Trees – Weathering the Storm.

Tall, broad, weeping or not, most people love trees, even if they fail to realise it. Trees texturise our world, from landscapes with twisted ancient groves, in tucked away valleys, to clipped street trees or standard fruit trees in a homely garden.

Trees grow, attract, and enrich life, they even produce the air that gives us life. Yet, as tough as trees are, if storm events have taught us anything, it is that trees are at risk and vulnerable.

Century old trees on the lakeside at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, England, image by Gary Webb
Reflecting on earth’s incredible trees, here at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

It is commonly taken that mature trees are solid and everlasting. Their roots will have spread far through the earth, having driven themselves between miniscule particles in every direction, anchoring every specimen firmly to its spot.

In many species, thick, ridged bark encloses and protects softer inner tissue within a trunk. Yet as we look higher, increasingly smoother and more flexible bark can be found cloaking branches, stems and twigs, where frequent breeze driven movement is guaranteed.

Firmly rooted and bank-binding yew tree roots at Upton House & Garden, Warwickshire.
Firmly rooted and bank-binding at Upton House & Garden, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

Trees then, with their strong cores, space owning crowns and flexible tops are dynamic, strong and resilient. They’ve evolved to endure, to last, and to grow in number in most environments, indeed, some examples are proven to have lived for centuries.

But when storms touch down, I worry, for each and every unshielded champion. Decayed twigs will rain down for sure, inflexible branches will fracture and fall, to spear the soil or shatter upon the ground below.

Wind waves will rock stems and heave root-plates until long established roots are torn apart. Trees therefore, our constant companions are vulnerable, and once touched personally by a storm are rarely the same again.

Broken cedar tree branches after an overnight storm
Cedar wood damage after west winds blew.
© Gary Webb 2022

Seeing footage of trees snapping, shattering and toppling over recent days should leave an impression, as it has for many storm events in history. Having worked on many cleanup sessions where fallen wood lay strewn across wide areas, and where mud, sweat and tears were inseparable, I also feel for those who are tasked with the unenviable task of clearing away the remains.

Trees will always be at risk from storm events, that is a fact, and dealing with broken trees will always be a labour of love. But trees are, in the main, survivors. Like humans, they will in most cases find a way to endure and adapt, and it helps to take inspiration from this.

Centuries of history live on through this yew tree at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. It’s ridged bark like laughter lines on a mature face.
Centuries of history live on through this yew tree at Compton Verney, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

Trees and people are interlinked, and we must continue to invest in them and support their survival; especially where we’ve made environments so challenging for them. We have been fed, clothed, housed and warmed by trees since the beginning of time, we have even been transported around the globe by them, and we should respect that.

If then we lose faith in our trees, if we begin to worry that repairing or replanting a tree isn’t worth the expense, worry or risk, then I’d urge us as a community to think again. We must especially preserve veteran and ancient trees carefully, for unlike buildings, which have the potential to rise again from the ashes, trees never can.

Shade giving trees at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire, positioned on high ground over looking the River Dene & water meadows.
Shade giving life giving trees at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire. Long may they thrive.
© Gary Webb 2022

Through any storm, irreplaceable, historically or botanically important specimens will fall, and their presence will be mourned by many. But in response, what should we do? How can we fill the vacant space that inevitably is left behind?

Practically, I suggest we look closer at the mechanics of any storm individually, and at each particular tree that has been impacted. I would also suggest looking to those trees nearby which survived the storm and ask questions of them: How did they weather the storm? Are replacements available in case they were to fall in future? Is there anything we can do to protect them? We must not just clear up and put the sorry event behind us, but learn from it.

There is much to learn from storms and the attention they bestow on our beloved trees. Survive them we must, but learn from the wreckage what we can before focusing on the new opportunities that will present themselves; for a new generation of life-giving companions.

Plant trees for your grand children, as they say, or plant trees for yourself. Whatever the reason; just keep on planting! 🌳🌳🌳.

Gary Webb,

Gardening Ways – a personal blog about plants and gardens.

Pomp, Circumstance & a Touch of Mindfulness at Elgar’s Birthplace

One breezy, rainy afternoon recently I made a curiosity visit to Elgar’s Birthplace, and enjoyed a pleasant surprise. To the uninitiated, Sir Edward William Elgar, (1857 -1934) was an English composer particularly noted for the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Cello Concerto, and Salut d’Amour. He was born in a quaint red brick estate cottage known as The Firs, around 3 miles northwest of Worcester, now under the care of the National Trust.

Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

On the day of my visit the clay roof tiles glistened, cars splashed through puddles in the nearby lane and the Malvern hills were barely visible for cloud cover. This scene I describe created the most perfect collar gripping, hat pulling atmosphere for a visit, although causing an all-too-swift walk from the museum centre, through the garden, to the shelter of the front porch. The dimly lit rooms beyond, with music drifting through the upper floor were, I have to say, completely enchanting.

As mentioned, my visit was born out of curiosity and as such, I was in a casual, light-touch, information grazing kind of mind set. However, I couldn’t not listen Elgar’s music, which infused many of the museum spaces. I couldn’t not read the museum labels, stories and quotes, or watch the introductory video. Furthermore, I couldn’t miss the considered introductions the volunteers offered.

Looking back as I type, I can see that the visitor centre, birthplace cottage and the garden were delivering, for me at least, a consistent message. Supporting this message were the misty vista from the front porch, wind blown cherry blossom branches filling the bedroom window view, in fact the whole view looking out from the cottage. It all blended to hint, I believe, at a nourishing and guiding light in Elgar’s life: nature.

Grape hyacinths, or Muscari, before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Grape hyacinths before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Let’s be honest, I have spent a mere blip of time learning about Elgar, but I drew clear connections with him due to the way the museum has been presented, and the messages that unknown curators have brought to the fore. I learned less about what he composed, and more about how and why he composed – this, for me, was perfectly pitched.

“The trees are singing my music.” wrote Elgar from a home, Birchwood Lodge, in the saddle of the Malvern Hills.

I was challenged above all with the realisation that Elgar was very well aware of his need for mindfulness and wellbeing; things that are increasingly referred to everywhere these days. Sir Edward Elgar, despite being of another age and situation, appeared to face similar work, life, confidence, and creativity challenges as many people do today; and the museum engaged me in this aspect of Elgar’s life completely.

Museum text: “Elgar chased fame and fortune from a young age [but] on the other hand, he was happiest living the simple and rustic life that he had been afforded as a child. Often he’d retreat into the peace and serenity of nature when work commitments became too much for him.”

What materialised for me was that despite Elgar’s success, wealth and worldly travel; he still appeared to yearn for the peace, escape, and personal inspiration that the Malvern Hills and other rural places offered him. We’re all familiar with the ‘escape to the country’ idea, but for Elgar whose living and success depended on productivity; the inspiration and creativity he drew from the Malvern Hill, or nature generally, was clearly very important.

We may not all be creative composers, but most of us will recognise and identify with Elgar’s need to relax the mind. Creating that escape in order to properly refresh our minds and bodies helps to restore balance, and helps to prepare us for the next period of intense activity.

Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Elgar had certainly found his place, and one thing I took away from my visit was the need to find my own place. If I needed to further prove the point, I just turn again to Elgar’s example, who, although leaving his birthplace at the age of two, revisited often, retained a close connection with the area, and expressed a wish to purchase the The Firs if ever it were to become available.

Elgar wrote: “My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.”

Returning to the garden, the benches were sodden from rain, but I spent a good while in the garden whilst trying to pick up on its spirit of place.

The tall, rolling, country lane style hedges shivered in the breeze. Freshly composted, mixed cottage style borders were packed full of plants, and although hellebores and primroses drew the eye, the winter structure stole the show with standard roses, a range of budding shrubs and an ironwork arch over a path entwined with climbers.

A rustic, thatched shelter nestled against a wattle fence, offering a shady place to perch. Gravel and wavy lined brick paths crossed the garden, and a bench in a far corner was itself a sculpture of Elgar relaxing whilst taking in the Malvern Hills vista.

A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Clearly the garden, whole property even, had moved on with the passage of time, but generally appeared to hold true to its original form judging by the old images available. It was a delightful little garden and was so valuable in allowing me to experience the all-important rural idyll that was so very important to Elgar.

I completely tuned-in to his need for mindfulness, and for the need to invest in his core self; and in this respect, The Firs connected me with Elgar, and the environment, perfectly.

During his final illness in 1933, Elgar hummed a concerto’s first theme to a friend and said, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.”

Regards, Gary

For more information about The Firs, visit this link:

Reading the Landscape

Although a long time follower of ‘Capability’ Brown, I moved my focus recently to the first ‘official’ landscape gardener Humphry Repton. This may be a temporary flight of fancy, who knows, it has certainly opened my eyes though to some new ways of talking about and experiencing designed landscape. Here’s what happened…

Cloudscape across the designed landscape at Warley Woods Park.
Cloudscape across the designed landscape at Warley Woods Park.

My shift of focus was to contribute to a Gardens Trust project titled ‘Sharing Repton’. As with Repton’s approach, the Garden Trust’s ambition for this project is no less striking or far reaching, and won substantial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund earlier this year.

Firstly and for the uninitiated, Continue reading

Beningbrough Hall, Gardens & Gallery

I don’t review or write about garden visits very often, but with a little time away last week I was able to explore some new gardens, and this particular property was so good I couldn’t wait to post some pictures and tell you about it!

It is of course the beautiful Beningbrough Hall in North Yorkshire, which has been cared for by the National Trust since 1958.

©️Gary Webb 2018[[[[
Beningbrough is in many ways a ‘typical’ NT historic property, if there can be such a thing, with an expanse of grazed parkland, veteran trees to die for, a garden full of delights and a very fine early Georgian mansion as its crowning jewel.

This venue goes a few steps further however, offering for our entertainment a partnership with the National Portrait Gallery no less. Continue reading

Rousham Park and Garden

Mercury statue, Rousham Gardens

I’d like to cast my mind back to a past visit in 2012 to Rousham Park and Garden. Such was the quality of the garden I was moved to write about it on my return home, and as the article turned out to be quite popular, I thought I’d update the article and post to my current blog – I hope you like the changes!

Mercury statue, Rousham Gardens
Statue of Mercury at Rousham. ©Gary Webb 2012

Continue reading

Gertrude Jekyll Garden

'Bumps' Gertrude Jekyll

Last week an opportunity presented itself to visit one of those gardens that has sat on my must-see garden bucket list for a very long time. Historically speaking, it is an important garden for being planted many moons ago by none other than renowned planting designer Gertrude Jekyll. However, it’s not the garden alone that made this visit special but the location in which it was born. I shall explain…

Jekyll walled garden at Lindisfarne, in winter.
Winter structure in the walled garden at Lindisfarne. ©Gary Webb 2018

This relatively compact walled garden accompanies a castle on the tidal island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland. Continue reading

Paleis Het Loo

Museums & Resilience Leadership programme

I was fortunate to have an opportunity recently to visit one of many venues on my bucket list; the Dutch Palace and Garden at Het Loo. It was an inspiring experience in so many ways, with time set aside to learn how the venue, as a museum, operates, along with time to simply experience Het Loo as a tourist.

I came away with many images and notes, such was the grandeur and content of the palace. My intention is that this article, its images and memories will act as a record of a fascinating visit and learning experience. Hopefully, it may also be of use to other readers too! Continue reading