Planting trees – the long game

So here’s a little encouragement to anyone thinking of planting a tree or two…Three years ago, we planted a tiny ‘copse’ of about 50 bare-root saplings, most only about 60cm high. Most of them are now taller than me (not that hard, I’m not very tall!), but this summer, the first trees grew taller than H (who is 6’3). This little bare corner of a field is becoming a place, to us. The trees now cast just enough shade for a smallish child to sit under on a sunny day.



...and now. Look - they're big enough to cast some shade!

…and now. Look – they’re big enough to cast some shade!

We planted the copse with the aim of growing at least some of our own firewood, to feed the woodburner that keeps the older part of the house warm (well, warmer) in the winter. With that in mind, we put in fast-growing species that can be coppiced every 15 years or so, including plenty of alder and ash (of course!) There’s also wild cherry, bird cherry, two types of birch, and some willows that we were given as unrooted ‘setts’ about 5′ long. My little boy Os and I planted those bare willow sticks one chilly winters day last year, and here they are now.

Willow - these were just bare sticks, without any roots, last winter

Willow – these just were bare sticks, without any roots, last winter

Lovely willow leaves

Lovely willow leaves

In permaculture terms, this mini-wood is part of our ‘zone 4’ – that is, an area you visit sometimes, and take a harvest from once in a while, but don’t use intensively. So we placed it in the far corner of the fields, as we don’t need to go there regularly (although we do visit pretty often, just to admire the little trees and see how they’re getting on.) We did water the saplings a few times in their first year, and tried to keep the grass down around them. Apart from that, they’ve not needed any real looking after, just occasional checks that their rabbit guards are still in place. (We have a giant rabbit warren running along this field, and despite our efforts to control numbers, it’s pretty much Rabbit City.)

This is one of my favourites – its a little Common Alder (Alnus Glutinosa). I’ve been watching this one extra-closely, as its the tree I’m ‘following’ for Loose and Leafy’s Tree Following project. Today, it’s in full leaf, with the fruits that look like little cones swelling in the sunshine.

Common alder coming along nicely

Common alder coming along nicely

Alder seed-pods forming

Alder seed-pods forming

Pretty Alder bark

Pretty Alder bark

The cherry and birch are all looking chirpy.

Wild cherry

Wild cherry

Birch leaves and seed pods

Birch leaves and seed pods

The ash saplings given to us by H’s parents are doing well – no sign of ash dieback disease as yet, which is great news.

Healthy growth on this ash sapling - no sign of 'die-back disease' yet

Healthy growth on this ash sapling – no sign of ‘die-back disease’ yet

Now I know we are incredibly lucky to have the space to do this sort of thing. I’ve also heard of people putting in one or two willows or hazels on an allotment, to grow their own poles for plant supports – saves having to buy in bamboo canes shipped half way round the world. I like that idea – in permaculture terms, its a simple way of ‘closing a loop’ by growing or making something you need for your garden or home, rather than having to buy it in. In the old days, this was the norm, and woods and woodsmen were an amazing resource for their communities, creating firewood, charcoal, fencing hurdles, furniture, bowls, spoons – and on and on. It feels nice, in a very tiny way, to be part of that tradition.

Gardening – and particularly planting trees  – is a long game. As my mother-in-law says, you don’t plant trees for yourself, you plant them for the next generation. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling – the trees we’ve planted will probably long outlive me. I won’t get to see them at their full height. But for the next while (a good long while, if I have my way!), I can enjoy watching them season-by-season. I can be be warmed by them once we start to harvest them. And I’ll always remember planting them – with both Granny and then Grandma visiting over a long weekend to play with the children while we worked, Grandpa toiling away helping to dig the holes for the new trees. If I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll get to watch my own Grandkids sit in their shade one day.

So go on, plant a tree today!   If you’ve no room at home, I came across the lovely My Baby Tree project run by World Wildlife Fund Indonesia. For a US$15  donation, they will raise a seedling and plant it in one of their forest reserves on various Indonesian islands, aiming to undo the destruction to Indonesia’s forests one tree at a time. If you pay for a sapling to be planted, they will send you its location on Google Earth, so you can see your tree (well, the area it is in, at least). How cool is that?

And if you’ve got the tree-planting bug, here are a few more tree-planting projects I’ve come across:

Trees for Cities – Big Tree Plant – They have funding for community tree-planting projects, deadline is August 30th!

Woodland Trust – Dedicate a Tree – You can dedicate a tree to commemorate a loved one or celebrate a special day.

Trees for Life – Restoring Scotland’s Caledonian Forest to a 1,000 acre ‘wild forest’ managed for wildlife, not logging.

Have you ever planted a tree, or been involved in any great tree-planting projects?

19 responses to “Planting trees – the long game

    • Hi Linda, thanks for reblogging. Oh that’s great you’re growing willow and bamboo for canes. I was going to buy some canes the other day when I realised (doh!) that I have a huge, sprawling bamboo plant to harvest from. In my own garden! I’ve planted some hazel and willow too for poles etc (tho willow can regrow pretty easily from a cane with no roots….so you may end up with a few extra trees!!) 🙂

  1. I accidentally started to grow willow in the veg garden when I used a few old branches as supports. As they’d been cut off for months, I (wrongly) presumed they wouldn’t root. Even though trees take an age to mature, they still shoot up pretty quickly. We planted an oak tree for my Australian god-daughter and whenever she visits we have a measure- she’s now seventeen and the tree is massively larger than her.

  2. We have planted well over a hundred trees and large shrubs since we built our home, 29 years ago… At the time, they seemed so small, that they would never be big enough. Now, we enjoy their shade, and have actually cut some down, due to crowding out.

    “The best time to plant a tree is yesterday” 😉

  3. I bet you are so excited watching those trees grow. We have got loads of enjoyment out of ours too! Thanks for those links – love the idea of the My Baby Tree. Ah, I wish when we moved in here, that I had had a book on permaculture – I would have put things in very different places! 🙂

  4. Great to plant your own wood. It is amazing how fast trees grow. I love Alders, specially in winter.
    How are the piggies coming on?

  5. Lovely post…
    I had about 50 ash trees come up in my borders last year – no idea how they got there. The nearest ash are about 100 metres away and there’s only 2 of them. I dug them up and put them all in a big pot while I decided what to do with them. They’re still there and looking really healthy. I really must find somewhere to plant them this autumn! Can you coppice ash? If so I could make a mini copse with them for firewood in a few years…

  6. It’s suddenly really cheerful to come across the alder-specially-watched after the introduction that puts it clearly in its context. And the family context too makes it a particularly warm and interesting post. (And an international element in the links!)

  7. Reading Anne’s comment about putting some dead twigs in as support in the garden reminds me that as a child I put twigs around my new little flower garden . When mum saw them she told me to pull them out quick smart as they were poplar tree twigs which we didn’t want growing in that garden. We had enough poplars with the three big ones out the front 🙂
    Love the post and that trees are memory makers.
    Alexa from Sydney, Australia

  8. This is a useful post, mostly because it has reminded me that one of our medium term plans is planting more trees in the orchard. I’m really after a morello cherry and a hazelnut tree. I love the idea of growing trees for fuel or even willow for making baskets etc but I don’t think we have the space here yet.

  9. Your trees have grown well, since we moved here three years ago we have planted about one hundred trees, some for coppicing some for fruiting and willows for all sorts of things, the willows are, as expected doing great, red oaks have now established chestnuts both sweet and horse are struggling, likewise most of the fruit trees, we do get a lot of winds here and we have an exposed site, but I’m sure given time we will have our mini forest.

  10. Wonderful post! When my friend was pregnant with her firstborn, someone gave her a sapling as a shower present. I thought that was brilliant. Her son is about sixteen or seventeen now. I don’t get to her house much now (I left the country), but I’ll have to ask her about that tree the next time I talk to her.

  11. So true! I have less space than you but am really interested in coppicing – the history of it in particular. We are lucky enough to have a neighbour with a bamboo hedge so can use that for all sorts of garden uses – and you can eat the shoots too!

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