January's Plant of the Month

The fascination of birch bark provides colourful interest during winter

The winter months are a great time to admire the structural plants in your garden and review whether you have enough of a ‘backbone’ in your planting schemes. Small trees are great for providing a backbone and Betula utilis ‘Fascination’ fits the bill perfectly providing both winter interest and structure.

The contrasting bark layers of Betula utilis 'Fascination'There are many different varieties of Betula, all of which have fantastic white bark which glistens in the low winter sun. B. utilis ‘Fascination’ has deep-orange satin peeling bark which turns salmon-white as the layers are revealed (left), making a striking colour contrast, particularly when they’re planted in a group.

It will reach around 15m (50ft) in height and 10m (33ft) in spread, making an attractive, open small tree with an oval canopy. In early spring, as well as the new leaves forming, it produces attractive yellow-brown male catkins, hanging on the tips of the branches.

When you visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall you’ll find B. utilis ‘Fascination’ planted en masse as you enter the garden (below). Next to the Visitor Building, its coloured bark provides fantastic winter structure, particularly as they are planted in a large, loose group. Beneath, evergreen species such as low growing pines contrast the white bark of the birches brilliantly with their dark green needles.

Betula utilis 'Fascination'Over time the birches will form a light woodland canopy and plants such as hellebores and epimediums will thrive underneath them along with other plants with evergreen interest such as Polystichum setiferum Divisilobum Group.

Many low-growing plants will thrive in the dappled shade underneath the birches but they must be able to tolerate a little dryness as birches are surface rooting. Betula itself is an easy tree to grow preferring moderately fertile, moist but well drained soil in full sun or light dappled shade.

Useful links

Choosing the best birch

RHS Advice: Birches for winter interest

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.