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.