Plant of the month

Ornamental Pears

Each month, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the month'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back regularly for her latest post. This month Gayle brings us the ornamental pear.

How versatile are the many fabulous cultivars of ornamental pears available to gardeners nowadays. With different growing habits and characteristics there seems to be a pear for every situation. I have been waiting and waiting for my Capital pears to start to turn but no sign of colour yet! I know that they are always one of the last varieties to change into their beautiful autumn gowns, but it seems late this year. Perhaps I am being impatient. Fortunately I have been surrounded by magnificent autumn colour in my garden and around my neighbourhood with maples, birches, ash, crepe myrtles, smoke bushes, etc. bursting into their rich hues of reds, russets and golds.

Over the years that I had a large garden I planted so many varieties of ornamental pears and they all performed well, even in my dreadful clay soil. They looked fantastic planted in groups, and equally as eye catching as stand alone specimens. I planted Capitals wherever there was a narrow spot to fill. The group of seven Manchurian pears I planted (Edna Walling’s “throw up some potatoes and plant where they land”) were very successful and always the first to colour up and herald in the autumn. This patch was situated halfway along our curved driveway and afforded great pleasure in all seasons. At the top of the driveway outside our bedroom and lounge area, I had another randomly planted group, five Cleveland Select, which looked stunning all year round, shading these rooms in summer and letting the winter sun stream through the western facing windows in winter. However my favourite group planting was a clump of the cultivar, Dancer! Although not spectacular in autumn with the foliage only changing to tones of yellow, in spring and summer, with just the slightest whisper of a breeze, those silvery, shimmering leaves really would “dance”. Gorgeous!

Ornamental pears seem to be among the hardiest and easiest to grow of all garden trees, able to tolerate low levels of drought and intermittently wet sites, including clay soils. Plant them in full sun. They will put on a pretty show in spring with their white to pale pink blossoms bursting from plump hairy buds. Their foliage is richly dark and shiny, their autumn show is spectacular and their bare branches make for an interesting silhouette against the winter skies. A landscaping dream, they suit gardens both large and small, you will find them in parks, planted as street trees and lining avenues. They look great in groups and equally lovely as a stand alone deciduous tree. The most popular varieties seem to be……

Pyrus ussurienesis “Manchurian” - One of the first ornamental pears to flower in spring, this medium sized tree has a natural dense rounded shape, a favourite shade tree. The summer foliage of the Manchurian pear is glossy dark green and then its autumn foliage includes tones of red, orange yellow and purple. 9m x 7m.

Pyrus calleryana “Chanticleer” also known as “Cleveland Select”
This tree is very popular for smaller gardens or spaces where width is limited. It has a uniform upright flame shape with a very dense growth. Beautiful, rich autumn colour. 11m x 6m.

Pyrus calleryana “Capital”
A fastigiate form and possibly the narrowest growing Pyrus cultivar in Australia. Again with masses of white flowers in spring and stunning autumn colour. 11m x 3m.

Pyrus calleryana “Aristocrat”
Very attractive, medium sized with a very good branch structure and excellent floral display. This ornamental pear is broader spreading than “Chanticleer” but more rigid and less natural than the “Manchurian”, while not quite as wide. It flowers in spring and colours in late autumn-winter. 11m x 7m.

Pyrus betulifolia “Dancer”
A smaller pyramidal shaped tree with attractive small pendulous shimmering leaves which start off silver grey and mature to a rich green, before turning to yellow tones in autumn. Like all pears it smothers itself with lovely white flowers that appear later in spring than most other varieties. 7m x 4.5m.

Yes there are other cultivars for you to research and choose from, you are bound to find just the perfect fit for your space. The garden centres will be stocking up on these deservedly popular trees very soon, some offering bare rooted stock, so now is the time to start planning. I have squeezed two Capitals into my small garden and sadly, I have no room for more. Thank goodness I can enjoy the year round delights of the pears in the gardens of my friends and neighbours, and of course the gardens that many generous owners open to the public with Open Gardens Victoria.