The nature of things
Afew tenacious buttery leaves still cling to the sycamore, but most have long since gone, blown away in the flurries of November, to pile up and melt down into a leafy slush. This is potentially manna to the gardener, as leaves that rapidly degrade are useful in the mix of leafmould compost that, in months to come, will warm up, rot down and enrich any cultivated soil.
In the 17th century, however, John Evelyn thought differently of the sycamore’s usefulness, finding it ‘much more in reputation for its shade than it deserves; for the Honey-dew leaves, which fall early (like those of the Ash) turn to a Mucilage and noxious insects, and putrifie with the first moisture of the season; so as they contaminate and marr our Walks; and are therefore by my consent, to be banish’d from all curious Gardens and Avenues’.
In Evelyn’s day, sycamores were still comparatively unusual trees, being native to mainland Europe and western Asia, but planted from the days of the Tudors to embellish parks and gardens. The ease with which it self-sows and multiplies ensured it soon found a firm footing in the English landscape. Given the space, however, it does make a magnificent, tall and broad tree: strong-limbed and giving plentiful shade to livestock as well as shelter to exposed buildings and useful, versatile timber. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe