“Plant pears for your heirs”
What a great saying about a tree being long lived. Just in front of our house is a massive ancient pear tree which we presume it was planted at about the time our house was built in the late 1840s. Each spring when it is smothered in its stunning single white blooms it takes my breath away and intoxicates the bees. It still occasionally bears fruit which is OK for cooking but usually the cockatoos take it all and don’t share. This tree survives with no supplementary watering although I will admit it would have its roots in the soakage from a dam and the soil where it grows is good. I don’t know if Thomas Hamlyn knew it would still look good some 170 years later however we are so glad that he planted it. I have a love affair with pears and as well as having 10 fruiting varieties growing in my orchard I grow nine different varieties of ornamental pears with three more varieties ordered as bare rooted specimens this winter.
Most people wouldn’t know that there are a number of different varieties of ornamental pears and often when I do garden consultations I see where people have bought a few and then gone back for more and bought a different type. They all have different growing habits and characteristics and so here is some information about them, based on my experience.
Pyrus ussurienesis – the Manchurian Pear.
This medium sized tree has a natural dense rounded shape and is still one of my favourite shade trees. I love the fact that it smothers itself with single white blooms in late winter and looks like snow has fallen. Even before these flowers appears, I find the tracery of its branches and its swollen hairy buds delightful, letting me know that spring is just around the corner. The summer foliage of the Manchurian pears is glossy dark green and then its autumn foliage includes tones of red, orange yellow and purple. They tend to lose their leaves around the end of autumn, ideal if you want to let the precious winter sunshine into your house. Recently someone was told that this tree had a propensity to sucker badly however it is not true. Any grafted tree may sucker if under stress or if you damage its roots. These can be seen growing as street trees all around the Hills. 9m x 7m at 20 years
This tree is very popular for smaller gardens or spaces where width is limited, however it still gets a lot taller than many people imagine. It has a uniform upright flame shape with a very dense growth habit and while lovely has a less natural feel. Its flowers appear in early spring and its leaves don’t even start to turn autumn shades until early winter and don’t drop till towards the end of June. 11m x 6m in 20 years
This tree is even more upright, forming a tight column, again with masses of white flowers in spring and stunning autumn colour. 11 x 3m in 20 years
This ornamental pear is broader spreading than ‘Chanticleer’ but more rigid and less natural than the Manchurian pear, while not quite as wide. It flowers in spring and colours in late autumn-winter. 11m x 7m at 20 years
I have four of these trees, planted in Autumn 2015, and love their attractive small pendulous leaves which start off silver grey and mature to a rich green, before turning yellow tones in autumn. Like all pears it smothers itself with lovely white flowers however these appear later in spring than most other varieties. 7m x 4.5 m at 20 years
Pyrus ‘Winter Glow’
This is the last of the pears to turn in my garden and often doesn’t start to change colour till late June into July. The leaves drop towards the end of July and then it gets its new foliage early in spring, so it is bare for a very short period. Great if you are trying to screen something ugly but not great if you want to get winter sun into your house. Also it doesn’t give me the same stunning show where a whole tree is ablaze in its autumn tones as the others pears do. 10m x 7m at 20 years
Pyrus nivalis – Snow Pear
This wonderful ornamental pear smothers itself in pure white blooms in late winter and early spring. The foliage that then follows is silvery white and covered in fine down. This foliage ages to a pale green with the downy overlay giving a pale greeny-grey appearance, until they turn shades of yellow and orange in autumn. It produces small yellowish green fruit which smell sweetly when overripe. 8m x 5m at 20 years
Pyrus ‘Edgedell’ (also known as Edgewood)
This rounded small tree has slightly silvery green foliage which turns reddish purple in the autumn. This variety was planted at Sophie’s Patch in Winter 2016. All of the five specimens I have planted in different areas have impressed me with their growth, neat shape and autumn colour. 8m x 6 metres at 20 years
Pyrus ‘Festivity’ (also known as Westwood or Korean Sun)
This small, dense, pyramidal shaped tree has glossy green leaves which appear early in spring and turn reddish-purple autumn colour. In my experience this is the only variety of pear which gets affected by pear and cherry slug however it doesn’t suffer from it every year. 4m x 5m at 20 years
There are some varieties of ornamental pears which I would still like to trial and these are ‘Prancer’, ‘Red Spire’ and the upright form of the snow pear (Pyrus nivalis ‘Fastigiata’). Another variety which is available is the Weeping Silver pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) however having grown this before in a previous garden I have no desire to do so again. Its silvery willow-like leaves are attractive and while it has a semi-weeping shape, I think its overall appearance is messy, rather than graceful or elegant.