BIRCH trees have always appealed to me and living where we do on the edge of Witherslack we are surrounded by tens of thousands of our native birch (Betula pendula) with their distinctive white bark and horizontal markings running the length of the main stems, writes TOM ATTWOOD. When I was five years old my parents, younger brother and I lived in Warsaw and I can remember driving through the woods and seeing the ghostly white rows of birch trees wherever we went. When they returned to England, they were given a small framed print by one of dad’s Polish work colleagues. It features three silver birches alongside one another with crisp, distinctive colours and lines. They have it on the wall by the front door and I admire it every time I visit.

As a student at Edinburgh botanics I began to appreciate the depth and breadth of birches. We are so fortunate as gardeners to have access to a diverse and wide selection of birches, many of them are varieties of wild birches that have especially bright white bark, coloured bark, habit e.g. weeping or their form itself which may differ greatly from other examples.

The most widely grown garden birch is the white stemmed jacquemontii birch. This has been in cultivation in one form or another since the end of the 18th Century. There are variations meaning that you will find some examples of jacquemontii with purer white bark, cream coloured and even in some instances ochre brown or light pinkish brown.

Another completely different species of birch that like jacquemontii grows brilliantly in Cumbria is Betula albosinenis. Another Himalayan species, this fast-growing birch has a terrific, graceful upright form and the bark develops a creamy, pink orange colour as it matures. My parents in law have some terrific examples in their garden at Summerdale that were planted 15 years ago on the edge of a windswept section of the garden and they now look magnificent.

Next week: Tom will look at three further birches and the conditions they need to thrive