July 6, 2008

Our Green and Pleasant Land

What a green and pleasant land we live in! After virtually any overseas trip, I am always struck by how green England is - this was especially so on my recent return from a holiday in treeless Lesotho.

Now, Lesotho is seriously high, with a lot of the country about 10,000ft above sea level and, despite being surrounded by a very pleasantly warm South Africa, there was a lot of snow about.

This harsh climate is, however, not the only reason for the lack of trees, as any wood is quickly hacked down to provide warmth and heat for cooking in what is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Global warming is ringing alarm bells in so many ways and, even though some of our summers are dull, cloudy and wet, we need to take the risk of skin exposure to too much damaging sun seriously. This is where trees have an important role to play.

The acer platanoides drummondii, pictured below, was planted by us at our nursery entrance 20 years ago and is a fine example of a good shade tree that doesn't get too big and cause problems.

Some trees are just too big for today's gardens and should only be planted in parkland or the countryside.

Birch trees are frequently planted to provide dappled shade and, because of their speed of growth, to provide a quick result. Their tiny leaves, when shed in autumn, also have the distinct advantage of being easy to sweep away and add to the compost heap.

Those with larger leaves, such as Norwegian maples, Japanese cherries and plane trees, can create a lot of work at autumn time.

Crab apples, small-leafed cherries, varieties of rowan and amelanchier all have small leaves which provide good protection from the sun, attractive flowers and fruit and yet smaller leaves that are easily swept up. Whatever variety you choose to plant, it is always worth spending a few moments talking to an expert first.

Tree growers are few and far between in the UK now but there is no shortage of sound advice at garden centres and retail nurseries.

Planting too near to buildings is a common error to make and this can lead to interference with those buildings later, particularly where your soil has a high clay content. I always think that planting 20ft from a building is as close as you want but do also bear in mind where the drains are.

Avoid planting over the top of them, especially if you are planning to plant mostly poplars and willows (which I wouldn't!). This type of tree will send its roots into any crack there might be in drains and rapidly fill them with roots.

As to when the best time to plant a tree is? Well, 20 years ago, of course! But the next best time will be this autumn when the leaves start to fall.

But now is the time to plan that important decision and choose wisely to provide lovely cooling shade to relax under in the years to come.

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