alnus Cordata or Italian Alder is a large, vigorous deciduous tree with rounded green leaves and long, up to 10cm, catkins. Its a great tree for a shelter belt and isn’t particularly fussy as to its soil. The Italian Alder grows in excess of 12metres high in eventual height and can take an exposed position.


Cotoneaster Cornubia is a vigorous, semi-evergreen tree or shrub. It can be grown as a hedge screen or as a tree. It grows to around 7 metres tall and provides year round interest, dark green leaves, white clusters of flowers at mid summer and masses of red berries in autumn when the leaves turn yellow. This is also a fantastic tree for screening.

Pyracantha Red Coumn / Red Firethorn creates a dense and spiny evergreen hedge with bunches of small white flowers in summer and a magnificent show of round red berries in autumn. Loved by birds, it’s upright habit makes it ideal as a hedge, or for training against a wall. It is fast growing so will cover quite quickly to an eventual height of around 8-9 feet, spreading even wider.

Sound Barrier

Pinus Sylvestris, or Scotch Pine, have been grown in our fields in Caragh, making them strong and bulky. Their needled blue green foliage and orange burnt red bark makes a lovely contrast.

The trunk is easily recognisable with a rugged texture, turning reddish brown near the top as it matures. Elevated above a tall trunk sits the bushy, upright crown that is host to dozens of grey-brown pine cones developing from the female flowers. With a mature height in excess of 10metres, this conifer is suited to large gardens or woodland settings. For a small garden, you may want to look at our other Pine trees. The growth rate of Pinus Sylvestris is relatively fast for a conifer making it ideal for a sound barrier, screening and as a boundary tree.

Thuja Plicatta, or Western Red Cedar, is similar looking to Leylandii but not quite as fast growing so easier to maintain. Thuja have thick, olive green foliage that creates an ideal sound barrier as well as a dense privacy screen.

Large sites

Quercus Robur, or Irish Oak, is a wonderfully rugged and very handsome deciduous tree providing a rich habitat for other plants and valuable source of food for wildlife. It ultimately becomes a large tree with a broad head of spectacularly spreading branches filled with small clusters of catkins each spring. Masses of acorns follow in attractive autumn tints of bright yellow and russet brown. Ideal for larger gardens and open spaces.

Tilia Greenspire is a small-leaved lime variety. It is an upright, neatly round-headed tree that produces sweet scented flowers in spring. With heart-shaped glossy green leaves with a pale underside, its a good fast growing choice for urban settings

Prunus Avium - the Wild Cherry is one of the great glories of the woodland in spring, and makes an excellent specimen tree. Its distinctive spreading branches are laden with masses of bowl-shaped white flowers in April and May, and its autumn performance is no less spectacular when the leaves turn fiery red and orange. With shining reddish-brown bark and a broadly conical shape, this tree has a lot to offer in winter too.

Small site

Prunus Yoshimo is an ideal small garden tree that is wide spreading. The Yoshimo cherry (cultivated for centuries in Yoshimo, Japan and introduced to Europe and America in 1902) is now one of the most popular flowering cherries worldwide. It has delicate, single white, sometimes blush, flowers in March-April that have a subtle, almond-like scent and emerge in a cloud of well packed clusters.


Salix Babylonica, or Weeping Willows are also well known to love wet soil and are one of those tree species that have captured the imagination of artists down through the centuries. Next to rivers and lakes, they create such a focal point. In the winter landscape the Weeping Willows remain distinctive due to their bright drooping orange twigs, contrasting against the dark bark of the trunks. As the days lengthen to spring, that orange colour turns a beautiful limey green.

Willows are amazingly fast growing, and develop into a large tree over time. They need plenty of room as their spread is large too, approximately 10metres tall and just as wide.

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