Wednesday 13 December 2017

Enriching the nation's tree stock

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

You guessed it - plant a tree- any tree.

Chinonodoxa - Glory of the snow. Spring bulb

Last week was National Tree Week an initiative by the Tree council of Ireland to promote the awareness of trees and encourage their planting. Something I wholeheartedly endorse.

By chance this years 'Tree week' happened to coincide with a trip I had planned, I make it four or five times a year, to collect a tree order from a trade nursery in deepest Offaly. Top of my list was a particularly lovely tree species of flowering dogwood called Cornus 'Eddie's White Wonder'. Not particularly rare but for some reason not often available to buy unfortunately.

On my first visit to the nursery a few years ago I was ashamed at how many trees he had for sale of which I was completely ignorant. All totally hardy and many spectacularly beautiful and all totally engrossing to a tree nerd like myself. Yet these trees are never generally available. The nursery owner Jan made me feel better by suggesting that at 52 I was still young and had plenty of time to learn.

Tetradium-Bee bee tree; Staphylea-the bladdernut; Meliosma; Pterostyrax -Epaulette tree; Paulownia -Foxglove or Empress tree; Pterocarya-wingnuts and Emmenopteris described by Ernest Wilson the 19th century plant collector as the most strikingly beautiful tree when he saw it in China. All these trees are wonders in there own right hardy and equally hard to find. On that visit Jan also showed me his 'sweet shop', a greenhouse full to bursting with his pet plants and propagation projects of rare species some hardy and some too tender to survive outside.

I have always thought that it was important to plant a diversity of tree species in the country. Not that I'm suggesting that we mass plant the countryside with foreign varieties, natives across the open countryside and in hedgerows is the way to go, but as gardeners we can introduce some unusual trees to our gardens that will benefit the national stock. Many of the old gardens of Ireland have rarer species as mature specimens that were planted in the early 1900's by garden owners with a keen interest. The habit of diverse planting seems to have died out.

With elms and ash having either having succumbed to or are under threat from disease and I hear murmurings about oaks suffering mystery ailments on an annual basis the wider our tree species is cast the better. There is often disease resistance within any given tree type.

This doesn't mean we all have to try to find the rarest species and plant them, even within our common natives and naturalised species we can select something a little different. Take our beloved birch. Betula pendula [silver birch] it is lovely as is the over planted Betula jaquemontii. But why not source a Betula ermanii with creamy pink bark or Betula maximowicziana [ Monarch birch] with leaves six inches across. In a wet spot or by a pond the shaggy barked Betula nigra [River birch] is a true marvel.

For sycamore and Norway maple Acers try Acer rubrum [Red maple] or Acer saccharum [Sugar maple]. For Aesculus hippocastanum [Horse chestnut] look out Aesculus indica [Indian Horse chestnut. Native oaks [Quercus rubor and Quercus petrea] In the garden we could plant Quercus rubra [Red Oak] or Quercus coccinea [Scarlet Oak]. As an evergreen Quercus x hispanica make a large and beautiful tree. Even the humble Alder [Alnus glutinosa] you can find the cut leafed Alnus glutinosa 'Imperilalis'.

Any tree planting is a laudable activity and I wouldn't argue against planting natives by any means but there are so many wonderful trees its worth the effort of seeking out something a little unique, different that will enrich the nation's tree stock for centuries to come.

Wexford People

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