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.