The na­ture of things

Sy­camore

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

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

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