Loving Gardens and Parklands

In a far corner of an old deer park I rest for a while beneath century-old oaks, perched amongst tussocky grass on a log with just enough movement to rock gently back and forth. As I settle a glittery turquoise dragonfly zigzags by.

After a while I close my eyes to ‘tune in’, first to grassy stalks that tickle my ankles, then to the coarse bark that will no doubt leave an impression, soon after though, to the gentle waves of warm breeze that pat my legs and cheeks. The aroma is, as I’d expect, carrying a distinct whiff of deer and sheep.

Alternative layers of sound now begin to present themselves. Engines, one from a small propeller plane buzzing whilst ascending from the nearby airfield, then another more distant roar from a jet passenger plane passing high above. Both though are eclipsed, to me at least, as I restore focus to the nearer sound of the breeze that is rushing over, around and past countless oak leaves in the tree tops overhead.

Clouds moving constantly towards the southwest provide distinct periods of lightness and shade, warming on the whole but occasionally less so. On today’s summer day it is sandals and shades, tomorrow, due soon enough it’ll be boots and scarves.

On this day though, I’m enjoying just a few minutes idling, just listening and looking; valuable moments of peace in an idyllic location. All moments sat on this uneven log are well-spent ones as they progressively calm, nurture and nourish my own personal inner being.

As I tune in to everything around, expectations on me and my world, for a few moments at least, diminish. Schedules, plans and priorities are subdued, ambitions and worldly goals are hidden, as the environment around me speaks ever louder. Even the interruptions of passing engines leave me feeling no: not me, not now, not today, I’m happy right here on this piece of wood.

I’ll return to that log, to those aromas and the ankle-tickling grass again this week during moments of remembrance. Closing my eyes will transport me back so that I can again listen to the trees and feel the sun’s warmth on my skin.

The value of managed landscapes is immense, and I urge anyone, if you’ve not already done so to find your log, your bench or place to park, relax and free your mind. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

❤️ Gardens and parklands…

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.

Tree Connections

I’ve been wanting to write a little piece about trees for a while now, but as often the way, it’s been just another post on the to-do list. However, when our friends on BBC Gardeners’ World produced a special program dedicated to trees, I was inspired to get out my notes and to revisit that post I’ve been meaning to write.

Limes in the morning mist.

Like many other people, I’ve a long held interest and fascination for trees, and not least for the fact they can grow from the smallest wind blown seed to enormous, living and breathing structures. How they establish a root hold and adapt their growth, melding with the environment they find themselves in is nothing short of extraordinary.

A Love for Trees

In my formative years as a gardener, I can honestly say that I never thought that trees would play such a significant part. I mean, I learnt about them, planted a few, chopped bits off a few more and did my fair share of ident’ sessions, but did I really get to know and understand trees?

A backlit autumnal oak ​at Sulgrave Manor, with the setting sun right behind
A backlit autumnal oak at Sulgrave Manor

Naturally I grew up with trees all around, as most people do: trees in our family gardens and down the street, a huge conker tree in the school playground, even the Christmas tree in the corner each December. (OK, maybe that last one was a bit of a stretch!) But did I really take proper notice of them?

Garden Journal 14.12.19

Welcome! Join me here regularly to catch up on my gardening endeavours through my #GARDENINGWAYS Journal! I spend much of my time gardening professionally for Rachel de Thame at Broadwell, in Gloucestershire, and my journal updates aim to cover progress and experiences in this role, and other horticultural highlights too.

SixOnSaturday  images from my gardening ways journal for 14th December 2019

The above six-on-Saturday images give a flavour of my week working in a wonderful Cotswolds Garden. What follows below is a little more background for each of the pictures – merely hint at the depth and richness of each experience.

To summarise my gardening week, ‘rollercoaster’ comes to mind, especially concerning the weather and how it impacted the tasks I undertook. Days of persistent rain fused with very cool, sunny and windy ones – on the whole, I didn’t spend many hours out of wellies and waterproofs!

63 and 64…

These two stunning trees were first up in my review of a previously compiled tree survey. The nearest is a straight and true horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) with a sizeable diameter of around 1.3m.

The trunk and branches of this chestnut feature more scars than I suspect we’d find on James Bond, and my closer study suggest that for this tree and its neighbouring beech tree sidekick, it is clearly time for a more detailed inspection by an arborist. To be continued…!

East front border

Following a thorough weeding session during the previous week, I was here setting out the tulip bulbs prior to planting. The weather forecast suggested time was of the essence, indeed rain set in as I was finishing. Timed almost to perfection – almost…

An auricula theatre
Clearing the stage…

A pretty swift task all things considered, was that of clearing off and cleaning the Auricula theatre ahead of next season. It’s a recently created and very nicely built theatre, and it’s with some excitement (Plus a little apprehension!) as I look forward to programming some star performances in 2020.

Scrubbing the front step…

In theory, I’m liking my activity in the image above to that of scrubbing the front step. Prior to my starting work in the above space, the front approach, the area was encrusted in decaying foliage across much of the area. Whilst this is to be expected, and encouraged to some extent back in autumn, the dense layer was beginning to affect grass growth and hide the drive.

At last therefore, the image records the new, somewhat cleaner approach, after surplus leaves have been cleared to a new leaf mould stack – these will be recycled for mulching purposes in due course. It’s good to once again present an entrance more appropriate to such a wonderful property.

Jelly Ear or Auricularia auricle-Judaea  fruiting body
Jelly Ear fruiting body

I’m certainly no fungi expert, but noticed what I believe to be a ‘jelly ear’ fungus living quietly on a stick, and thought I’d record it as the first one on my list of fungi at Broadwell. Not particularly rare, but a fascinating form nonetheless.

Scientifically known as Auricularia auricula-judae, it apparently prefers to grow on elder wood, and is edible – although I think even the celeb’s on Ant and Dec’s program would turn their nose up if this appeared in a bush tucker trial!

The sun setting behind Broadwell Manor in the Cotswolds, sunset
The sun sets on another busy week at Broadwell.

And so to my final image, capturing the fading light and a fabulous sunset as I hurried to ‘finish’ work to the front drive.

The week was a steady yet productive one, dictated largely by the weather. But then, pretty much every gardening day is defined by its weather I guess. I’ve had many small wins as you’d say, and have on the whole continued to move forward with my ‘putting the garden to bed’ routine.

Next week, the last full working week before Christmas (!) I’ll be hitting the orchard grass hard to get this in order, boxing up dahlia tubers, and all being well, will be exploring the archaeology of the walled garden to see what can be found under foot.

You might like to observe or follow my progress on the fascinating journey via twitter @GaryWebb1 or on Instagram @Gary_Webb1

Bye for now, Gary