Fine looking specimen


By Matt Swinerd of Waikato Garden Care

Seasonal specimen trees are a must have in any garden.

Their sensational colour through autumn is a delight and reminds us that winter is on its way. After winter, they herald spring with beautiful blooms … as we are seeing in the Waikato presently.

Specimen trees not only have a large visual impact for gardeners to enjoy but just by adding a few trees you can boost the value of your property and provide long lasting structure to the garden. They do a great job of attracting local wildlife, framing beautiful, distant views or blocking unwanted views while some species provide a lovely scent that draws us into the garden.

It is still a good time to plant so you’re not too late to improve and enhance your garden. There are many ways, places, and reasons to use specimen trees, for example as a driveway avenue, a shaded spot for summer or to spruce up an entrance.

An avenue of Pyrus calleryana Aristocrat down a driveway

There are a few things to consider when choosing specimen trees. You need to decide where you want the tree to go, what the maximum size should be for the space, what colours you’d like to see, and what shape you are looking for.

Keep in mind when placing a tree that it will cast a shadow. Shading an entertaining area through summer is great but shading your vegetable garden less so. You also need to be mindful of your neighbours and make sure your lovely tree doesn’t cast too much shade over their property.

Once you have found your desired specimen and the perfect position for it you then need to make sure the soil has good drainage and is nutrient efficient. There are many ways to do this but most important is always adding organic matter e.g. compost, mulch. This will help to amend the soil and add nutrients which will then be taken in by the tree. Planting with a small amount of fertilizer like sheep pellets or blood and bone is a great organic way to help enrich the soil and increase the quality of growth for your tree.

Here are just a few of our favourite specimen trees:

Prunus (Ornamental flowering cherry)

Cherry trees which are native to Japan, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam are one of the most popular species of specimen trees in NZ. They are well known for their amazing flower displays which, dependent on species, can range from late winter to early summer. The sweet blooms attract and feed local wildlife, in particular native Tui. Ornamental cherrys come in many shapes and sizes including weeping species which makes them ideal for any garden. They are quite hardy trees and can withstand the harsh Waikato weather conditions.

  • Prunus campanulate “Felix Jury”

Flowers in early September with a profuse display of deep red blossoms. The blossoms are full of nectar which encourage birds into your garden. Autumn leaves are a rich blend of red, gold and orange. It forms a pyramidal upright tree reaching 5m.

Tui in a prunus
  • Prunus “Shirotae” Mt Fuji Cherry

This strong growing specimen has a wide spreading, flat top shape with tiered horizontal branches. It can grow as wide as its height which can reach up to 5m. Large fragrant, pure white flowers bloom in early October and its serrated green leaves turn yellow and orange in autumn.

  • Prunus subhirtella “Falling Snow” (Weeping)

This is a spectacular slender weeping tree which builds up tiers of arching branches. The branches are smothered in mid spring with pink buds opening to small blush pink flowers. The autumn leaves turn yellow and orange.


There isn’t a group of trees that is more favourably known or more highly appreciated in gardens than magnolias and no other group which produces larger or more abundant blossoms. They are said to have been around longer than bees and with around 210 different species available you have plenty to choose from. You can get evergreen or deciduous species both of which are very hardy growing and survive well in the Waikato region. Magnolias tend to have a larger leaf and with large blooms they are great for adding textural contrast to your garden and they make for excellent shade trees.

  • Magnolia “Black Tulip”
Magnolia Black Tulip

Amazing goblet shaped and heavily textured blooms of blackish red flowers are produced on this neat rounded tree which grows up to 3.5m. The flowers which bloom from mid-spring retain their shape and solid colour. They can flower from an early age and make the ideal specimen for a smaller garden.

  • Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia)

This smaller growing magnolia forms a compact rounded and multi branched twiggy bush growing up to 2m. It has star shaped pure white fragrant flowers which bloom from mid-winter until the leaves grow in spring. You won’t have to wait long for those beautiful blooms as they flower from an early age. It has golden autumn leaves and is perfect for the smaller garden.

  • Magnolia “Sunsation”

This species grows up to 4.5m and produces green buds that open up to cup shaped yellow flowers with a green tinge and red base. Very profuse flowering during mid spring mostly before the leaves emerge. It has an upright columnar form which fits well into smaller spaces.

Pyrus (Ornamental Pear)

The Pyrus calleryana or commonly known as the Callery pear is a deciduous species of pear that is native to China and Vietnam. The leaves are generally oval, long, and glossy dark green in colour. They produce white flowers that blossom abundantly in early spring each year creating a stunning wonderland affect if planted en masse. Some people consider the odour of these flowers to be unpleasant but that is a very minor flaw in an otherwise beautiful and highly useful ornamental landscape tree. These specimens are wind and drought tolerant, dealing with the Waikato conditions well.

  • Pyrus calleryana “Aristocrat”

A pyramidal growing tree with an open branch form. The spreading branches can be trained to grow horizontal. Spectacular white flowers bloom in early spring with new spring leaves a red-purple maturing to a glossy green then turn red in autumn. Tolerant of poor drainage and can grow up to 7m.

  • Pyrus calleryana “Kea”

A smaller growing multi branched tree up to 5m has a dense bushy growth habit. Its glossy green leaves turn to a beautiful blend of burgundy and green through the summer. The colouring intensifies to red through autumn. This specimen is great for tolerating both dry and wet soil types.

  • Pyrus salicifolia “Pendula” (Weeping silver pear)

This unique specimen has slender weeping stems with a silver-grey bark. Willow like leaves are silver white through spring and become a grey green through summer. It forms tiers of weeping branches and can be easily clipped to retain the desired shape and size. It is great for areas with strong winds and drought conditions. This beauty grows up to 3m.

  • Matt Swinerd is owner of Waikato Garden Care, a landscape and gardening company that loves to create and care for beautiful gardens. To contact Matt, phone 07 838 9956 or click here for his website.

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