Living with trees…

There seem to be a lot of trees in my garden – about thirty or so. I don’t quite know how they have all got there. Some remain from before we moved in. Others were plamted in the 1960s. Some are more recent. I might be writing about them quite a lot in the coming weeks, because I am inclined to turn my attention to them in October and November, having ignored them for much of the year.

I’ve never understood people who claim they would never fell a tree. Trees are just large plants, and, like other plants, can be put in the wrong place, get too big, or too aggressive, and start pushing their neighbours around. They need just as much management as anything else in the garden, and if that means thinning, or taking out a tree to create more space, light, or a better shape – then I have no compunction about it.

Equally, trees creep up on you. They are inclined to grow at geometric rates where they are happy. It is difficult to remember this when planting something that is only knee high, to form a nice background to a border. Before you know it, the roots will be sucking all the nutrients from the soil, and the canopy will be taking all the light. I also suspect that trees are responsible for more than their fair share of the chemical warfare known as allelopathy …all the more reason to intervene now and again.If, like the Jesuits, you catch a tree young enough, you can exert a bit of control over what it becomes. The French and Belgians like their beech trees straight and tall. In Britain, we are more inclined to let them ramble. Even so, I’m constantly cutting branches from this thirty year-old to stop its canopy from becoming too dense.This Scots pine (pinus sylvestris), on the other hand is a lot older than you or I and is not going to take kindly to any human desire to control it. Not that I would wish to. Its gnarled ugliness has its place. Odd to think it started off all symmetrical and innocent, like this:The silver birch and its variants are among my favourite trees. In favoured parts of the world, their autumn display of yellow leaves is stunning. Here, the leaves just go brown and fall off. Ideally, a silver birch should be arrow straight and graceful. I only have one that fits the bill.Where it is possible, I generally aim for a 1/3:2/3 ratio of bare trunk to clothed trunk. This seems to be roughly in keeping with Aristotle. There is little evidence that Aristotle considered trees deeply, but, even so, his guidelines on proportion do very well in the modern garden. Sometimes, however, trees turn out not to have considered Aristotle either:When I planted this weeping silver birch (betula pendula tristis), it was supposed to form an elegant tree, with its long trailing skeins of twigs drooping romantically beside the pond. But it has made a speedy break for the sky; its lowest branches don’t droop at all, and the rest of it looks like a leggy adolescent who hasn’t touched a hairbrush in weeks. I doubt there is any more point in trying to control it than there is in trying to control an adolescent. I just hope it may sober up a bit in maturity.Finally, the Himalayan birch, betula jacquemonte . This is about twelve years old. It is never going to grow into a perfect fan shape because of the trees to the left, but it certainly could do with being thinned out before the shape of the silver limbs gets confused and lost in a superfluous mass of twigs. I’ll get on with that once it has lost the last of its leaves and report back.

7 thoughts on “Living with trees…

  1. Dear Kininvie
    Lovely trees. Your Scots pine is a 10 on the picturesque scale of 1 to 10. I do think trees benefit from judicial pruning (the samurai sword IS capable of moderation right?) but I prefer unique forms to some standardized expectation.

    Allelopathy? Teensy bit paranoid? Thinning a cluster of volunteer trees is reasonable, but you can’t just whack down something you planted 50 years ago and think you will get a new one going across the way and live to enjoy its maturity. Better to relocate the small, overly-shaded things. As Aristotle said, “Why move a tree when it is the rose beneath it that needs light?” Well ok I made that up, but Aristotle MIGHT have said it, if he’d had time to garden.


  2. Certainly I’ll whack down something I planted fifty years ago if it has outgrown its welcome. They say you plant trees for your grandchildren, but they won’t appreciate it if you leave them with some overgrown monsters in entirely the wrong place. and a whole lot of ‘relocated’ roses all stuck together somewhere the trees can’t get them. This is false sentiment. Just because a plant is very old and big and has twiggy things stuck all over it is no reason for treating it any differently from (say) a bed of sunflowers that didn’t behave the way you wanted. OK, so trees that have been there for ever carry more emotional weight than a bed of sunflowers maybe…. and maybe I’d wait a year or two to be quite certain before I felled them. But whenever I’ve done it, I’ve always ended up thinking ‘What an improvement’.

  3. Hello

    I agree that trees should be removed or reshaped & trimmed where necessary. c
    Coincidentally I have a large silver birch in my front garden and have been debating whether or not to remove it for the last 2 years, I’m fairly sure that it has to go so will get the “TreeFella” in after the remaining leaves have fallen. I’d rather do it myself but we are in a Glasgow suburb and I’m not confident of where it would fall.

    Thanks for your posts & photos.


  4. I really like to see silver birch out in the countryside, especially if they have an underplanting of heather. A perfect combination.
    We have several Silver Birches in the garden including jaquemontii. In a few years they are going to be too big. I think we’ll have to move on before then…

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