Admires the beauties of Aston Clinton ragpits
NOW that autumn has set in, the woollycoated four-legged volunteers have arrived! The sheep are doing a great job of grazing down the grassland. This is essential to make sure the more competitive coarser grass and scrub species don’t get the upper hand and smother the orchids.
The air is filled with storm-tossed leaves with a bouncing flight, like some migrant butterflies off to warmer climes; a solitary bumble bee is searching out a place to shelter from the turbulent gusts of wind.
Poet John Clare described our wild bees as ‘children of the sun’ and how they ‘pipe rustic ballads on busy wings’ a poetic description for these beautiful creatures we so often take for granted.
After a few hours’ cutting back some of the scrub too big for the sheep to eat, I wandered into the woodland, crunching over dead sticks and beech mast underfoot. From within one of the nest boxes I noticed a keen eye staring at me. The slightly enlarged entrance hole pointed to a home improvem done not by a beak but some sharp teeth!
The fat or edible dormouse is a famil denizen o houses and nest boxes. This particular one stared out with an irresistibly cute face. A pink nose, grey ears and a pair of beady black eyes reminded me of a miniature koala bear.
It looked cosy and at least it won’t disturb anyone while it’s on the reserve.
Earlier in the year a grand old beech tree came down. This supine giant will provide a valuable source of dead wood for many invertebrates and fungi. But now I can walk along its entire length to appreciate fully the beauty of the muscular boughs and carbuncled gunmetal-grey trunk, the textures and shape of its elegant branches right into the toppled crown.
Suddenly, winter blew in. Overhead a flock of redwings wheeled around surveying their new resting place. They seem to love each other’s company and have remained friends since embarking on their journey from Scandinavia, and are looking forward to feasting upon the autumn harvest of delicious hedgerow berries!
no better time to plant trees and conifers, particularly bare-root ones, when the plants are dormant but the soil is still warm enough for the roots to become established before spring.
So if you’re planting a tree during National Tree Week, which runs from November 29 to December 7, consider firstly your situation and how much space you have.
Trees can create privacy, shade, dramatic impact, colour and fruit, as well as movement and architectural form. The height and structure of the types you choose are as important in a small garden as they are in a large one.
If you have a small space, consider choosing a narrow tree with minimal spread, which will provide height and structure. Alternatively, you may prefer one landmark spreading tree with a canopy which casts dappled shade but allows for some planting underneath. Compact ‘weeping’ trees, such as a weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia) could be used as a focal point. If your space is really limited, you could plant a carefully trimmed tree in a large pot.
Excellent trees for small gardens include Amelanchier lamarckii, whose graceful branches carry copper-hued new leaves in spring along with starry, white flowers. In autumn the leaves often colour brilliantly too.
If you have room for two trees, try to combine two trees which have a different season of interest, such as a photinia - an evergreen with new red growth in late spring - and sorbus, which has lovely autumn hues and dazzling berries.
If you are looking for flowers, consider one of the crab apple varieties, such as Malus floribunda, the Japanese crab, which is adorned with blush pink and white fragrant flowers in spring and is slow growing, or the Malus ‘Royal Beauty’, which bears deep red-purple flowers and small dark red fruits.
Among the most suitable flowering trees for a confined space is the Prunus ‘Amanogawa’, an upright specimen with ascending branches which produces fragrant pink flowers in mid-spring.
If you only have room for a pot, consider a Japanese maple, which will produce fantastic foliage colour, or a trimmed bay, photinia or olive tree.
Bigger gardens offer more scope to house majestic oaks, horse chestnuts and lime trees. Just be aware of their impact on your views long-term because you don’t want them to screen your vista of the countryside.
Recommended RHS AGM varieties to plant include Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’, Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’, Quercus palustris, Malus ‘Evereste’ and Sorbus vilmorinii.
Trees planted in the autumn will experience much less stress and will require less watering and aftercare than trees planted in spring or summer.
When planting, dig out a hole much larger than the roots, at least 30cm (1ft) wider than the rootball and 30cm (12in) deeper and mix in good garden compost and a generous sprinkling of slow-release fertiliser.
Stake your plant using a stake as long as the distance from the bottom of the hole to just below the first branch, plus 45cm (18in). It’s easier to do it if the tree is removed, then once the stake has been driven in replace the tree, teasing its roots around the stake and make sure that the tree is held away from the stake with a buffer to stop it rubbing. Larger trees can be staked using three stakes in a triangle shape in the hole about 50cm (18in) from the stem of the tree.
Add compost to the soil you are going to put back around the tree, firming it against the roots, but avoid heeling in on top of the rootball or you may damage the tree. Pile the soil around the tree to create a mound, so directing the water into the rootball.
Top, beech trees will provide a good source of dead wood and, above, watch out for the edible dormouse