The na­ture of things

Two ev­er­green oaks

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by

HE ma­ture holm oak is a stately thing, form­ing a big, round-headed tree, cast­ing deep shade un­der its dense canopy. You’re most likely to see them in es­tate parks and church­yards in south­ern Bri­tain or lin­ing thor­ough­fares in es­tab­lished coastal re­sorts, where they’re val­ued for mak­ing sturdy wind­breaks, tol­er­ant of brac­ing sea air. How­ever, that need not be the sum of their use­ful­ness; holm oak (Quercus ilex, pic­tured, top left) also makes ex­cel­lent ev­er­green top­i­ary and hedg­ing, rapidly form­ing a stout, per­ma­nent screen in most soil types.

The young leaves are mildly spiny along their edges, which gave rise to the pop­u­lar name of holly oak and, although soft new fo­liage emerges through the grow­ing sea­son in hues of light green or cop­per, a som­bre, dark green pre­vails in ma­tu­rity. Then, it takes a gust of wind to lift the dark veil, re­veal­ing downy, sil­very un­der­sides that shim­mer like the branches of an olive. Hail­ing from the Mediter­ranean, holm oaks have been grown here since Tu­dor times. In their na­tive lands, the wood has long been prized for fur­ni­ture, tool han­dles, wheel-mak­ing and char­coal.

TIts rel­a­tive, Quercus suber,(pic­tured, top right) also from the Mediter­ranean, is rarer over here. Its leaves are sim­i­lar, but held in a more open crown; its trunk de­vel­ops, over time, a fis­sured, soft bark that pro­vides the re­mark­able lightweight, buoy­ant, heat- and wa­ter-re­sis­tant ma­te­rial that is cork. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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