Standards - flowering shrubs or woody vines trained to look like small trees - have never been in greater demand. Patio trees in which the plant's crown is at least 30 inches above the top of the container are especially popular.
The demand is so great, in fact, that some wholesale nurseries have shifted their production emphasis to meet it. At Hines Nurseries in Irvine, California, 10 acres are now devoted to growing patio trees versus just 2 acres for full-size trees, reports Felix Barron, field operations manager at Hines. Twenty years ago, that ratio was exactly reversed, he says.
The main reason for the surging interest in patio trees, says Barron, is the ever-shrinking size of Western gardens. The yards of newer homes, in particular, are often too small to accommodate a full-size tree, he says. But even the smallest courtyard has room for a patio tree, some of which can be maintained at 4 to 5 feet tall by pruning. Another contributing factor to their popularity is versatility: Patio trees grow equally well in a large container as they do in the ground.
At the same time, gardeners are learning to blend standards into their landscapes. Tree roses, for instance, don't have to look like isolated exclamation points, says Tom Carruth, hybridizer and horticulturist for Weeks Roses. They can serve as vertical elements in mixed borders or mingle in beds with shrub roses.
For all these reasons, patio trees are available in greater quantity and variety than ever (see below).