Inspired by the grove at the end of the Serpentine path at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge, I recently used birch in a couple of student designs. Silver birch gives good year round value: shining stems in winter with a tracery of black twigs, fresh green leaves in spring that darken to provide dappled shade in summer, and buttery yellow leaves in autumn. Here you see them photographed on May 3rd, with new-ish leaves and an underplanting of small tulips. I've seen winter photos with just a dark mulch, all the better to contrast with the white. It is a stunning effect when you turn the corner to enter the grove and there's a strong sense of place.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, the Himalayan birch. Eventual height 18m. Moderately fertile soil in full sun or dappled shade.
I'm not sure if those at Anglesey are a cultivar, but 'Doorenbos' reaches a more manageable 7.6m in 20 years, with an eventual height of 12m. It suitable for the smaller garden, but even a small and slender tree such as this birch should be planted a good distance from a house (root damage, falling). 'Doorenbos' has the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, evidence of having been trialled and found to have both horticultural and aesthetic value. AGM plants tend to be readily available in garden centres or from suppliers. These stems had been cleaned - you just need water and a soft brush to remove dust and algae.