Driving to my parent’s house the other day I suddenly noticed that the big chestnut tree down the road had been cut down! It was quite a shock to see the space where it used to be and it almost felt like a sudden bereavement. As children we often used to play round the tree and of course collect conkers in the autumn. Apparently the poor tree had been dead for a while and so had to come down.
It led me to think about how trees can be so important in our lives. In many cases they can outlive us significantly. On bank holiday Monday, for example, we visited Leith Hill Place, and I was absolutely blown away by the shere magnificence of a tulip tree on the path from the house to the car park. It is thought to have been planted around 250 years ago, about the time that Leith Hill Tower was built. There are many other specimen trees, plus the rhododendrons planted by Caroline Wedgwood in the mid nineteenth century. I had not previously appreciated the family connections between the Darwin, Wedgwood and Vaughan Williams families: Josiah Wedgwood III married Caroline Darwin, the sister of Charles Darwin. Their daughter Margaret married Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, whose family lived locally, and hence in due course Leith Hill Place became the home of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. What a stunning location in which to spend your childhood, and he too would have been familiar with the specimen trees that we can admire now.
On a slightly less grand scale, the apple trees which were once in the garden of my granny’s childhood home, can still be seen by the side of the road at the Buck Barn crossroads on the A24 near Shipley, though the house has long since gone. I remember my Granny once telling me that she and her brother made up stories about imaginary little people living in those trees.
I’ve always enjoyed growing plants. At primary school we were once given conkers to take home and plant, and I won a pencil because mine grew the tallest. It must have been around that time that I planted some apple pips. One of those seedlings went on to grow into a fine specimen and now, well over forty years later, it still produces an abundance of apples. It turned out to be a James Grieve. Whether or not that tree outlives me will depend very much on the future occupants of that house, but I hope both it and I will thrive for a few years yet!