No­ble trees for gen­er­a­tions to come

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Alan Titch­marsh Alan Titch­marsh is a gar­dener, au­thor and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Next week: The joy of horsech­est­nut trees

‘How I wish I’d been in a po­si­tion to plant them in my twen­ties

LIV­ING in a world in which, to most politi­cians, the phrase ‘long term’ means two par­lia­ments, it’s an up­hill strug­gle to get any­one with an eye to the fu­ture to think fur­ther than the next 10 years. How­ever, true gar­den­ers do and must.

‘Plant pears for your heirs’ the say­ing goes and, although the in­nate pes­simism in that state­ment is ques­tion­able (nowa­days, most folk un­der the age of 70 can rea­son­ably ex­pect to en­joy poires Belle Hélène from a tree they’ve just planted), it’s hugely sat­is­fy­ing to plant other trees that will not come to full ma­tu­rity un­til long af­ter we are gone.

Although this may be tak­ing the post­pone­ment of grat­i­fi­ca­tion to its ex­treme, I can’t help but feel a ris­ing sense of pride in the three cedar of Le­banon trees (Ce­drus libani) that I planted in the meadow be­hind our house some 15 years ago. They were just 6ft tall when I dug the holes and tucked them into the well-drained but chalky earth. Now, they’re 30ft high, with fairly wide-spread­ing branches —a cou­ple of cen­turies away from ma­tu­rity, but lusty enough to glad­den my heart and pro­vide shade from the sun.

How I wish I’d been in a po­si­tion to plant them in my twen­ties, rather than my fifties, as I could then have re­ally seen them flex­ing their mus­cles.

From time to time, I’m asked to name a favourite plant or tree for some sur­vey or other. De­pend­ing on the time of year, it might be a snow­drop, a daf­fodil, an iris, a pe­ony or an old-fash­ioned rose. I have a fond­ness for old ap­ple trees when they’re laden with their co­conut-ice blos­som, but, if I’m al­lowed to choose only one tree on my desert is­land, it’ll be a tough de­ci­sion be­tween an English oak (Quer­cus robur) and the cedar of Le­banon, for both have a grace and majesty that keeps a man in his place and re­minds him of his re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Earth and the rel­a­tive brevity of his time upon it.

High­clere Cas­tle—the home of the Earls of Carnar­von near New­bury—would lack much of the grandeur it pos­sesses were its ap­pear­ance solely de­pen­dent upon the tal­ents of the ar­chi­tect Sir Charles Barry; it’s the 300year-old cedars that cre­ate and en­rich its set­ting.

Cedars need space to achieve best ef­fect. There are three main species: Ce­drus at­lantica, the Mount At­las cedar (usu­ally found in its blue-grey form, Glauca), bear­ing slightly as­cend­ing branches; the de­o­dar—ce­drus de­o­dara—fresh green with pen­dent shoot tips; and C. libani, which is the clas­sic cedar of Georgian park­land, whose branches are al­most horizontal.

The de­o­dar is the most at­trac­tive in its early decades, but the other two species are ar­guably the ones to choose should you wish to leave be­hind a green le­gacy. Given any de­cent well-drained soil, all of them will thrive.

Just last year, I re­moved the very low­est branches on each of my trees. It was a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion—i didn’t want to turn them into Christ­mas trees—but many of the lower, over­shad­owed stems were weak or dead; reg­u­lar re­moval of any such ma­te­rial is about the only main­te­nance the trees need, apart from mak­ing sure that, in their early years, they have one strong lead­ing shoot that will al­low them to ex­tend heav­en­wards.

Heavy snow­fall can in­flict se­vere dam­age on ma­ture trees. It can’t be guarded against, but with young trees, it’s easy enough to knock off the snow, thus prevent­ing disas­ter in its youth and dis­fig­ure­ment in old age. ‘God bless the fam­ily,’ wrote A. P. Her­bert in his frothy mu­si­cal com­edy Bless the Bride. ‘Like our great cedar tree, as­cend­ing, swelling, and ever spread­ing richer roots be­low.’

I see in my mind’s eye my great­grand­chil­dren play­ing games in the shadow of the stately trees that were not much taller than me when I planted them. It is, I think, a fine sen­ti­ment for any gar­dener to live by.

Ma­jes­tic cedars of Le­banon grace the park­land at Os­borne House on the Isle of Wight

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