last updated 17/12/2017

BETULA 'Fascination'
The complicated history of this one means that there is no conclusive evidence as to its taxonomic status. Nevertheless, it is likely to be hybrid. Personally I would support the hypothesis that it is within the utilis and albosinensis complex, though others have suggested that B. ermanii could be involved. From a purely visual perspective, I'm not seeing that. As a young plant, it has the rich dark cinnamon coloured bark that I associate with B. utilis subsp. utilis. As it matures it takes on more of the appearance typical of the albosinesis subspecies because although the outer bark may be a rich mahogany, underneath there lies the distinctive silvery pink colouring. The maturing limbs and canopy have a grace all of their own.

BETULA 'Fetisowii'
The pale tan bark is almost the colour of chamois leather, and is covered with a snowy bloom. Thought to be a wild hybrid, this is such a lovely tree and it has good vigour, usually growing larger than many ornamental birch. For me this is a wonderful alternative to the rather cold predictability of the classic whites; the bark peels differently. In fact I would describe this one as flaking rather than peeling. It performs best on moisture retentive soil; if it is too dry, the canopy will tend to look sparse.
See it in a group in the Winter Garden.

BETULA globispica
An extremely rare but fast-growing species from central Japan with pinky white flaking bark and broad oval leaves. This one has a slightly more lax habit than is typical for most utilis forms, making it a very graceful small tree. The bark colour is hard to describe. It is so pale and pretty, with more warmth and subtle variations in shades than is seen in most of the "whites".
See it in the Quarry Garden.

BETULA 'Hergest'
Anyone who has visited Hergest Croft Gardens in Herefordshire will be familiar with this majestic tree. Although it occurred there as a self-sown seedling, chance hybrids between B. ermanii and B. utilis subsp. albosinensis. Visually it is more reminiscent of the latter in habit, developing a tall, slender upright silhouette. I like to use it where a vertical accent is required. Colouring reputedly varies dependant on whether the tree is growing in sun or shade, and certainly it changes with maturity. Showy white lenticels sparkle against the light coppery-brown young wood. This then matures to a warm pinkish-cream, seeming to glow beneath wavy-edged, heart shaped leaves. Indeed the base of mature trees can appear surprisingly white.  
See it in our Winter Garden and above the Quarry Garden.

BETULA medwediewii 'Gold Bark'
The species hails from the harsh conditions of the Transcaucasus, so we know this one is going to be tough. Although likely to grow larger in the better conditions of cultivation than in the wild, this is still only ever a large shrub or small shrubby tree. It tends to be one of the more colourful birch species in the autumn, with yellow autumn foliage. The species has rather drab greyish bark, so this selection is more attractive with a golden brown glow to the winter structure. Anything less like the archetypal white-barked birch would be hard to imagine!

BETULA middendorfii
This Chinese species is very rare in cultivation, which is a shame, because I like it very much. It is naturally free-branching, yet fairly upright with fine, almost wiry twigs; factors which combine with its smaller leaves to give it a very graceful habit. My plant is now mature enough to see that the bark is a warm pinky-red. It looses its leaves particularly early in the autumn.

BETULA nigra 'Peter Collinson'
The river birch appreciates a moister site than most birch, but avoid the temptation to consign it to an unpleasant water-logged area - it deserves better than that. Dramatic pinkish brown bark peels in lavish curls to reveal glossy creamy stems. B. nigra was introduced from its waterside habitat of eastern North America by Peter Collinson, who received material from John Bartram in the early 18th Century. This selection was collected in Canada by the late French plantsman Aurélien Hemono (to whom I am indebted for his generosity) and named in honour of the original introducer. I was told that it is the best selection ever made, so I’m really looking forward to seeing this one develop - it's certainly looking good so far. We grow then from cuttings to avoid the colour contrast visible at the graft point. This allows them to branch freely in their natural manner, without influence from a rootstock.
See it in our Winter Garden where we have planted a very close group to maximise the effect of this wonderful bark.

BETULA papyrifera var. cordifolia 'Clarenville'

See B. cordifolia 'Clarenville'

BETULA papyrifera 'St George' 
The "Paper Birch" - a large tree with characteristic papery bark and yellow autumn colour. On this vigorous selection, orange-brown bark peels to reveal a white underlayer. This is a splendid tree, but in reality it grows rapidly to become a rather large tree, too large for most applications, so it is one that we seldom propagate.

BETULA pendula 'Silver Grace'
"Silver Grace" totally epitomises the characteristics of our native lady of the woods and this selection captures the true beauty of those features. Tall, elegant with light and airy foliage gently cascading from silvery-white bark...what more could you want! It seemed fitting to plant a trio of these gorgeous trees in the lower section of our Quarry Garden. Their height now rivals the adjacent oaks (though if course the habit is rather different) and the white bark is now visible from the arboretum on the opposite hillside. 

BETULA pendula subsp. szechuanica 'Liuba White' 
The name may be a bit of a mouthful, but the tree is gorgeous. Vigorous, open form with almost blue-green leaves and brilliant white bark. This selection was reputedly collected by the great modern day plant hunter Roy Lancaster in 1981 in Sichuan, China. It does best for us in richer soil. Where the soil is thin over rock (despite good moisture retention) the canopy tends to look sparse and not do itself justice.

BETULA 'Polar Bear'
A lovely easy to grow, strong, sturdy tree displaying wonderful pure white branches and trunk. This one came to us named as a cultivar of B. ermanii, but to be honest, I have my doubts! It is much too white - definitely B. utilis subsp. jacquemontii territory. It is likely therefore that it is a hybrid. However, one characteristic that puts this one right up there as (possibly!) my favourite white birch is the overall habit. Although still fundamentally upright in habit, the twigs have a more graceful, slightly laxer appearance, almost drooping at the tips. For me, this contrasts with the more rigid, upright habit typical of most B. utilis selections. People often ask me how close together birch can be planted. Our first plantings when we came here included a trio of 'Polar Bear' literally planted in the same hole so that the rootballs were pushed as tightly together as possible. I can see them from the office window as I type, spotlit by the low winter sun against a dark deciduous hedge backdrop. The summer silhouette is of a single tree, and in autumn the falling leaves reveal three almost perfectly symmetrical trunks.
See them also in the Winter Garden.

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