I am aware that at least two of the very big oak trees in the garden are dying. They’ll probably survive for decades yet but nevertheless they are on the way out. And two days ago, I was told by a tree surgeon that another oak’s demise is imminent. (I say imminent but I read somewhere that oaks spend 200 years growing, 200 years living and 200 years dying – so perhaps I shouldn’t worry too much).
I can’t tell you exactly how many big oaks there are; whenever I count them I arrive at a different figure. Partly this is because I have problems counting up beyond three or four, and partly, I suspect, because the oaks move around like mischievous, chuckling ents when my back is turned. But there are somewhere between 16 and 19. And so with three dying, I have wanted to plant some young oak blood. And if it was local, Sussex oak blood all the better. I’ve potted up some acorns from the garden and have three seedlings but they are still only four or five inches tall. I needed some a little bigger than that.
A few weeks ago I was up in the Priory’s small patch of woodland and noticed a clutch of young oaks growing in a thicket of birch and hornbeam. Despite sitting in the shadow of some enormous pines and grown up oaks, they were strong and healthy and about seven feet tall. But as oaks are tricky to transplant, I was nervous of snapping their very long tap roots.
Luckily when I came to dig up the first one, the heavy clay was absolutely rain-sodden. I dug a deep trench around the root-ball and then started to lever it out. I planned to slice through the tap-root as deep as I possibly could but, with a little bit of a struggle, I suddenly found 18 inches of tap-root sliding easily out of the gloopy mud! The other two were as easy.
All three are now re-planted where they continue a vague line with two mighty oaks and an ash on the western boundary of the grounds.
Though I have planted approximately 30 trees at the Priory, no other planting has been as satisfying. Of course the young trees may not survive their ordeal. But I do hope so.
Planting oaks certainly underscores one’s own mortality. These trees will never be anything other than young oaks to me; even if I live another 50 years! Assuming that a bypass doesn’t come through the site, they may one day reach the awesome size and shape of some of the biggies at the Priory.
And I hope that someone loves and treasures them as much as I love and treasure the current crop.