Star attraction

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Spring has arrived – with some sun, some snow and some confusion.

We enjoyed the sun, tolerated (and cursed) the snow, but many people haven’t got over the confusion. Just what is this shrub/tree?

In spring, it suddenly produces flowers just as, confusingly, several other varieties are getting their acts together and providing a bit of welcome brightness after the long, dreary winter.

But it’s not a cherry, it’s not an apple, it’s not a dogwood or a magnolia – it’s an Amelanchier lamarckii, also known as Snowy Mespilus, Serviceberry or Juneberry, and it’s a real sensation in spring with its branches bursting with white, star-shaped blossom and new copper foliage.

In summer, the leaves turn a vibrant green and the branches become heavy with delicious fruit before the leaves get in on the act again by bursting into vibrant flame-red in autumn. And even in winter, this often-ignored marvel gives an attractive striated grey and black trunk.

Add to its obvious ornamental appeal the fact that the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) has added it to a list of bee-friendly plants, and it’s easy to see why this wonderful plant potentially is a fabulous investment for many gardens.

Just give it good drainage, air circulation (to discourage leaf diseases), and water during dry periods.

Amelanchier lamarckii tolerates most soils (although it prefers not to have its roots in chalk) and rarely outgrows its welcome, seldom reaching more than 15ft in height. To get the best autumn colour, plant it in a sunny spot.

If your garden just isn’t suitable for Amelanchier lamarckii, either because it has chalky soil or is just too wet, don’t despair – there are a few shrubs/trees which will tolerate such conditions, although they may fail the size test by growing too big for their roots.

Some acers, as well as willows, and even hawthorn and the lovely ornamental pear, Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’, tend to tolerate if not thrive in damp conditions, while chalk-lovers include some dogwoods and, again, acers.

True, they are not as floriferous as the likes of Amelanchier lamarckii, but beggars can’t be choosers.

If in doubt, try cultivating a specimen in a big container where you can dictate the growing conditions by choosing the compost, the site and the watering regime.