THIS week I continue to pay homage to the birch tree and its varied and delightful forms, writes TOM ATTWOOD.

I first came across the twisted stems of Betula pendula ‘Spider Alley’ several years ago in a plant catalogue. That same year I planted one in the nursery garden here at Halecat. During the summer it’s not startlingly different from its native cousin Betula pendula. However, with its bare winter frame the extraordinary, contorted nature of its branches creates an intriguing and beautiful form. The extent of the twists and turns its branches take are not so extreme to cause an awkward, clumsy form that some contorted plants can develop. It is a good, upright, small tree with the distinctive white to the bark so characteristic of Betula pendula. In heavy frost the effect is glorious and hard to resist.

Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ is a cracking birch for the smaller garden. My parents planted one close to a recently constructed pond and it was a great combination. The gently weeping nature of the branches reflected in the water. It is the pendulous quality that draws you to this tree in the first instance as the majority of birches are typically upright in their habit. The bark is peeling and shaded in different tones of pink and cream. The common name for Betula nigra is river birch but that does not mean a plentiful supply of water is required, it grows well in ‘typical’ garden conditions.

Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata Joes’ is even more unusual in its habit which is narrow, almost column like. The shape works well in a tight space and if a line of sentinel like trees were needed then this would feature on my wish list.

Birches are extremely versatile and once established will cope with winter wet and summer drought. For exposed gardens they grow where many would fail. They are rarely prone to disease and will establish speedily where the best conditions prevail.

Next week: early spring bulbs for pots