Tending Trees Part 2

I don’t know exactly how many trees I’ve planted during the past four years.  Not counting a hundred and seventy beech-hedge saplings or five yew-hedge ‘trees’ or any of the ‘shrubs’ that will attain tree-like status (photinias and cotinus for example), I guess about forty.  During the same period, we’ve felled perhaps a dozen dead or unwanted trees … but the Priory is still up on the deal.  And it’s a net increase which will only grow; I want to plant more.

I recently put in three Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ which, as they can grow eight metres high, let’s call ‘trees’ shall we?

Digging into rain-sodden, heavy clay was a joyless, back-breaking task but one I was determined not to give up on.

Ten minutes later I gave up.

But, after a mug of Earl Grey, I came back and finished the job.  The Priory owner suggested planting them closely together and I think he’s right – they should look fine as a mature grouping.

In early 2009, I planted three Eucalyptus gunnii in the small copse up on the drive.  One, sadly, has died but the other two have romped away.  Indeed they have romped away too quickly.

Last winter, weighed down by snow or battered by strong winds, they would often kiss the ground and the root balls rock alarmingly.  They seemed to grow quicker than either their stems or their anchoring root system could cope with – so I decided to pollard them.  I do this to a gunnii in the gardens – to encourage the glaucous, round juvenile leaves.  But here I just wanted mighty, towering eucalypts with a far, high canopy – a goal that will now be delayed.

It’s not an elegant look, but they should soon re-spurt – and the roots and trunk will have time to grow sufficiently strong to support all that top weight.

Three or four years ago I stuck a neighbour’s pruned willow twigs into a pot and, even though they had been lying about for several days, they quickly rooted.  The willow was a corkscrew (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) and last year I planted it out on the east lawn.

It is growing nicely; the lawn here is often soggy.

In my first year, I planted an olive tree on a lawn just outside the gardens.  This was before I had fully realised just what a sharp frost pocket the gardens sit in.  The olive struggled valiantly for a couple of years and then, with a shiver, a sigh and a wistful longing for the warm shores of the Med, it died.  I replaced it (on what I still call the olive lawn), with a …

…  columnar Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’) – eventual height 15 – 20 metres! It seems much happier than the poor olive ever was.

These two flowering cherries ‘Kanzan’ are growing well too.

April 2011

The flowers are a little too pink and a little too fluffy for my taste.  But what could I do?   They were in a plant sale and incredibly cheap.  And the red leaves are undeniably handsome.

Recently, we had some uninvited guests (see … ‘Do Not Tempt Fate’) and actually, they behaved appallingly – killing two apple trees in the meadow; now replaced with ‘Katy’ and ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’.

To keep out the deer, we did consider fencing the garden with six-foot high wire but, as the owner remarked, it would have given the gardens a POW-camp air – not a look we particularly wanted.   Option two was to individually protect the young trees on the meadow and I asked Rob the Brickie (not his real name) to build some wooden barriers.

I was worried that they would look too big and boxy, so Rob and I decided on ‘vase’ shapes to lessen their impact.  Over the course of several days, Rob made twelve of these.  Great to have him on board at times like this.

I’m very pleased with them; I didn’t want big wooden structures in the meadow but given that I had to, I am very pleased with them.  In time the timber will silver and become lichen encrusted and they’ll be rather stately, I think.

I should hate for all these fruit varieties to become anonymous; I wanted to label them for the future – for when me and my Blue Notebook have long gone.   So I had these brass plaques made and for consistency even the easily recognisable Gingko has a plaque.

The trees need to grow of course; up and above the timber cages.  But at least they now have a chance to do just that without the unwanted (and uninvited) attentions of fallow deer.

Sussex Eucalypts

Were you to walk up the drive from The Priory you would, after a couple of hundred yards, come to an area of mown grass surrounded on three sides by a small wood.  In January 2009, I thought it would be a good idea to plant Eucalyptus gunnii here; three of them.  So I did.
Here is a photo from that day showing the young trees barely as tall as my spade.  I wanted to plant eucalypts, after reading an article about a garden in, I think, Sussex.  A beautiful garden with a high storey of eucalyptus and a lovely under-planting of light-shade loving plants.  I can’t for the life of me remember which garden it was but I was taken with the idea.  Now though, I regret planting something so, well, alien in the Sussex Weald.  I wish I’d planted hazel or sweet chestnut.  Yes.  A nice sweet chestnut copse; that I could coppice.  Something native – or at least something that has been native for a couple of millenia.  (Sweet chestnut was introduced to Britain by the Romans).
But I didn’t and now, almost three years on, the eucalypts have romped away.  I have stuck an Anxious Gardener into shot to give an idea of scale.  (For those of you still using old money, 1 AG = 6 feet or 1 metre 83cm).  The eucalyptus above has done particularly well.
The second tree is also going strong. (Incidentally, despite looking like fake, ceramic toadstools, those are real ink caps).
And the third eucalyptus?  Frankly rubbish.  It isn’t well and is either dead or dying.  Shame.  I shall leave it be over the winter and see whether it re-sprouts next spring.  I have experience of failing eucalypts; oh, yes.
On a further area of lawn, is a snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) a particularly beautiful tree and super hardy (-20C).  Something wasn’t right however because though it was seven or eight feet tall when I planted it, this year it died back to ground level.  Now, whenever I walk past it, I crouch down and give it a little pep talk.  It seems to be responding and is coming back.
There is one other eucalyptus at The Priory.  This is also a gunnii and I planted it last year in the garden, in the rock border.
Here, I am growing it as a shrub.  In its second (forthcoming) spring, I shall cut the stem down to 18 – 24 inches and strip off any remaining branches.  I’ll be left with a ‘stick’ in the ground.  Lovely.  I shall panic – but then within a few weeks the ‘stick’ will re-sprout and I’ll have an impressive flush of the pretty, round, glaucous juvenile leaves.  (As the tree grows bigger its leaves become thinner, longer and more pointy).  In its third spring (and subsequent ones), I shall snip off all the branches to encourage fresh growth.  I’d better not forget to keep on cutting it back.  Eucalypts become big trees.
There is an enormous specimen at Sheffield Park (a National Trust property in East Sussex).  Planted in the first years of the 20th century you, me and another couldn’t link arms about its mighty trunk.  They are impressive evergreens but they grow very big, very fast and are brittle; shedding branches easily and often. So if you’re planning on planting one, be warned.  Don’t plant one near your house (like dozens I’ve seen) and don’t park your mint 1950 Bentley beneath one.
And finally, whatever you do, don’t ever introduce them to Sicily where they will quickly colonize the whole island.
Doh!  Too late.

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