Tending Trees Part 1

When I took the job at the Priory, I (naively) didn’t appreciate how much time and care the trees would require.

Each year, I arrange for any sickly, dangerous or unwanted trees to be felled and for dead, rotten and restricted  branches to be removed.

If  a smallish tree needs felling or a low branch removing, I’ll do the job myself; anything larger and I need to get in help.  This year, there were no trees to chop down (a good thing) but I still had tree-work that was either too high for me to reach (I have no head for heights) or beyond my skill level (hard to believe I know, but true).

On the drive, just before it turns and enters the gardens, is a large candelabra-shaped ash tree.  After a mighty storm in early February, a big, rotten section of one of its many stems, crashed to the ground below.  Peering up at this elephant-skinned giant, I could see that there was still a big length of trunk and two or three dead branches that needed to be removed.  (At this point, the drive is a public right of way and so the tree needed to be made safe).

The rotten trunk is to the right of the tree surgeon

So, at the end of March, I hired a local company (who I’ve used these past two or three years) to tackle this and two other jobs.  Jack (the tree surgeon) gradually reduced the rotten bole …

Another chunk of rotten tree-trunk falls to earth

… and removed the dead branches.

I also asked for advice on two of the big oaks on the east lawn.  We had spoken about them last year and I wanted him to cast a professional eye over them.

Here they are on the right.  They have sparse top growth, crumbling bark and plenty of dead branches.  Last year he told me that they were dying from the top down and probably won’t survive many more years.  He suggested that they may have been struck by lightning.

Unlike ash, oak is as hard as iron (-ish) and far less likely to shed branches; unless they are rotten.  After a quick inspection, he saw no need to carry out any remedial work.  These two oaks should be fine (and safe) until another check is carried out next year.

Reassured, we then moved on to job number two.  This was a quickie; just a simple lifting of the tree-crown (by the removal of two or three lower branches) from the tulip tree next to the house.


We wanted to increase space and light for the amelanchier on the left and for the yew hedging beneath.


You can hardly see the difference which is how tree maintenance should be, I suppose.  Nothing too drastic.

But the final job was to be more drastic.

On the west lawn by the pond are six weeping willows and I had been asked by the Priory owner to have the crown of the largest reduced by about 25%.  I  was worried that such a big crown reduction, at this time of year, would look ugly, perhaps harm the tree and (despite being willow) that it wouldn’t re-sprout.

“Such a big crown reduction, at this time of year, won’t look too ugly, won’t harm the tree and (being willow) it will soon re-sprout,”  said Jack.  Huh?!?  I hate that mind-reading thing he does.

Once more aloft, Jack starts work while his assistant waits below.

And when they had finished?  Noticeable certainly – but more light for the house and for a pair of adjacent birches.

A good morning’s work then.  Three jobs done, loads more firewood for me to chop next winter, plenty of waste for a big bonfire (always a joy) and a metre high mound of wood chippings.  And the trees on the estate made safe for another year – fingers crossed.

30 thoughts on “Tending Trees Part 1

  1. What an informative post Dave. You have got a gem of a tree surgeon who knows his stuff. I’m pleased to hear conformation that trees have to be looked after on an annual basis. Pity the folk at the back of us didn’t know this and then panicked and got most of the trees cut down. I do miss that wonderful backdrop.


    • He is a gem, Janet – really pleased to have found him. He came on recommendation (which is always the best kind) and I always find it really useful to have a stroll around the gardens and discuss this or that tree with him, as he is just so darn knowledgeable. D.


  2. I don’t see how you can go leaping around in the Lake district and still be scared of heights! Can I recommend next time you sign up for a 2/3 day rock climbing course? You have no idea what a difference having a tight rope to rely on makes! You’ll be swinging around in the trees in no time….


    • Do you think so, Mr K? Were I to sign up for a rock climbing course, I would simply spend 2/3 days glued to a rock face, immovable, eyes shut, muttering obscenities and thinking of puppies and poppies and anything but the long, hard DROP below me. The Lakes are fine – as long as I don’t go near any precipices. I find Striding Edge quite challenging enough. D


  3. A good tree surgeon is valuable indeed! And can be hard to find. I need to have some work done on some of my trees. It’s a job that unfortunately can usually be put off….sometimes for too long. Good for you for maintaining an annual schedule.


  4. You have beautiful old trees there! I am so jealous of old trees… I didn’t know they need annual care. And I wouldn’t dare climbing up any of your tree! I’d need to cut some of my young tree’s already dead branches but I really miss the courage to climb and cut. Don’t know what scares me more….


  5. My parents’ neighbors had to have an elm removed, and the first set of guys who came to take it down, instead of climbing into the tree, just tried to hoist a running chainsaw 30′ in the air up to the tallest branches on a long, flexible pole. Of course the chainsaw (did I mention that it was running?) was too heavy for the pole at that height and came crashing down from 30 feet directly onto the public sidewalk. No one was hurt, and the “surgeons” were summarily dismissed… All to say, well done for finding one who knows his work so well, and reads your mind to boot. And to think that the Priory has not one but two Blasted Oaks–like an Ann Radcliffe novel come to life!

    The beech (?) hedges really do look spectacular against the early green of the willows. You’ll make a hedge convert out of me yet.


    • Good grief, Stacy. You’re making that up, right? Hoisting a running chain saw …. into the air …. on a bendy pole? Nice. I’m sure they must get a lot of work. If they’re still alive. (‘Fraid I had to look up Ms Radcliffe but I see now, yes it must have been a dark and stormy and melodramatic-flashes-of-lightning-night indeed).

      It is beech and my life long aim is to convert you to hedges. I could have gone into politics or into religion but no, I thought I’d ‘do’ hedges’ instead. Dave


  6. Pleased to hear you didn’t need to get rid of the oaks, for a little while longer at least. They are such amazing habitats for all sorts of creatures. We had a birch tree removed a couple of years ago from the back garden. It’s only a small garden and the previous owners had planted a birch and crab apple quite close together. I loved both trees but the birch was getting just too big and cutting out too much light from the garden. So we decided to get rid of it. It was the right decision but I still miss it. The autumn light on it was beautiful and the white bark looked great in spring with all the spring bulbs around it.

    It’s a very skilled job to be able to maintain a tree’s beautiful shape whilst restricting the size.


    • Always sad to fell any mature tree, I think. But the problem of too closely planted trees is a common one and I have several such at the Priory. The tulip and amelanchier is just one – the willows and birch another. Of course, some people buy saplings, can’t imagine how big they will grow and don’t leave adequate space. Keeps tree surgeons in work, I guess. Dave


  7. I’m thinking thats a lot of wood to chop…………… Tree surgeons really earn their wages i couldn’t see a harness in the photo but I’m sure he had one, what amazing views they must enjoy up there………………….oh maybe they just get the job done and get right down as quick as they can.


    • They were harnessed, Andrea though it is difficult to see that in the photos. And yes, I envy them the views – still wouldn’t get me up there though! ‘Sides I’d have my eyes screwed up so tightly in fear, I wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway! D


  8. Trees are just such satisfactory plants! Look great all year, don’t need weeding, seldom complain. The saftey culture which demands that every last dead branch is removed does annoy me though. That said, as I’m sure you know Dave, straight lengths of oak are quite valuable – but that value rapidly decreases where the dead wood has been left in situ for too long!


    • Hi Mr K. Yes, Margaret had some oak felled a year ago and someone trundled over her fields to harvest the timber and pay her for the privilege. But I’d rather just leave these ones in situ as long as possible. The Priory would be less without them. Four out of the six big oaks in the garden have problems of one kind or another but I’m in no hurry to have them removed. D


  9. Wonderful to see your trees safe for another year, its certainly a responsibility having such huge trees. Thanks for your information about the oaks, we have a huge dead one which we have left standing, when we used to open for the NGS they wanted us to cut it down but we refused as we have Great spotted woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Tree creepers which use it, searching for insects under the bark. Also a Tawny Owl sits there at night time!


    • Good for you re the oak, Pauline. I had a visit from the NGS recently and they seemed remarkably relaxed about all sorts of H&S issues that I thought would be a problem – trees included. And yes, lots of birds uses these poorly oak trees and there are certainly woodpecker holes in them, I also have a tawny owl in the gardens but I have never seen him or her – though I hear it all the time! I’m jealous that yours is so blatant! D


  10. Tree surgeons, such a skilled job and looks like they have done a fantastic job. Pleased to hear that both oaks were fine and trimming the willow won’t harm it. Your comment about the tree surgeon reading your mind me me laugh this morning!


    • I’m really pleased too, Boys. My worry with the two oaks was that they would keel over into the pond and it’d be a nightmare to get them out again. Seems I needn’t worry about that for another year or two. Phew. D


  11. Good tree surgeons are worth their weight in gold. At work the policy seems to be to remove any diseased trees even those that dont look diseased. I’m not convinced at all, they plant new trees but it will be years before the campus has the wonderful green feel it had when I started there 10 years ago


    • This firm came with a friend’s recommendation and yes, I’m really pleased with them. Do you know when you hire someone for a job (any job) and you worry that they’re going to be idiots or that they’re going to rip you off? Well, within minutes of meeting these ‘surgeons, I just relaxed and sighed with relief as I realised that they really knew what they were talking about. Dave


  12. A big resposibility, pruning trees, done by the wrong person can result in years and years of uglyness and probably bad health for the tree. It’s great to see yours have been done so well. I do agree that pruning trees is a bit like a good haircut – best when no-one notices that its been done. Christina


    • So true, Christina. Many of the old fruit trees at the Priory have been sorely butchered over the years with horizontal cuts where rain water collects and rots the branch. Someone obviously didn’t know what they were doing. D


  13. I love seeing tree surgeons at work – swinging about in the top of the trees like monkeys. The work seems drastic sometimes but it does help the trees to re-generate. Yours are looking good after their haircuts – as you say – better safe than sorry.


    • I was pretty mesmerised by watching them at work too and rued that I didn’t have such a skill. But had I been up there, I would have been clamped to a branch, whimpering with fear – so not a lot of help. Dave


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