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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Woody wonders

Posted on November 15 2009 at 9:49:10 0 comments

Virburnum berries

Hannah Genders wanders among a few of her favourite trees.

One of the best things about moving to a new house is the chance to explore a new area; we had often cycled around in this area of Worcestershire but had not done much walking. With a young dog to take out every day I have been having great fun exploring the lanes, woods and fields.

I also have the privilege of walking in a newly planted woodland, as the neighbouring farmer very kindly knocked on the door when we first moved in and said that we could walk anywhere on his land.

At the bottom end of his land he planted more than 15,000 trees to celebrate the new year of the millennium and leave something for future generations to enjoy. As you will know if you regularly read these articles, I love woodlands – and what a great way to celebrate a millennium?

Many of us don’t have the chance to plant a whole woodland but even one or a few native trees can enhance any garden. As this young woodland develops, the new species will create their own character and support each other into the future. These are just a few of the species planted there and why I think they are important to include:

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
I know these are common, but they are an important feature in any young woodland as they operate as a “pioneer” tree; they are fast growing and colonise a new area quickly. Relatively short lived at 60–90 years compared with our other native trees of oak and ash, we know and love this tree for its white bark – but this only really occurs when it matures; to start with the bark is reddish brown.

Historically, the name “birch” is thought to have derived from the meaning “to write on” as the bark was used instead of paper. It was also widely used in the tanning industry and the sap makes a very good wine when fermented.

Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Although these trees are often associated with water, they are also a good pioneering tree like silver birch and will colonise new ground very quickly – they are especially good at improving the soil as they have the ability to add nitrogen and therefore make a new area richer in nutrients, improving it for future trees.

They tend to be quick growing and will often grow multi-stemmed, especially when they are coppiced (cut to the ground). The coppiced branches were traditionally used in charcoal making and because of this habit and their leaf shape the tree can often be confused with hazel; however, the catkins and flowers single them out.

Into the winter they carry lovely male catkins and dark brown to purple cones, which are the female flowers. An all-round good tree, this one, and in this era of climate change the Alder’s ability to improve soil conditions has led to its being used widely on brown field sites all over the UK.

Spindle Tree (Euonymous europaeus)
It is native to northern Europe and its common name comes from the wood being used in the past to make spindles for looms. It is often seen in hedges but not grown so much as a tree, although it can reach six metres in height.

It has a grey-green bark and bright green flowers in May but it is the fruits that are most noticeable: very garish with a bright pink outer skin on the fruit revealing an orange seed as it develops.       
         
It is enough to brighten any woodland setting and I was really pleased to see so many growing in this local woodland, adding so much colour and interest at a dark time of year.

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
This is really a shrub more than a tree as it will only reach a height of four to five metres. It can often be found in our native hedgerows but also has an important role when planted as a woodland shrub. The leaves are similar to a maple shape and the white flowers are flat headed and like those seen on most garden shrubs in the same group.

The flowers attract beneficial insects to the woodland and the berries attract the birds – they are very luscious looking and bright red in colour, each containing a single seed. In times past a jelly was made from this fruit, although it is known to be rather toxic, and it was used to treat “feminine” problems and help to prevent miscarriage.

If you fancy growing either a whole woodland or a few trees for the new year, have a look at the websites below for help. And have a very happy new year!

For more information on planting woodland trees and grants available:
http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
http://www.forestry.gov.uk
http://www.greaterworcester.org (for community grants)


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