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Category: About Trees

Articles involving trees, shrubs, bushes, woods and hedges plus related subjects

Winnowing My Garden Books

Winnowing My Garden Books

On this first of August 2020 I am resolved to winnow down my collection of books on gardening and related subjects. I want to separate the wheat from the chaff and boy is there a lot of chaff to sort, probably 500+ tomes plus related ephemera. Not all of this winnowing activity will lead to new posts on this site but my first effort has done.

The most recent book I have read from cover to cover was the entertaining ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben. To me it is a master piece of accessible writing about trees, what they feel, how they communicate and how nature interacts  with them. It is based on years of experience as a forester. Peter has acute observational and analytical ability that is well reasoned and simply communicated. The main themes I have taken into my wider gardening and ecological understanding include:

  1. Trees show we can take the long view and there is no need to rush, in fact time may create a far better and sustainable result.
  2. There is a place for everything and with everything in its place we disrupt it at our peril.
  3. We don’t know what we don’t know and there are more things in heaven and earth ( but what the Hamlet to mix my metaphors.)
  4. If trees have social networking with many skills similar to human abilities and traits, then what else can our gardens teach us.
  5. Look at what is easily visible and look again to develop understanding.

Fired with this enthusiasm I looked through for further enlightenment before I  pass on the books to others as part of winnowing down from  my book shelves. I came across a 1974 book ‘Plants and Environment’ by R F Daubenmire a self professed Textbook of Plant Autecology. The book’s definition of Autecology is wider than a dictionary definition claiming it considers: geology, soils, climatology, zoology, chemistry and physics which are connected to the welfare of living organism and evolution of species. Not dissimilar to Wohlleben’s offering.  As I have only read the preface and introduction in detail some chapers have been dipped into to suit my mood at the time. These include; soil, water, temperature, light, atmospheric, biotic, fire, evolution and complex environmental chapters.

As a text book it is more detailed and less apocryphal than the Hidden Life of Trees but aims at ‘the intelligent management of plant life (and trees in particular) for the good on mankind’. Both books have excellent notes and references.


Neat and Trim Tree

Neat and Trim Tree

In a garden the weeping willow can look untidy and in need of a trim as it has a propensity to straggle and have branches trailing on the ground. Along side water it will favour the wet side. This can play havock with the area underneath and the designs symmetry.  A solution has been found in this garden which I spotted on a lockdown walkabout. The lower branches have been trimmed to a uniform height around the bole.

The lawn stripes and the neat hedges smack of a professional garden maintenance crew who doubtless have the best tools for the different tasks job.

I liked this photograph of the same garden from another angle. The trim willow is framed by the leaves of the overhang. A shame I couldn’t get a shot without the telegraph pole. See an earlier post from 2009 weeping willow in trim taken in Hay-on-Wye.

Portmanteau Trees New Species

Portmanteau Trees New Species


If you notice dogs you may have seen a’ cockapoo’ using one of your trees as a loo or a ‘puggle’ leaving a puddle but what is a ‘labradoodle’ to do?  Every week there seems to be a new hybrid dog that is a cross between two or more breeds so I wonder if can this apply to trees.

If breeders could cross a Eucalyptus with a holly the European commission would be happy with a Eucalolly forest or a walnut would make a waolly or hollnut. My favourites would be a Sycayew or the tall but sickly Poplash

Paperbarked Maple

Back to the dogs for a minute, not to say silverbarkbirch or paperbarked maple both a bit wrouff ( or am I doing something up the wrong tree). How about planting a bulldogwood, a pitbull tree of heaven or a maidenhairweiler.

Trees portmanteaued or  crossed with board games would be chessnuts, planeludo or snakebarks and ladders. Mahonijong are related to chinese checkers and monopoly would be a self pollenator. Who let the dogs in there are terrible draughts in here (enough already go have some Chow ed).

Roses for Good Hips

Roses for Good Hips

Some gardeners say the best hips are produced by species roses. Here are some Hips Tips that I have discovered over the years.

  1. Rugarosa for big juicy spherical hips
  2. Birds adore the red, egg-shaped hips of the wild dog rose Rosa canina which are also good for cooking.
  3. Masses of orange-red hips adorn the rampant rambler Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’. It needs a large tree or building to grow over  as does Rambling Rector.
  4. Rosa ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’ is a glorious climber with huge hips that turn from yellow to pinkish-red.
  5. The Scotch rose, Rosa spinosissima is a  very prickly species rose with purplish-black hips
  6. Bristly, urn-shaped, dark red hips hang on the arching stems of Rosa setipoda, make a striking autumn feature.
  7. Hips vary in shape and colour with Rosa moyesii Evesbatch having long elongated hips and Rosa pimpinellifolia round black hips.
  8. Rosa villosa has gooseberry like hips whilst for small, orange-red hips try Rosa ‘Fru Dagmnar Hastrup’ that look like cherry tomatoes.
  9. The fatter and juicier the hip the better they make rose hip syrup.
  10. As a child we used to break open the hip and push seed down the back of friends shirts to cause itching. I haven’t tried that for 60 years or so! but I still get the itch.

A few  older shrub roses that are recommended by the RHS:

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My Personal Planting Tips

My Personal Planting Tips

Bamboo in a sheltered Glade

Shrubs and Trees

  1. ‘A good big one is better than a smaller one’ is an old yet valid quote and also applies to the size of a planting hole. Give room for the roots to spread. Brake up the bottom and sides of the hole, mix in some slow release fertiliser and puddle in (lots of water in and around the plant. Firm down the soil and offer support with a stake.
  2. A good big one quote should not be taken to extreme for new shrubs and trees. The larger the plant the more susceptible it will be to drought and wind damage. Over time most smaller plants will catch up and have suffered fewer ‘checks’. On large forced shrubs the root systems may not be strong enough to cope with a large head of leaf, fruit or flower.
  3. I prefer autumn as a time to plant when the soil will provide a warm home for new roots and rain will help with watering.
  4. Water new plants regularly and thoroughly. A slight depression around the plant will create a saucer effect. In dry situations they may need help for 12 months or more. Do not risk new plants dying from drought.

Protecting the Newly Planted

  1. Young trees need the support of a stake or cane. Wind rock can damage the tender roots and growth will be damaged by prevailing wind. Stake on the windward side and tie with soft string at least one third up the stem.
  2. Errect a wind break if the garden is exposed.
  3. Protect from animal damage with a plastic stem protector and slug pellets.
  4. Plant in groups rather in singles to get some mutual protection.
  5. Mulch to protect the soil temperature and moisture content.
  6. Keep weeds under control.

Planting out pot grown plants

  1. Before planting out give all new plants in pots a good soaking. Beware it can be hard to get water to soak into the center  You do not want to find the plant dying with a dry root ball in a few seasons time.
  2. Pot bound plants are those with the root twisting around inside the pot and most of the nutrient and compost consumed. Roots may be forcing their way out of the bottom of the pot or making plastic pots distort. They will struggle to get out of this vicious spiral/circle when planted out. The best solution is to tease out the roots on the edge of the root ball. If it is too tightly wound then break out any remaining composts and spread all the roots as best you can.
  3. Garden centers are businesses and some get up to dubious tricks. Small and immature plants that have  recently been repotted into larger pots to make them seem more valuable (for that read pricey). Before buying support the plant and invert the pot to see if the root ball crumbles.
  4. I put some mycorrhisal root growth aid in the hole to encourage roots to grow away from the root ball.
  5. Bare rooted trees and shrubs are often the best way to plant fruit trees, hedges and roses.


Rock On With My Garden

Rock On With My Garden

Dwarf Conifers in a Rock Garden

For over 25 years I have gardened a rockery or rock garden on a triangular patch of poor soil. I progressively scrounged and collected a range of granite, limestone and sandstone rocks and added them piecemeal. I aspired to growing alpine plants and recognised good drainage and shelter from winter wet weather would be key but that is as far as my planning would go. For the first couple of decades I was busy at work and wasn’t able to put in the effort of looking after small but hardy alpines.

One of the consequences of this lack of time was that I took the easy way out and planted ‘Dwarf and slow growing conifers’ that were a popular fad at the time. I also supported many alpine nurseries with my often ill chosen plant selections in attempts to buy a ready made garden feature. Latterly I joined the Alpine Garden Society and took advantage of shows and seed exchanges.

Then a latter stage crept up on me. The 10-20 year old conifers started to take over in scale and dare I say interest. Firstly dwarf can be a misnomer just because a conifer is small when planted it may very well just be a slow grower that has higher ambitions. I true dwarf conifer is a genetic feature of some species and are worth seeking out at the expense of other mass grown shrublets. Over time I dug out the larger and more boring specimens but still the alpines became less significant. I now have 20+ conifers of varying forms, colours and species taking over the alpines. The highest is 6 feet tall and may be the next for the chop one is low growing but spreads 5 feet wide and a favorite on mine is only 9 inches high. The space is still approximately 200 square feet but is extending into and adjacent bed past the crazy paved path.

Ideas for Rock Garden

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Bigger than the Biggest Aspidistra

Bigger than the Biggest Aspidistra

What I am talking about  are plants that are bigger than the biggest aspidistra in the Gracie Fields song book. They represent examples of the biggest natural organic organism in the world. I have three candidates for your consideration a couple of which may surprise you.

    1. Honey Fungus,  Armillaria mellea,  Armillaria ostoyae, and Armillaria solidipes also known as the humongous fungus, “honey mushroom” or “shoestring fungus.”  The largest measured example of unique DNA is believed to be in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. It is thousands of years old stretches, over 3 square miles, weighs 100s of tons, grows 10 feet deep and is acknowledged as the largest land organism on the planet.
    2. A plant in Fishlake National Forest colorado forms a colony of clones of Populus tremuloides also known as  Quaking Aspen, Pando or the Trembling Giant; it weighs in at an estimated 6,000 tons and may be up to 80,000 years old.  Clones and genet have identical genetic make-up and are a single living organism assumed to have one massive underground root system.  

3. The third candidiate and world heritage site is in Ibiza and is a  sea grass Posidonia oceanica also known as Neptune grass or Mediterranean tapeweed. Despite growing underwater it is not a seaweed but a grass that forms large underwater meadows in this case 5 miles long and over 100,000 years old. It is the largest example of a colnal colony


Other potential  biggest aspidistras include The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest structure but  is composed of a mixture many different living entities, the Giant Sequoia or amongst mammals the Blue Whale.

Latex, Opium, Sap, Gum and Resin

Latex, Opium, Sap, Gum and Resin

Opium Poppies – Geograph – Pods of the opium poppy at Woodcote, Oxfordshire


Dried latex is obtained from the seed capsules of  Papaver somniferum aka the opium poppy. Morphine, heroine and codeine are all derived from the alkalides in the latex. Latex is natural rubber.

Many  plants produce forms of latex rich in isoprene polymers including spurges, dandelions, ficus elastica, lettuce and chicle. Two most useful latex derived products are chicle for chewing gum and Hevea brasiliensis the rubber tree that is tapped to provide the latex for natural rubber production.

Latex can cause allergic reaction as gardeners with euphorbia may know from skin rashes


Tree Sap is obtained from maple, birch, or walnut trees and is a liquid less viscous than honey comprised mostly of water and sugars. Sap from a tree is made of sugar and water carried in the trunk cells.

Maple syrup comes from maple trees in the form of sap that is harvested in drips, from incisions in the bark, into a bucket hung from a tap hammered into the tree.

Sap has antiseptic qualities that can keep wounds from getting bacterial infections. Thus sap can  make wound dressings or when boiled down it becomes a sticky tar-like substance used for waterproofing (it’s believed by some that Noah used ‘pine pitch’ to waterproof the Ark)


Resin is a liquid found in the outer cells particularly of the Pinaceae family like pine, fir and cedar trees. Resin may be the trees way of removing waste products from the heartwood.

Resin is a sticky solid form of secretion that is highly valued for their chemical properties with various uses including the distillation of turpentine.

Amber is the fossilized resin from ancient forests.


Eucalyptus trees can produce a highly aromatic oil used  for cleaning, as an antiseptic and cough medicine.  Gum arabic is a natural gum made from the hardened sap of some varieties of Acacia trees. Its main uses are in the food industry.

National Oak Trees

National Oak Trees

The title of this post gives the game away but I will pose  the question anyway. ‘What do Croatia, USA, Germany, UK, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland, Poland any several other central European countries have in common?’

You got the answer ‘Oak trees as their national tree’ predominantly Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur). Portugal are slightly different having the Cork Oak (Quercus suber) as their national tree. Ireland and Wales vary the selection and opt for Sissile Oak (Quercus petraea) and  Cyprus choose the Golden oak (Quercus alnifolia). Yesterday I retuned from Portugal having seen the cork oaks with the bark stripped to the pholem or inner bark layer to harvest the cork.

In this age of virus I have added a comment on a problem for Oak trees. Ramorum blight or ‘sudden oak death’ is one of the Phytophthora pathogens causing concern in UK woods and forests where it infects English oak, sessile oak, Rhododendrons and some other species of tree. It is evidenced by blackened spots on the leaf near the petiole and along the midrib of the leaf with areas of black “bleeding” on the trunk. This can lead to sudden oak death or a depletion of leaves and branches.

Xylella is a bacterium that causes leaf scorch on oak trees. Xylella fastidiosa is a range of sub species that infect a range of broadleaf plants. This pathogen prevalent in Europe and USA is transmitted by insects and is a concern for some British trees.

Do not let this stop you from growing and cherishing an Oak it will probably outlive you and several more generations. Not for nothing are Oaks venerated as National Trees by so many nations.

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Litchen or Lichen and Some Interesting Facts

Litchen or Lichen and Some Interesting Facts

Lichen on tree bark

It is appropriate for there to be two spellings (and two pronunciations) for Lichen. That is because there needs to be a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria for a lichen to exist. Lichen is an organism that acts in a mutual relationship with  algae converting sunlight into vital nutrients and sugar whilst the partner fungus acts as the host to the new organism.  Thus a lichen is a composite organism that arises from living among   multiple fungi species and algae. Lichens have different properties from those of its component organisms.

Fascinating facts about Lichen

  • There are  20- 30,000 varieties of lichen with more being discovered every year
  • Lichen takes a vital role in the formation of soil.
  • Lichen grows on rocks, walls, buildings, trees and other hospitable surfaces.
  • With careful study Lichen can help with navigation when walking in the countryside. It predominantly grows on the north side of trees where the wind comes from the west
  • Sunshine can colour  lichen in greens, greys, yellows or even reds dependent on variety and conditions.
  • Lichen is a source of food for microbes insects and even reindeer. Some varieties are poisonous to humans.

  • There are three  distinct types of lichen: foliose, crustose, and fruticose. Foliose  are leaflike in both appearance and structure, crustose have a crusty appearance.
  • There are leafy lichen that thrive on rocks at he seaside called Xanthoria parietina with many common names like yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen.
  • Lichens of the species Ochrolechia and Umbilicaria can produce dyes of beautiful brilliant purple and red shades extracted by urine  Orcein produces a reddish-brown dye
  • Letharia vulpina or Wolf Lichen is a fruitose of fluorescent yellow color making a dye of a bright yellow color.
  • The map lichen rhizocarpon geographicum is luminous green on the southern side where it can harvest more light and a black lines of spores with normal green due to less light on the north.

Lichen no a wall

  • Lichen do not harm living trees nor take any food from the bark. They do appear on trees that are older or in decline for other reasons
  • Lichen are long lived and slow growing