Friday, 27 January 2012

A year in the life of a tree

Over at Patiopatch Laura is recording a year in the life of a wych elm.  Recording requires close looking and I thought I would join in if only to ensure that I really looked at my trees.  Trees are crucial but it is easy to regard them as a pleasant backdrop to the real business of flowers.  That might be so in a tiny courtyard garden where it is possible to control everything but my garden is so close to natural landscape that you could lose the flowers (sadly) and retain a sense of the place but lose the trees and it would become a wasteland.

The first question was which tree to choose.  I was tempted by one of the huge oaks beyond the field or a towering ash but in the end I decided to restrict myself to trees on our land.  The big sycamore at the bottom of the drive is a lovely tree.   I know people are snotty about sycamore: it is not a native, and not even as old an incomer as the field maple which was brought in by the Romans.  But the tree has a comforting bulk about it and in spring the shrimp pink of the new leaves is fleetingly as lovely as any flower.  But for quite a lot of the year it doesn't do very much except loom large and green.

I considered the yew trees at either end of the house.  I love them, bookending the house with their stately enigmatic presence, but even more than the sycamore they do not change. The dark evergreen foliage hangs calmly down with only the rush of red berries in autumn to bring the thrushes in.

The apple tree in the field would be a good one with the delicate pink of the blossom in spring and the huge flushed fruit in autumn but I look at that anyway.  I wanted something which I could neglect but should celebrate.


So here it is, a horse chestnut in the hedge line on the field boundary.  It doesn't look that exciting I suppose.  It is quite a young tree so has not yet attained the towering presence of a mature tree.


Come closer and you can see the distinctive upward thrust of the branches.  Trees without their leaves reveal things about their character.  The ash hangs and in winter, without the delicate many fingered foliage, looks messy and shabby.  The dense twiggy structure of the head of an oak tree produces a rounded, proud shape.  Silver birch is skinny and twiggy but still graceful.  The horse chestnut in winter throws itself toward the sky in an echo of the towering candles of flower which it will carry in the spring.


The bark is silvery grey, pale and smooth without deep cracks and fissures because this is a young tree.


The buds will swell over the coming weeks but they are already sticky and shining in the sun.

So there it is: our horse chestnut in January, waiting to burst into life.

34 comments:

  1. And still I cry: 'it is too early! Yet to wish for a cold spell would be cruel to the brave buds pushing onwards and upwards far too soon.

    I love trees. Each and every one has its unique character and the older I become the more I find they lend themselves to artistic inspiration.

    Beautifully penned as ever and a worthy lesson for all of us to stop in our frenetic tracks and take note in detail of everday nature.

    Stephanie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love trees too and one of the great pleasures in living here has been learning to identify trees when they are not in leaf. I used to be pretty reliable when they were in leaf but had no idea when we came here in the winter what was what. Now I am about 75% correct in identifying from bark and shape!

      Delete
  2. Sticky buds were part of my later childhood, recall they were always of great significance on the Nature table, alongside Catkins. The teacher used to instill such excitement in us as she talked about how Winter changed to Spring, and that sunny days lay ahead.

    Am a bit of a tree hugger, and it would be interesting to see what wild life gets attracted to your tree too, as trees are like mini eco systems in their own right. Citadels of the microscopic and insect worlds.

    I also wonder, why are the buds sticky? what purpose does that serve?

    Zoe xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great question about the wild lfe Zoe! I am hoping to find all sorts of things but have no real idea whether there is anything specific to the horse chestnut. I will keep an eye out. I loved sticky buds as a child too. There must presumably be some protection in the sticky coating. I will try to find out!

      Delete
  3. Oooh, this looks promising! Looking forward to seeing it develop over the year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Join in Rachel! There must be lots of wonderful trees near you now.

      Delete
  4. This is an excellent idea for a blog; only wish I had thought of it. A Year in the Life of a Tree. I like this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You too Tim. The more the better. Are there any special trees in Caerwys?

      Delete
  5. The horse chestnut is my tree - I was born on the most beautiful day of the year, when the horse chestnut candles are fully out. I grew up in a house which had a drive lined with horse chestnuts but I never noted that the branches pointed north, or rather skywards. I am sure you are right and it was simply my lack of observation. Mind you I blame the aconites that carpeted the ground in bright yellow around this time of year causing you to look down at them rather than up at the trees. I was conker king in the autumn. So thanks for undertaking this project which I shall watch with interest. Fast growing are chestnuts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am glad the horse chestnut is your tree Fennie. I suspect that "my" tree is a similar way is the apple but I shall love watching the horse chestnut properly over the year. It is in a very good place to become a big tree in time, just in the boundary hedge and placed so that its shade will shade my neighbour's field when it is large enough and not our vegetable beds. I wonder how bit it will grow in our time here.

      Delete
  6. Delightful story about the shape of trees. Perhaps the secret lives of trees.

    As for your horse chestnut sprouting already, it may be a bad sign. I think it's too early, thought I could be wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you are right that it is too early for the horse chestnut. It is responding I think to a mild winter so far although we have a forecast of cold for this week. Let's see what happens.

      Delete
  7. I love to see horse chestnuts in the spring covered in their candles and I also love the wonderful burnished nuts in the autumn - it will be interesting to read your observations through the year. The buds will be fine so long as they are still closed and protected by their sticky coating. The leaf buds of most trees are there all through the winter if you look for them as I'm sure you already know:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are very densely sticky Rowan so that may be enough to keep them protected in the cold. Hope so, we are forecast a very cold week here this week although without snow so far.

      Delete
  8. I 'followed' a sycamore last year and have, this year, switched to an elder - in part for a change and, in part, for the reasons you mention here - it doesn't 'do' much! (I very much like sycamores though.) Our posts coincide - complete with initial mention of Laura at Patio Patch. Her ears will be burning!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will follow your elder with interest. We have elder in the hedges here. It is scruffy looking tree especially when bare but I love elder blossom and use it a lot. I have yet to graduate to using elderberries!

      Delete
  9. This is such a good idea.
    You are quite a bit ahead of us. There are no sticky buds anywhere here yet.
    You've been busy with your blog! You are so far ahead of me, technically. I need to take an afternoon to just fiddle with the computer and learn a few new things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The blog design is called Dynamic Views Pondside - really straightforward to use! not high tech at all!

      Delete
  10. I think it's a lovely tree, perfect for your project. It has a wonderful natural shape, and as it's young, it should provide some interesting changes throughout the season for you to notice and bring to our attention! Looking forward to more.

    Oh - what's his name? (We've named all our trees, and even the shrubbery!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Woah - so many trees round here I would need a naming book for babies Marcheline!

      Delete
  11. I did this, just for my own interest, a few years ago. I never did blog about it, just took regular pictures of a huge willow tree that I pass every day whilst out dog walking. You are right about taking a clost interest in said tree, though, and examining it carefully, and from all angles. It wasn't until nearly the end of the year that I discovered ..... it was two trees! Ah well, so much for my skills of observation. No wonder it never made my blog, not the sort of thing to brag about, until now, when I just don't care!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah but it is not that easy to tell with willows Helen. I even wondered if this was two trees rather than one but I think not.

      Delete
  12. What a superb idea - I think I need to join in. But I've not got anything as lovely as your horse chestnut with this feat sticky buds that always take me back to childhood - or maybe that should be that I've not got anything which makes think like a five-year old...

    Hm, maybe one of my birches would be a good choice... no flowers or fruit but I'm in love with the changing leaves....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, do join in. I would love to see a whole range of trees being followed through the year. Shall I try and work out how to set up link for them all?

      Delete
  13. Interesting how so many of us have happy recollections of early schoolhood nature tables. Sticky buds were on ours too - we always put them in a glass of water and the warmth would bring out the young leaves weeks early. You can do it with forsythia flowers too.

    Did you see the photos earlier in the year on my blog about one half of our chestnuts young leaves getting killed off by a very late frost? It was not until July that the tree sent out new leaves so half of it was a very bright green, the other half the dark shade of midsummer. Later, the 'old' half turned autumn colours weeks before the 'newer' half. I'm assuming that it will have sorted itself out over the winter!

    Johnson

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do wonder whether this tree has got a bit ahead of itself in the mild winter we have had so far. I am pretty sure that we don't expect to see buds up here so early in the year and would hate to see the leaves frosted. I wonder if the stickiness protects the buds until they break and it is then that the young leaves are vulnerable? another thing to try to find out!

      Delete
  14. Really enjoyed reading about your horse chestnut. Those sticky red buds are amazing, I've never noticed them before. I posted about my crab apple for 2011 the year of the tree but only came to the theme in October so I might continue to follow it's progress. I love how subjects like this make me look that bit harder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A crab apple would be another great tree to do! I do hope you keep it up. We have just planted two new crab apples, a John Downie and a Red Sentinel. I can't wait for them to get established but every time I feel a bit frustrated as to the size of them I remind myself of how tiny the new fruit trees were four years ago and now, although they are still quite small, they are definitely trees, not sticks!

      Delete
  15. What a wonderful idea. I look forward to following this :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It wasn't my idea Annie! Can't take the credit. I was inspired by Patiopatch!

      Delete
  16. I think that's a fantastic idea - and perhaps draw it as well as photograph it?

    I hope you look for the bugs and and leaf grubs that will be there later in the year - there are probably pupae at the base of three overwinter.

    I think I might do this too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I shall have a look Mark. I am much more likely to notice things about the plant than the insect life unless I really make a specific effort! Hope you do it too!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Elizabeth -with all these positive responses that makes at least 5 of us wanting to view our chosen trees up close and personal. Was wondering if Lucy could be encouraged to host in some way (as she did 2011 tree year) and so the rest of us have post prompts each month for co-ordination. Or you might like to do it?! Just needs a bit of liaising to start the treelog rolling!!

    Love how your Horse Chestnut stands sentry in the boundary. The wonderful thing about starting our recordings now is seeing the skeleton on which our trees will hang their shapes and colours. Wondering if yours is the Pink or White horse blooms ...and has it been nipped in the bud with recent frosts?

    ReplyDelete
  19. It is a white one and the buds seem remarkably untouched by the deep deep cold.

    ReplyDelete

I really love to know what you think and to have the chance to start a conversation. I always try to respond (although sometimes it might take me a day or two to get to you) either here or by visiting you.