Most people are familiar with the common horse chestnut and it comes as a surprise to learn that there are in fact about 15 species and a large number of cultivars. They vary from huge trees to shrubs that are on a much more modest scale. The larger forms are really only suitable to parks and large open spaces, but there are number of very decorative trees that are suitable for small gardens.
They are all deciduous and tend to have compound leaves with individual leaflets radiating out from a central point. Another feature that they all have in common is their ‘candles’: flowers held in erect spikes that show up over a large distance. The spikes can be up to 30cm (12in) long. The flowers vary from white, through pink to red. In the autumn the leaves briefly take on autumn tints before dropping. Brown nuts (‘conkers’) in prickly cases are also a feature of autumn. These and other parts of the tree can cause stomach complaints if eaten. Plant in any fertile soil as long as it is reasonably free draining. They can be planted in full sun or light shade. Many make very good specimen trees.