When a tree needs to move

moving trees
The right tree in the right place makes a garden

While many gardeners are happy enough to shift perennials and even shrubs around their borders somehow the idea of moving trees seems alien.

There’s something permanent about them that seems to defy the idea of uprooting – even when they are too close to something else or in completely the wrong place.

Yet, even the biggest of trees can be shifted, as I discovered when I met up with Glendale Civic Trees at the Malvern Autumn Show.

The firm, which is based in Hertfordshire, is expert in moving trees – be they mature specimens needed to give that instant age to a design, or existing trees that for one reason or another are in the wrong place.

moving trees
Even large trees can be moved by specialists

“A lot of our tree-moving takes place within gardens,” explained Sales Manager Deric Newman. “Often they are in the way of a development.”

Others may be moved within a woodland as part of the thinning process where rather than simply felling the extra trees, they are replanted to extend the tree cover. And even trees covered by a Tree Preservation Order can be moved, if the local authority agrees.

The biggest tree the firm has been called on to move was a 30m-high oak in Newcastle. Its height was reduced by about half before it was relocated, something that is commonly done with very large specimens.

moving trees
Specialist equipment wraps the rootballs

“You can reduce most trees by about 30 per cent without really affecting the overall quality of the tree.”

And some move long distances: London to Norfolk and even Surrey to Scotland.

Not all the trees are in existing gardens, some are nursery-grown large specimens that are needed in a new design, to create a shelter belt or avenue.

One project that the firm, part of national green service provider, Glendale, recently completed on a private estate in South Gloucestershire saw a mixture of semi-mature beech, lime, cedar of Lebanon, and walnut used to produce an instant effect.

moving trees
Mature trees produce an instant effect

“We were creating a parkland on what had been an arable farm and just brought in hundreds of trees.”

The firm operates specialist equipment to wrap the root balls and lift the trees and can cope with specimens that are up to 90cm in girth.

And it’s not something gardeners should be afraid of trying.

“At the end of the day, trees are just shrubs up in the air.”

Tips for moving trees

So how do you go about moving trees in your own garden, I wondered? Here is Deric’s advice.

Move trees when they are dormant – between November and March.

You can probably move trees of up to 14cm in girth (measured 1m above ground level). Any bigger, call in the experts.

moving trees
Getting the trees right is a big part of garden design

Dig the new hole before you try moving the tree so that it can go back into the ground immediately.

Excavate a trench 30cm deep around the tree and aim to dig out a root ball of around 50cm in diameter.

Try to keep as much soil on the root ball as possible.

 Make sure the new hole is the right depth, if anything, plant the tree 25mm higher than you want as it will settle.

Keep the tree well fed and watered for the first few years.

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Westonbirt creates an Enchanted Christmas

Walking through a wood at night isn’t an obvious crowd-pleaser but the Enchanted Christmas light show at Westonbirt is different. In fact, it’s become so popular this year sees advanced booking only and timed tickets.

The annual display is now in its 20th year and for many families seeing hundreds of lights transforming the National Arboretum is a traditional start to their Christmas.

Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the 12-day event, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from the end of November until just before Christmas.

It’s the increasingly popularity that has led to the change in ticketing, explains arboretum spokeswoman Emily Pryor.

enchanted christmas
Coloured lights highlight the trees

“We’re striving always to improve the quality of visitors’ experience. We want it to be the best we can give.”

As a result, there will no longer be the option to pay at the gate and all tickets to the route will be issued in one-hour time slots, although people can enter the arboretum any time after 5pm to visit the restaurant and shop.

And Emily stresses that once on the illuminated trail there is no pressure to get around in a given time.

“Visitors can take as long as they need,” she says.

As well as new arrangements for tickets, the display in the Enchanted Christmas has also seen some changes with a complete overhaul of the equipment used to ensure an even brighter and more dazzling show.

enchanted forest
The lights create a magical world

This includes a more powerful machine to pump bubbles out into one part of the trail where they will be picked out by UV lights.

“It looks quite amazing in the dark,” says Emily.

Meanwhile, an ‘elf village’ for Santa’s helpers will have tiny houses lit up among the trees, while Father Christmas – dressed in the original, traditional green – will be taking Christmas requests and Mrs Christmas will be telling stories.

Although the one-mile trail follows a different route through the Old Arboretum each year, the concept remains the same. Lights in every shade from red, blue and white to green, purple and orange transform Westonbirt’s trees, picking out twisted limbs, fissures in bark or the graceful shape of weeping specimens.

Enchanted christmas
The Enchanted Christmas is a popular annual event

Some trees are lit with a steady spotlight, others are part of an ever-changing display as lights go on and off with timers.

Among the most popular elements are those that involve audience participation. The ‘singing tree’ has lights that are sound sensitive and visitors are encouraged to sing or shout to illuminate it. Elsewhere, a sequence of lights is triggered by visitors beating on drums.

And there is the chance to light up the Enchanted Christmas with pedal power by riding on a bicycle.

“It’s a huge hit with kids.”

There’s even a touch of disco with a huge mirror ball that reflects back onto the trees.

The Enchanted Christmas opens on Friday November 25 and runs on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 18th.

The trail is pushchair and wheelchair friendly. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended.

For more details and booking information, visit Westonbirt

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Celebrate autumn

Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.

Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.

At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.

celebrate autumn
Squash are among the homegrown crops at Rococo

Among the trees

Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.

It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.

“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”

celebrate autumn
Colesbourne’s unusual blue lake

The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.

Learn about apples

At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.

On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.

The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.

celebrate autumn
Learn more about apples at Painswick Rococo Garden

And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.

Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.

The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden

Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park

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Acers fire up for autumn

Winter bedding and bulb-buying aside, autumn can be a quiet time for nurseries. There’s a sense of winding down, taking stock and starting to prepare for the next season. Yet for one independent nursery, October is the pinnacle of the year.

Howle Hill Nursery specialises in acers and autumn sees it explode into colour. Butter yellow, crimson, scarlet and orange are beginning to work their way across the nursery, near Ross-on-Wye, culminating in a fiery show.

‘Chitose-yama’ is turning a rich, dark red that glows in the sun, ‘Sango-kaku’, the coral-bark maple, is golden with pink tips, ‘Aoyagi’ is a pure yellow, while one of the best reds is ‘Osakazuki’.

The nursery was started by landscaper and designer Peter Dowle, who began growing the autumn stars when tracking them down for his garden projects proved difficult.

acers
‘Sango-kaku’ is a fiery mix of red and gold

“I could never find trees of any size,” he explains. “It started out being driven by what we wanted to use in schemes but couldn’t get. Now other people in that situation come to us.”

The choice at the nursery is huge – the firm prides itself on having the widest selection in the South West with many hard-to-find varieties.

They range from dainty dwarf trees suitable for containers to others so big that they will make an immediate impact on a garden; some of the trees are up to 40 years old.

acers
Acers were a key part of Peter’s gold medal-winning garden at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival

The stock is grafted for Howle Hill by a British specialist and the nursery takes delivery when the trees are around four months old. The acers are then grown on to be sold at the nursery, through its online arm Acers Direct, or used in clients’ gardens; Peter designs four or five Japanese-style gardens a month.

How to grow acers

But even if you don’t want a true Oriental garden, Peter believes you should make space for an acer.

“They are such a fabulous genus. You get a huge amount of variation and seasonal interest from them.

acers
Blazing reds are lighting up the nursery

“They are suitable for a very wide range of soils including clays to chalky and sandy soils.”

And he dismisses as a myth the commonly held view that acers need acid soil to thrive or that they can’t cope with windy spots, although he advises against planting on the top of a hill or as the first line of defence in a seaside garden.

“Average wind conditions are not an issue with maples so long as the soil preparation is correct,” explains Peter, whose landscaping business has built many RHS gold medal-winning gardens.

Instead, he believes brown edges to leaves, often blamed on wind burn, is more likely to be poor soil without enough humus.

acers
The nursery has a wide selection of trees

“The important thing for gardeners is to mimic their natural habitat on the fringes of deciduous woodland.”

Adding lots of leaf mould, well-rotted farmyard manure or composted bark would give acers the conditions they need.

Peter also says you shouldn’t be afraid to prune an acer to get the best shape – just be careful when you do it to avoid the plant ‘bleeding’.

“The golden rule is to prune from late June to the end of December.”

Spoilt for choice

acers
‘Garnet’ makes a small tree

Acers can be grouped as dwarf, small, medium and large, making them suitable for any garden, even courtyards.

A good dwarf for containers is ‘Little Princess’, which grows up to 1.5m in height, while ‘Garnet’, which has purple, dissected foliage is classed as a small tree.

Among the medium acers is ‘Osakazuki’ and ‘Bloodgood’ is a popular large tree, which has a strong red colour.

If it’s orange tones you want, Peter suggests ‘Orange Dream’, which has a golden orange autumn display.

acers
‘Orange Dream’ is starting to live up to its name

Yet acers are not just for autumn with many having beautiful colour early in the year.

“Spring is such an underrated window for maples. There’s a whole range of spring fizzlers that are just knockout.”

A top choice is ‘Deshojo’, whose new leaves are cerise pink.

acers
‘Deshojo’ has a wonderful cerise spring colour

“When it’s pink in spring and you’ve got sunlight through that it’s just unbeatable.”

Planting companions

Among the nursery’s top choices for planting companions with acers are Hakonechloa macra and Mukdenia rossii, which has a white flower, glossy leaves and good autumn colour.

And a favourite partnership is Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ underplanted with winter aconites, the tree with its aconite-like foliage opening just as the yellow blooms are fading.

Howle Hill Nursery is hosting an Acer Week from October 17-22 open 9am to 5pm daily, with the preview week from October 10. There will be trees for sale and advice on growing acers. More details here

Countryfile visits Batsford

Conservation work at Batsford Arboretum will be featured on BBC Countryfile this weekend.

Presenter Matt Baker visited the Cotswold arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh to find out how a form of X-ray, known at Tomographing, can be used to detect decay in trees and decide whether they need to be felled.

Mat Baker
Matt Baker helps to X-ray the tree

Head Gardener Matthew Hall and a team from Oxford Brookes University tested an ailing 100-year-old purple beech. The tree was found to be beyond salvage and was cut down.

Matt Baker then helped plant a Serbian Spruce, which is under threat, as part of Batsford’s contribution to the International Conifer Conservation Project, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Batsford is one of a number of sites throughout the UK that hosts rare and endangered species in a bid to safeguard them for the future. The first trees in the scheme to be planted at the arboretum were Chilean conifers and there have also been species from China, Japan and Vietnam.

Batsford will feature on Countryfile on Sunday January 17 at 6.30pm on BBC1.

Review: The Company of Trees by Thomas Pakenham

As a writer trees worry me. Faced with an herbaceous border, I’m in my element but charged with talking about a garden based largely on trees I start to flounder. First, there’s the tricky question of identification: I’m fine with the obvious but start to struggle with anything other than ash and oak. Then there’s simply what to say beyond the clichéd adjectives of stately, magnificent and graceful? Given this I was intrigued to see how Thomas Pakenham could fill a whole book talking about trees.

The Company of Trees

The Company of Trees’ isn’t his first foray into the subject: he has published several titles, starting with the popular ‘Meetings With Remarkable Trees’. This featured 60 portraits of trees notable for their age, size, history or simply shape.

Whereas that was a book for dipping into, his new publication is far weightier with fewer of his beautiful photographs and a more obvious narrative thread following a year at Tullynally, his Irish estate, and his travels, collecting rare seeds. What the two volumes share is a writing style that sparkles with his passion for the subject. Early on he states that “Like most sensible people I find them [trees] irresistible” and by the end I was beginning to see why.

To Pakenham, trees are more than just a horticultural exercise and his descriptions bring them alive. Young seedlings are “pushy adolescents”, ancient specimens are “old retainers” while a group of beech are known as ‘the Ents’ and have, he tells us, “very different personalities”.

Each tree death or removal, either through storm, disease or simple necessity is for him a personal loss. Needing to thin his arboretum, he watches as 16 oaks are felled – a process he likens to “murdering your friends”. He describes how the “bigger ones fought back” while the “small ones died without a struggle”.

Thomas Pakenham
Thomas Pakenham

Woven into this delightfully evocative prose are solid horticultural facts and historical detail, often about the great plant-hunters in whose footsteps he literally travels in his search for rare specimens.

He rails against the slow response to the threat of the ‘Four Horsemen’, his name for the new diseases afflicting many of our trees, worries about the effect of climate changes and condemns ‘the Talibans’, as he calls some environmentalists, for what he regards as their puritanical and narrow view of what constitutes a native tree.

Explorations of other great tree collections, including the envy-inducing maples at Westonbirt Arboretum and sumptuous magnolias at Mount Congreve, are set against the account of his own work to both restore and improve the planting at Tullynally.

With lively chapter headings – ‘Knicker-Pink’ is particularly memorable – and a self-deprecating style that does not gloss over his planting mistakes, this is an engaging account of a lifetime’s work and a life-long passion.

The Company of Trees by Thomas Pakenham is published Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced at £30.

Review copy supplied by The Suffolk Anthology

For more book reviews, see here

Westonbirt lights up

Walking around a wood on a cold winter’s night isn’t the most obvious way to launch the festive season, yet for thousands that’s exactly what Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas does.

Indeed, the spectacular light show, which opens on Friday, has become so popular – last year saw more than 33,000 visitors over the 12 nights – the arboretum has been forced to limit some evenings to pre-booked tickets only.

“It’s because of the sheer number of people who want to come,” explains Recreation Manager Simon Hough. “We were getting to the point we could not get any more in.”

Limiting the numbers on Saturdays to 3,500 pre-booked visitors will, he says, help to preserve the atmosphere.

“The great thing about this landscape is it soaks people up and even when it’s very busy you still feel you’re having a unique experience out there.”

westonbirt arboretum
The lighting creates a magical atmosphere © Forestry Commission

Now in its 19th season, Enchanted Christmas turns the world famous National Arboretum into a magical world of colour not due to the usual autumn foliage or spring blossom but with thousands of lights that pick out groups of trees or individual specimens.

Sometimes it’s the twisted shape of the leafless branches that are highlighted against the night sky, on others it’s the weeping form or intricate pattern of bark, while colours range from white, green and blue through to red, orange and yellow.

This year’s route is nearly a mile-and-a-half long around the Old Arboretum and highlights will include lights along Holford Ride towards Westonbirt School, some beautiful Scots pines and cedars on the downs.

“The big cedars lit up look magnificent,” says Simon.

Visitors are being encouraged to sing out in Savill Glade where sound-sensitive lights will respond to the volume and in Pool Avenue banging a base drum will bring on the illuminations.

westonbirt arboretum
The illuminated trail is through the Old Arboretum © Forestry Commission

This year, Father Christmas, dressed in a traditional green costume, will be joined by Mrs Christmas, who will be entertaining children with stories.

Other entertainment includes carol singing, stilt walkers, a children’s carousel and Christmas crafts.

“The Enchanted Christmas is our unique thing,” says Simon. “You cannot replicate a place like this. It’s magical.”

The Enchanted Christmas is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night between November 27 and December 20. Pre-booking is advised and is essential for entry on Saturdays. The trail opens at 5pm, last entry to the car park is at 7pm and to the trail at 7.30pm. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended. For more information and to book, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-christmas

Get a taste for history

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked apple, one that hasn’t been ferried miles and then sat on a supermarket shelf. Growing your own also means the chance to savour different varieties rather than just the commonplace Granny Smith or Braeburn.

In Gloucestershire alone there are 106 different apples and, thanks to work by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, many of these are now available to gardeners. 

One grower who has been promoting these ‘heritage’ varieties is Rob Watkins, who specialises in old varieties of apple, along with perry pears and plums. 

heritage fruit
Rob Watkins grows a range of heritage varieties

He launched Lodge Farm Trees 15 years ago when he gave up milking at his Rockhampton farm. Every year he raises around 1,000 trees with about 40 different apples and 20 perry pears at any one time. 

“At some point I’ve grown all of the apple varieties,” says Rob, who is a Trust committee member. 

Among the old apple varieties are ‘Margaret’, an early cropping, sweet, red dessert apple, ‘Severn Bank’, a dual purpose eater and cooker, and ‘Hens Turds’, a cider apple from Rodley. 

‘Rose of Ciren’ is another Gloucestershire variety and there is the delightfully named ‘Jackets and Waistcoats’, also known as ‘Jackets and Petticoats’, which comes from Ashleworth. 

“It’s a nice apple with a zingy taste,” says Rob, who also grows Christmas trees after collaborating for some years with neighbouring Mount Pleasant Trees. 

Some apples, such as the dual purpose ‘Arlingham Schoolboys’, have been saved from near extinction as the original trees have long gone and the variety lives on only through grafted trees grown from them. Some of these new generation trees have now been planted back in the village. 

Perry pears, which are found across the Three Counties, include the ‘Christmas Pear’, ‘Yellow Huffcap’ and ‘Merry Legs’, though whether the name has anything to do with the effect of the perry is unclear. 

heritage fruit
The ‘Worcester Black’ pear appears on the city’s coat of arms

The trees are grown on rootstocks that Rob buys in as two-year trees and plants out in January; these are used to determine the size and vigour of the mature tree. 

Budding starts in July using that year’s growth, some taken from his trees – he has planted an orchard of old varieties – the rest from trees across the county, including the Trust’s ‘mother orchard’. 

All the leaves are trimmed off the cutting, leaving a small ‘handle’ on the bottom one and a 45 degree cut is made behind a bud. This is then inserted into a similar slot in the rootstock behind a bud and the whole thing is bound together with special tape. Three weeks later the two should be growing as one tree. 

heritage fruit
A piece of the trimmed leaf is left

The following spring, Rob cuts the rootstock off to just above the graft, leaving the heritage variety as the leader. 

“In the first year the rootstock will shoot out of the bottom and I have to trim it off several times during the growing season.” 

Trees are sold bare-rooted from mid-November to March and a mini-digger is brought in to lift them to ensure a good root ball on each tree. They are then heeled into a bed of composted bark ready for sale. 

And Rob’s favourite? It’s the well-known ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, which originates from Gloucester and dates back to 1700.

For more information, visit www.lodgefarmtrees.co.uk

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust: www.gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk

Planting tips

When it comes to planting, the process is simple. Choose a good, sunny site, that doesn’t get waterlogged and don’t replant where there’s been a fruit tree before; Christmas trees are used as a rotation crop at the farm. 

Dig a hole big enough to take the root ball. Rob doesn’t put compost or manure in as “It will act like a sump and the roots don’t like it.” Instead, he prefers to mulch well after planting. 

A stake may be necessary, depending on the size of the tree and the area around the tree should be kept weed-free. He also recommends fitting a guard if you have rabbits.