Tuesday 13 November 2018

Why not plant a long lived tree?

The Mighty Oak
The Mighty Oak
The Mighty Oak

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Manure mulch around established shrubs

Magnolia x soulangiana

March 5 to 12 was National Tree Week. This is an awareness week organised by the Tree council of Ireland to promote all things trees. It has been an annual event since 1985 and should be embraced and celebrated with gusto in my opinion. Where the National tree week really becomes valuable is in schools where the education of the young in tree importance will hopefully produce a generation of responsible environmentally aware adults in the future.

So what have trees ever done for us ? Well they filter air to take out carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, locking up the carbon and releasing oxygen so we can breath. Around 2500 kilograms of carbon is locked away in a hundred year old oak. A tree of that same age can produce enough oxygen in a year for the needs of two people to breath. Quite important that.

This same tree is home to two hundred and eighty different insects and a hundred different mosses and lichens. This even before you consider the use made of it by mammals and birds. Consider also long lived trees are the largest and oldest living things on the planet.

As a garden designer and avid gardener I have always been an advocate of tree planting, particularly big growing species with long life spans. While we all love our cherries, birch and rowans these are ornamental shortlived trees lasting perhaps two generations.

What is really desirable is the planting of legacy trees that will be there in 300, 400 even 500 years and longer. The planting of forests and large areas of tree planting must be left to the landowners and to the state but as gardeners we can also help and do our bit even though on the grand scale it may appear to be a drop in the ocean.

In particular is the case of Ireland's notorious ribbon development. Roads with houses strung along either side are commonplace in rural Ireland. Unfortunately so is the site of many treeless quarter to half acre sites that house these dwellings. This type of development appears, from looking at the age of the buildings, to have been popular since the 1960's.

There were obviously many reasons that this form of development was considered appropriate, economic understandably at the forefront. But what a shame it wasn't, and still isn't today, insisted upon that with every planning granted a large growing long lived tree was ordered to be planted and given a preserved status for that site. If it had today our countryside would be literally littered with fifty to sixty year old oaks, ash, beech, limes, chestnuts, pines, yews and willows for wetlands.

Every quarter acre site has room on it for one of these trees without impinging on the house or annoying the neighbours.It wouldn't have had to be natives or naturalised species either, not in a domesticated situation like that, many of which are semi town or village anyway. Lovely large non native trees like the tulip tree, Southern beech, American oaks, Asian elms and North American maples would have increased the diversity of our national tree stock.

Then when we start to lose certain trees to disease like our poor elms and now more recently the threat to our ash it doesn't leave such a gaping hole. These diseases are not spread by foreign trees but can be spread via all forms importing and trading not just the nursery trade. Dutch elm is considered to have arrived into America on infected wood used for packing cases.

But maybe we can all agree that it's not to late and if those among us that care about the environment we live in, the landscape we look at, the world our children live in start this year by planting a long lived tree species. It will be a beginning. Or is it just a utopian dream?

Wexford People

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