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Happy National Tree Week!

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Tony Kirkham Tony Kirkham | 08:39 UK time, Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta at Kew

Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta

Once a year, thanks to the Tree Council, we get to spend a whole week appreciating the gentle giants of the plant world: not just the incredible beauty trees bring to our gardens and countryside but the long and important part they have played in building a modern world.

Tony Kirkham might be best known as the presenter of BBC2's The Trees That Made Britain, but in his day job he looks after one of the UK's finest collections of trees at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. We asked him to reflect on the trees in his care.

Well it’s that time of the year again, when we start to notice trees: the statuesque silhouettes in their now naked forms, devoid of leaves and showing off their true architectural majesty as the trunks and major branches reach into the sky with glistening twigs shrouded in frost.

This is my favourite time of year. At last the cold weather has started early in the calendar, just as I remember it when I was a boy. We always had heavy frosts before Bonfire Night, a diary date I always link to the period that trees shut down for a winter rest.

This week the oaks will join the rest of the trees as they are always one of the last to shed their leaves. Over this weekend they turned a rich, russet-brown, and a good wind will see the last of the leaf fall, so gardeners can complete their leaf raking and composting operations and put those rakes away.

One of my favourite trees is the Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta. There is a beautiful multi-stemmed specimen next to the Japanese landscape in the south end of the arboretum at Kew, a tree that I collected as seed in South Korea in 1989. Every year it performs a grand overture to end another growing season; the autumn colour is out of this world, hot orange with hints of coral that resemble a raging fire on a cold, sunny autumnal day.

It's been hanging on, performing for the camera for the past three weeks, but this morning as I walked past the last leaves were falling gently to the ground exposing the clusters of bright red berries and reminding me of the very day 21 years ago that I picked the fruits.

By the end of the week the fieldfares and redstarts will have found them and gorge on them until the tree is once again bare.

This is the time of year that the evergreen trees come into their own and have centre stage in the treescape and we notice them once again. My favourite at Kew is the Lucombe oak, Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’; it’s actually a semi-deciduous tree, as it does lose all of its leaves in spring, but for now it’s evergreen.

Lucombe oak, Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

Lucombe oak, Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

There is a Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 200 years ago. The next best time is today.” That’s just what we will be doing in the arboretum at Kew over the next few weeks.

There is nothing more rewarding than planting a tree, nurturing it and watching it grow into a fine majestic specimen that everyone can enjoy. Let’s not forget the benefits that living trees provide us with: clean air, cooling, shade, colour, scale, sound but to name a few and enjoy them.

For one moment this week, take a few minutes out, stand back, take in and admire the grandeur of a mature tree with its framework fully exposed. Better still, why not plant one and get a real feel-good factor!

You can hear Tony Kirkham on 'the right tree in the right place' in a recent broadcast of Gardeners' Question Time.


  • Comment number 1.

    There is a tree planting event at the local nature park on Sunday, however the emails are flying as to whether the ground will be frozen. Like the Chinese proverb and Tolkien's character Treebeard, planting and growing trees are not hasty pastimes and cannot fit neatly into the diary, so it will be wait and see?


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