I have always admired trees for their sheer diversity and interest across the seasons, and in my gardening years have come to know them for their varied aesthetics and for the fascinating folklore that is attached to some of them. Nevertheless, through initial training or a lack of personal vision I guess, (and I don’t know which is worse,) I think that initially I undervalued trees and too easily consigned them to the ‘bigger plants to be used in the design of gardens’ box – what an example of poor judgement that was!
However, times change, and as my formative years in horticulture turned to management roles, my attitudes changed too – as trees in my gardens started to demand attention and respect. No longer, and I’m talking more than twenty years back, could I work with and around trees without taking their needs more seriously.
Quite simply, it was through training for health and safety and ironically, for chainsaw use, that my love for trees grew. For this I’m indebted to my previous employers who with their incredible tree collections enabled me to learn about selecting, growing and caring for trees.
All that training obviously prepared me for the responsibility that my roles carried, but more than that; it gradually increased my awareness of the real value of trees, and of their incredible presence. Along with colleagues way back when, I remember looking at tree physiology, or the study of how trees grow. I took my first proper look into the world of fungi, to learn how their growth impacts woody tissue, and I started to learn about the fascinating folklore and histories some of our best loved trees hold.
Of all that information though, largely through role and priority changes, much has been put to rest. It’s either sitting somewhere down memory lane or sandwiched somewhere amongst other leaves and folders on solid wooden bookshelves. However, whilst the information is never too far away, one over-riding aspect of all that imbibed wisdom has stuck with me all the time – that new (now old!) found love for trees and for all joy and goodness they bring.
If only I could pinpoint exactly where I was when properly struck by a love for trees. Maybe it was on one of those study days with colleagues amidst lofty specimens in the woodland garden at Knightshayes. Maybe it was on a field trip through the historic deer park at Burghley when I was lucky to join some Ancient Tree Forum experts on a walk.
Maybe Cupid’s arrow might have struck when studying the stately and rare trees that were growing in the shelter belts at Croome Park. Might I have fallen, literally, when planning restoration works to trees growing on the steep slopes at Dunster Castle, or whilst replanting for wood pasture or the historic avenue at Compton Verney?
Or maybe it was more simple love affair, developed whilst on countless woodland walks with our boys, or when clambering up well branched specimens with my fearless daughter… who knows?
What I do know, is that my appreciation and understanding of trees has been massively boosted on many occasions by working with some very talented individuals. Through the eyes of arborists, mycologists, curators, artists, authors, rangers and even the odd scientist, I’ve really learned to look harder, to appreciate and to love trees.
Now, given that most people reading this won’t have to manage trees professionally, I’d like to confirm that you don’t have to complete courses to appreciate trees; although in a typical year there are some excellent courses available. However, by taking a little more time to understand a tree, any tree, a whole world of interest will open before you.
If you’re intrigued by what I’ve said, I’d like to suggest that you find a tree, any tree but preferably a mature one. It could be one in your garden, one down the road, or any tree you can observe closely.
Even if you know its name, do a little research to find out some more. Where did that species originate from and what other trees are in its family? If it is a none-native tree, when was it introduced and can you find out who first ‘discovered’ or introduced it? The history of trees alone can become a fascinating voyage of discovery.
Beyond the what and where from, I’d next suggest that you study the structure of the tree. What shape does is take, is that typical of the species? Does it have scars or damage to its limbs, is it supporting fungi, is it growing strongly or maybe in decline? There are many questions that could be asked of your tree.
Take some photos through the seasons, maybe pick up a dropped stem or two for a vase at home, to enable closer study. Visit the tree when it’s windy, when the moon shines through its twiggy canopy, or when snow sits on its branches.
Get a good guide book, I’d suggest the Collins Tree Guide but many more are available. Do some digging for knowledge and post a photo or two for help with identification or simply to ask questions – plant people love a good ident’ challenge! Maybe even select a special leaf to sandwich between the pages of that book – it’ll remind you of your special tree.
I’ll pop some book titles at the foot of this post should you wish to start your journey, but if I can be of any real service through these words, it would be to empower you to take time, soon, to look harder at a tree. Look with critical and searching eyes to explore its scars and ripples and damaged tissue, but also look with appreciative eyes, for the value it provides and for its very well rooted presence.
Trees if I’m honest have brought me a good deal of trouble and strife over the years so yes, there is another side to the story. But without hesitation, I can also say that trees have also brought me so much joy, and that my life would be so much poorer had it not been filled with those big billowing beauties!
Go on – start your tree love affair now!
A book list to bring light to the dark days of winter:
Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Thomas Pakenham.
The Wisdom of Trees, Max Adams
Around the World in 80 Trees, Jonathan Drori
For the Love of Trees – A Celebration of Trees & People, Vicky Allan & Anna Deacon (A new one on me that looks to tick the tree lovers box!)
And for the seriously historical folks: Sylvia: A Discourse of Forest Trees & the Propagation of Timber, John Evelyn