Sunday, 3 February 2013

Trees on the boundary

It was winter when we came here seven years ago.  There are a lot of trees on our land and along our boundary, in the hedges, standing on corners, and I couldn't believe that in winter I did not know what they were.  I have got better now at identifying trees without their leaves so I thought I would take you a walk around the edges of our property and have a look at the trees, in their winter beauty.

Let's start up behind the house where three big beech trees grow on the top of the great curve of rock beneath which the house sits, tucked out of the wind.  Welsh nouns, as in French and other languages, are either masculine or feminine.  All trees are feminine words in Welsh and the Welsh for beech is ffawydden.




Beech is generally a lowland tree and there are not many around here.  These three mark the boundary between us and our neighbours at the farm.  I love the smoothness of their bark and the vividness of the new leaves in spring.  Occasionally a friend who is a tree surgeon trims them.  The wood burns bright and clear, just as the old poem says.


Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year.
Chestnut's only good, they say,
If for long 'tis laid away.
But Ash new or Ash old
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.
Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last.
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E ' en the very flames are cold.
But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown.
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old.
Keep away the winter's cold.
But Ash wet or Ash dry
A king shall warm his slippers by. 



Come round the corner and there is an old elder tree (ysgawen), bent over the Victorian privy.  In summer when the tree is in leaf you can hardly see the stone building but at this time of year it curves over it protectively.



There are young elder trees all over the place, their blossom used for elderflower cordial when I get my act together, but this is the only one right on the boundary.


Out through the gate into the field, past an unidentified and undistinguished conifer, the first tree in the hedge is an ash, onnen.  This is a young one.





Ash are the easiest of trees to identify when they are not in leaf as the places where the leaves will grow have a upgrowing, pointy shape, like nothing so much as dirty fingernails.




There is another larger ash behind the workshop and then here at the end of the workshop is a wild cherry,  coeden geirios I think it would be in Welsh.  Wild cherries sucker madly from the rootstock so this one has leapt up six feet or so away from the mother tree.  This is another wood which burns beautifully but we rarely cut them down, despite their suckering habit.  The bark has a shine to it which I love and the delicate white blossom in spring is to my mind far more beautiful than the brash hanging lanterns of ornamental cherries.


Hawthorn then, draenen wen, literally white thorn for its white blossom.




It's a scraggy looking tree, gnarled and heavily twigged.  I love it in hawthorn and mixed hedges but sometimes it is also good to see a hawthorn being a proper tree.  In spring the scent is overwhelming and heady, at one moment sweet, at another tipping over into a sort of rankness.  They are old trees though, powerful and determined clingers to life.  Right at the top of the hill where most trees have given up trying, the hawthorns hang on, twisted into fabulous flying shapes by the wind.




And then there is a great sycamore, sycamorwydden (not a native Welsh tree you can tell by the absence of an old word for it).  Sycamore was not my favourite tree when we came to live here, although we have two huge ones, this one and one by the drive.  But I have grown to love their presence.  This is by far the largest tree in the field boundary and in the summer it looms benevolently green, like a mighty ship in full sail.  





Under it you can see the holly, celyn, which is all along this boundary and then up by the end of the field old hollies rear up huge and high, a green wall behind the shepherd's hut.  You can hear the wind in them when you sleep there.







Around the corner behind the hut, side by side, are a silver birch and a rowan tree.  The silver birch, bedwen arian,  does not have the elegance of the ones we have planted in the field, the white stemmed Himalayan birches, but it does have the fine, fluttering foliage.  It is the most feminine of trees but it doesn't burn well.  It flares and spits and is gone before you have felt its warmth.

The lower picture of the rowan, cerddinen, shows its lichen splashed bark.  I can see the rowan from my desk when I am working in the hut.  It wasn't intentional that there should be a rowan close by but it pleases me that there is.  Rowans have been believed to be protective trees throughout the UK for thousands of years.  Principally they protect from witchcraft but my rowan also protects a tiny wren which hops in and out from the old hedge next to the tree.


Further down the field a horse chestnut springs up from the hedge, holding its smooth stems high and clear, lifting its skirts.  This is going to become a very big tree but it is on the north boundary of the field so however big it grows it won't take too much light from the fruit and vegetables growing in the beds between it and the cottage.

If you carry on walking the boundary these familiar faces will reappear: ash and silver birch, a lot more holly, more wild cherry and much hazel in the hedges.


There is a young oak too, derwen.  The big oaks are just over the hedge, in the wooded area and down in our neighbour's fields.  We have five young ones though, of which this is the largest.  It will be fifty years before their presence is anything like the oaks out in the fields and I won't see it but I hope my grandchildren will.

I have enjoyed reminding myself about the trees in our hedges.  It will be months yet before they are green and in leaf but the greening of the trees is another story in itself.

45 comments:

  1. Hello Elizabeth:
    Ii was Penelope Hobhouse, many years ago now when we were in Herefordshire, who taught us to look up and see the effect of trees and shrubs against the open sky. And so we are reminded of that now as we have enjoyed this wonderful walk around the boundaries of your policies where the richness and variety of your trees certainly does shape the landscape.

    Could you not perhaps remove the conifer which is so alien and which masks the beauty of its neighbour?

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    1. The conifer is actually rather more attractive than it looks in this photo! I don't know. The evergreens I like best are the holly and the yew which belong here. I so agree about trees and shrubs against the sky. I have planted quite a lot which is still small and am longing to see how it will all work when the sky is behind it!

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  2. You have a similar collection of native trees to those which grow around the boundaries of our land. On three sides the trees are part of an overgrown hedgerow that separates pasture land from the open New Forest. I have yet to discover when the fields were enclosed from open Forest ( I have promised myself a visit to the County Archives in Winchester), but some of the oaks and beeches must be over three hundred years old. I love the trees in all their seasons.

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    1. I am thinking of trying to find out a bit more about our house and land too. We know the house has been here since about 1600 and that is as far as it goes at the moment.

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  3. I loved this post Elizabeth. Most of our land is woodland and I have yet to identify all the trees. Tomorrow I will go out and look for the dirty fingernails on the ash!

    Our predecessors were obsessed with privacy and unfortunately let the trees get too big, too numerous and out of control. One of the biggest tasks we have will be to manage the wood properly. We took out 30 or so trees within a month of moving in - tall and lanky conifers that were putting the house at risk!

    I want to thin the wood further, leaving the older and more elegant specimens with space to breathe, removing the forest of young saplings and creating a layered woodland garden. A mammoth task.

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    1. Mammoth but fascinating! The only thing I would have more of here is woodland. And hoping you have woodburner for all that comes down!

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  4. I love the Welsh names best, such a beautiful language.
    I love winter trees too so this post has been a delight, thank you.

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    1. The names are intriguing aren't they? All feminine. Many of them ending with the word for "white", "wen". Have you read about the Ogham tree alphabet in Ireland? I am sure you have. Sounds like you!

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  5. What a wonderful post about your trees; I've loved discovering all about them. Although I like to see the deciduous trees to come into leaf; they do have a stark beauty at this time of year.

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    1. I do love it when the trees come into leaf but I have become more interested in bare trees and identifying them. They have a beauty all their own!

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  6. Dear Elizabeth,

    Trees and the folklore which surround them are magical. You are blessed with such a variety of healthy trees and you have blessed us with valuable information concerning them too. Elderflower cordial is wonderful!

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    1. I love elderflower cordial. It is so important to seize the moment and make it because if you turn your back you find that the flowers have begun to brown and you have lost the moment for another year!

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  7. How lovely. I, too, have been preoccupied with the shapes of trees against the sky recently. I don't have many trees on my small bit of land: holly, elder, rowan, hawthorn, and a tiny oak abandoned by the previous owner in a pot, right at the end of the garden. They have so many characters, don't they? Their winter and quite different summer shapes, as well as the noise they make when the wind blows.

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    1. Oh yes, the noise of the wind. You can hear it in the beeches even when you can't feel it down here!

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  8. What a lovely walk for a winter's day. You've reminded me that I need to download the Woodland Trust's winter twig guide, laminate it and then take for a walk around these parts :)

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    1. It is really satisfying learning how to identify trees when they are bare. I am still not 100% reliable but I am getting better!

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  9. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for visiting my blog! I really enjoyed this post. I love my little Rowan tree which has white rather than red berries (I prefer the red...), but I didn't know about the witchcraft thing. Fascinating - thank you.

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    1. We have quite a few rowan trees but I agree with you that the red berried ones are the most beautiful!

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  10. Lovely post Elizabeth. I too love the winter silhouettes of trees. They remind me of beautiful catwalk models with their fine bone structures which you cant see in summer because of their clothes! All the same species here but we have many fine oak specimens. We burn ash on our fire and it is as good as the poem says. Did you know the twig rhyme for ash-"buds of ash are always put, in tidy pairs as black as soot"?

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    1. I didn't know the rhyme! I really like that and shall add it to my store of rhymes.

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  11. I loved reading about your beautiful trees!

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    1. Thank you. I must make sure to take you round again when the spring comes and the trees come into leaf.

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  12. I found your blog by accident - and am hooked. I wish you blogged more - but I realize you have other things to do - I'm retired pretty much -- from real estate -- on Long Island, New york -- am of Irish extraction -- but love stories of the UK -- especially country living. It is fascinating. Don't have a website -- just an interested reader. so am signing anonymous.

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    1. Thank you. I am so glad you enjoy it and hope you return!

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  13. Hi Elizabeth! Very nice post, with all the pictures almost in black and white. All the trees in my property are rather young so you can imagine how envious I am about your garden. I don't react with your karma about their skinny trunks, I want to be the grandchildren and see them grown! :-)
    Italian has male and females (I guess English in one of the few that hasn't) words but the trees are kind of randomly male or female. It's nice that in Welsh all the trees are female, I wonder why, since their strong presence would suggest a male subject rather than a female...

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    1. If I am honest I too would like to see my trees grow but one must take the long view with trees, so I try to! There is also much pleasure in seeing them grow even to my human time scale. The native trees we planted six years ago are really looking like trees now, not sticks!

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  14. Completely befuddled by scale and know I'll never be able to work trees out. It's bad enough in summer! But overwhelmed by these beautiful and moving pictures. I began by attending to the text but found the pictures too strong to resist and just looked at them, noting merely what the trees are so I can come back for reference. A mega-post. Thanks Elizabeth.

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    1. What a great comment! I am so glad they gave you pleasure.

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  15. A wonderful catalogue, Elizabeth. I feel you might almost give your trees names. Doreen the Sycamore (with Gertrude over there) and Harry the oak. The Elder you could call something witchy like Grinalkin white the protective Rowan might be Emily.

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    1. I shall think about it! Might have to be Welsh names!

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  16. MY Gran had silver birch trees on her land, I can't see one without thinking about her.

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    1. Funny how trees and flowers can do this isn't it. Lily of the valley always remind me very strongly of my grandmother. I remember weeding round them with her when I was about seven and her picking some for me to put in a tiny vase.

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  17. What a lovely post Elizabeth, and how wonderful to have such a great range of mature trees. I am a big fan of hawthorn too, particularly when sculpted by the wind - as most of the hawthorn on Anglesey appear to be!

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    1. Sculpted by the wind is done pretty spectucularly up here too, higher than us though, we are quite sheltered!

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  18. A beautiful account with fantastic photographs. Perhaps a visit in the Autumn would show the trees in a different light.
    Dianne - Hereford

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    1. The trees coming into leaf and then shedding them look totally different. I will try to remember to revisit this!

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  19. On this dark New York City afternoon, I have so enjoyed being warm indoors and having you introduce me to so many beautiful trees. Elizabeth, many of these trees also are to be found over in Central Park. When I next have a long walk over there and pass trees similar to those you've shown us here, I will definitely remember this post.

    Many thanks! xo

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    1. Love the way trees link New York with North Wales, two otherwise very different worlds!

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  20. You are so lucky to have so many beautiful trees, Elizabeth! I love the poem about how different wood burns, too. Silver birch is probably my favourite tree, I think. Enjoy your trees.

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    1. Never had so many trees on our own land before Marianne and you are right, we are lucky.

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  21. I think that's a fantastic post and puts me in mind to do something similar. I fear for the Ash (what a tragedy that will be if the worst occurs) . And I especially liked the use of Welsh names - many of those I didn't know and yet now you've listed them I recognise them from place names and signs.

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  22. And I like the new picture banner - looking east or west? East I reckon - in which case 'red sky in the morning...'

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    1. Looking East Mark. We get spectacular sunrises here. Glad you enjoyed the trees!

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  23. Was hoping you'd post the author of that poem... will have to go and Google it now! 8-) My mother's going to love it, can't wait to share it with her.

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I really love to know what you think and to have the chance to start a conversation. I always try to respond (although sometimes it might take me a day or two to get to you) either here or by visiting you.