Six on Saturday-23.11.19 welcome to the Holly King

Recently, I have been finding myself weighing up the merits of plants in the back garden. I have worked on remaking the front garden from scratch and it looks better for being planned. The back garden is a mixture of plants that came with the garden and random purchases. Many plants were already there when I took ownership. I’ve given them three years but some just aren’t right. The white beam tree is an example in point. It came with the garden and I have spent three years trying to make it work. Initially, it needed a hard prune as it had many crossing branches and was getting larger than I’d like. Then I’ve tried to keep on top of it, thinning and pruning out a bit each year to keep its size in check. But it just isn’t happy. Its leaves dropped early this year. Last Sunday I made the decision to dig it out. I already had a Holly in mind to replace it. I like the look of the holly more and I think an evergreen tree will give a nicer sense of structure to this area. The holly, potentially, offers more for wildlife as well as pleasing me more visually. I’m not very well today and the whole household has been snotty and coughing all week. Another day of throat sweets and tissues will do us all a world of good.

1. The white beam

At its best, the white beam has lovely silver foliage and is popular with birds for its berries. Mine has lost its leaves late on in summer. It hasn’t agreed with the sea winds. It has never looked massively healthy despite good soil conditions as far as I can tell. The ground has been well mulched over the three years we’ve been in the house. There are a number of these trees in local parks a bit further away from the seafront and they look great but they fill far more space than I have available. So while it seems a shame to remove an established tree I’ve tried for 3 years to find a solution and haven’t come up with one. Pruning can keep it in check but it isn’t very happy for the pruning. I miss out on the berries. But ultimately I don’t have the space for plants unsuited to a medium-sized garden.

The berry production has been low as I’ve had to prune it to keep it in check.

2. The tools

This is the first proper run out for my Japeto saw. It did a good job cutting off the outer branches leaving a structure I could lever out. On the smaller end, my Hori Hori knife was useful for working around the roots. My loopers are not amazing. I broke a set earlier in the year and bought these as a quick replacement but the did the job cutting the branches thin enough to not require sawing. The axe and spade came in use for hacking at roots. Then the crowbar proved its worth again. The spike getting under the roots to help lever up. The tree came out easier than the hebes in the front garden. I think part of this was having the right tools to help and partly the tree wasn’t as healthy as it should have been for its size. The roots weren’t that deep or thick for a tree over a decade old. The leaves have fallen very early in the year so I think it probably wasn’t too happy a tree anyway.

3. The gap left

The tree was in the middle of several ferns. A number of the ostrich ferns I think I may have squished beneath the soil I’ve dugout, but still a good few left that should recover next year. The geranium will need watching or else it will claim all that free ground. The new holly is going to go about a metre from where the white beam was so it doesn’t have to force its way through the old roots from the off. Now I’ve got the white beam out I think I’m going to have a shuffle of the surrounding plants. I think the limelight can go along a bit to give it a bit more space. I’m going to take out the fennel as this will give me a run of plants that work together with the holly, ferns, hydrangeas and Acers playing well together. I’m tempted to add some of the box plants to try and add some formal structure to the mix. I think they would grow to look nice against the more wild ferns. It will hopefully make the border a more cohesive area rather than a mess of random plants growing into each other.

4. Background

The euonymus behind was almost the same height so the loss of the tree hasn’t left an obvious gap looking from the house, but sideways on the loss of a large tree shows. The euonymus isn’t the most exciting of shrubs but it blocks the view to my storage area. Pile behind this shrub is compost, bags of leaves turning to leaf mulch and piles of bricks. I’ve got a holly to replace the white beam. The two have very similar variegation. It would look better if I had a contrast to go behind the new holly but I don’t want to lose the screen. The holly will take a good amount of time to reach the height that the white beam was. Then I can maybe look at replacing the euonymus with something contrasting to the holly. But this will be a good few years down the line.

5. Log pile

Next to the lilac, I have a pile of prunings. While this may look a bit messy and it will be many years for it to rot down it makes for a good habitat pile with many creatures to be found. The white beam will be cut down so even in death it can still serve a purpose in the garden.

6. The newcomer

To replace the white beam I’ve got a holly tree, Ilex altaclernsis ‘golden king’. I didn’t want to be without a tree in this corner as it makes much of the structure of the garden. This won’t grow quite as big as the white beam might have grown. It is potentially beneficial for wildlife with the flowers providing for pollinators. This is meant to be a female. That means it will only produce the berries if a male is in the neighbourhood, which walking around I think there are a few male hollies around. If it doesn’t produce I may need to add a male, but would probably look at keeping the male smaller, allowing to flower, while pruning it as a shrub. The foliage earned it a place in Christopher Lloyd’s foliage plants, discussed last week. It was the only holly he grew, despite liking others, and if that seems like a good enough recommendation to me. It has an RHS Award of merit showing its reliability. I can’t really justify buying a large one so I’m starting small with a two-litre pot and playing the long game. At least I know I’ve probably got another decade before I have to worry about its size. It seems appropriate to be adding a Holly at this time of year as the traditional archetype of winter. Long may the Holly King Reign!

This was my first time purchasing from crocus and I’m pretty impressed. I paid for the named delivery so I could have it arrive on a day I’d be in. It came well packaged in a box. A minimal amount of plastic wrapped around the pot to keep moisture in.

I couldn’t afford or justify spending on the larger size so I’m playing the long game buying a two-litre pot. I wasn’t expecting much height for the price but it’s still a decent metre and looks to be nice and healthy.

I’ve planted it about a metre from where the white beam was so it isn’t growing through the root mass of the previous tree. When I’m feeling a bit better I’m going to have a shuffle of the surrounding shrubs. The limelight hydrangea is going to get moved along a bit to where the fennel currently is. The fennel will come out. Then I’ve got a few hostas, ferns and small box shrubs to go in. Alongside the Acer, this should make this area a bit more cohesive. Behind it is the trunk of the white beam waiting to be cut up.  Then the red stems on the fence are from one of the climbing hydrangea planted this year. This has started putting on growth before the leaves dropped. In a few years, this should be a nice solid area of foliage with bursts of colour from flowers and berries.


Well, I’ve spent the last few days looking after a poorly daughter and then Thursday succumbed to it myself. My head is thumping and very weak, though think I’m coming out of the worst of it, so no gardening today. It is National Tree Week, so it seems appropriate that I’m planting a tree afresh. While I have taken one out it wasn’t one that could remain long term, whereas hopefully, this one will be able to stay. National Tree Week was started to replace the trees lost by Ash dieback but has taken a greater significance in the fight against climate change. Adding trees, particularly fruit-bearing trees provides many benefits for wildlife with flowers for pollinators and then fruit for birds. Many small fruit trees can be added to small gardens, so lack of space is a poor excuse. Failing this the Tree Council and Woodland Trust offer lots of tree planting opportunities for community groups.

Don’t forget to check out the other six on Saturday posts through the hashtag on Twitter or through the founder’s blog.

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30 Days of Wild: Idea 3 Hug a tree

Today’s wild act is a very quick one. Although it still comes with many benefits. Get out and touch a tree, give it a hug. If you don’t feel like giving a tree a hug you can gain benefits from just watching. Just having trees in sightlines can improve depression, health levels and concentration. But getting the feel of the tree has been shown to help encourage mindfulness and build your connection with nature. Then take a moment to watch the life on the tree.

If you fancy doing something extra you could try and work out the age of the tree. On average a tree in an open space grows 2.5cm a year. Bring your tape measure out and see if you can work the age out.


I hope you’re getting involved in 30 days. Let me know in the comments what you’ve been up to.

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The beauty of life on one tree

Today I came across the news story of spikes being placed on a tree in Oxford. I figured straight away that this was probably done to stop bird poo on cars and after watching it saw I was right. This follows on from the story of Norfolk cliffs and hedges being covered in nets. While the bird poo is a pain, my car gets covered in seagull poo, it seems bizarre to cover the trees natural beauty and prevent wildlife using its natural resource.

Walking through the park today I stopped to admire the life on one tree. The weather was warm today but this tree was literally humming with activity. Blackbirds and sparrow were flying in and out the up story and a few butterflies were hovering around but too high up for photos.

The bees and hoverflies were swarming all over. I couldn’t track the numbers out today.

The ladybirds were out in force.

The understory providing space for more plants to grow.

The shade providing flowers with the conditions they need.

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy this beauty? The amount of life supported on one tree is amazing. Why would we think we can improve on nature? I’ll leave you with a quote from someone smarter than me.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

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National Tree Week

This week is National Tree Week! Now, when I hear about these National weeks I always wonder who came up with these and who decided it should be now. With social media, it seems every day is world something day or National save the something day. But National Tree Week is quite an established week. It was set up by the UK tree council in 1975 in response to Dutch Elm disease. The original press release is worth a read. Events included then prime minister Harold Wilson planted a tree and Chequers and Margaret Thatcher later in the week planting one as leader for the opposition. While The UK tree council sounds like it should be a group of ents from the Middle Earth of Tolkein the aims of the week are worth sharing.

The week aims to do something positive to help your local treescape. The main aim is to get new trees planted. As a lover of wildlife and gardening and the two combined planting trees in your garden is a great thing to do.

Trees for wildlife

Trees make up vital parts of many healthy Tolkien. They can offer shelter, food, perches and cover. I only have a few small trees within my garden, but they provide a safe spot for the birds to hide within to then move out into the garden to look for food. They are also acting as a carbon store helping tackle climate change.

Last Winter the many apple trees in gardens surrounding mine brought in the fieldfares.

Garden design

Pretty much any book you read on garden design will at some point suggest you need to have some form of tree to provide interest at different heights. They can draw the eye in different directions and can be used to make smaller areas look bigger used well. They can be used to cover unwanted views or stop other people seeing in. Some sources will suggest that they will block out noise, but unless you have a very large garden and are creating a very wide shelter belt this is unlikely to have a massive effect.

Seasonal interest

Through the year the colours of the leaves and shapes offer different interest. The lush green of Summer being replaced by the fiery colours of Autumn. Then even in winter they still keep a structure to the garden.

Even now the leaves have fallen the tree still serves a purpose to hang the bird feeders on and a few decorations of local glass buoys.


Within my local area flooding has been an issue over the last decade and looks like it will potentially increase. Trees have been shown to reduce flooding. When it rains some water will stay on the leaves and evaporate off and not reach the ground. Then some of what does reach the ground will be absorbed into the tree roots. They also slow the rate of water reaching the ground and flowing into drains or rivers. Tree roots also help to act as a net keeping soil in place preventing soil washing away and causing problems. While a single garden tree won’t have a massive impact if every garden has one or two trees this adds up.

Planting a tree

Now is a good time to buy and plant a tree. You can pick up much cheaper as bare root trees. It is a good time to get planting as the tree has a chance to get rooted and well watered in over the wetter months before we face another potential drought next Summer. Don’t forget if you plant a tree most will need watering regularly for the first few years during dry periods.

The RHS offers these as there top five small trees.

And more advice can be found here.

The RSPB also offers advice here.

Hope you feel inspiration to take a look at your exisitng trees or even add a new one. Enjoy this National Tree Week and get out and admire the wonders that are trees. Maybe even induldge in a bit of tree hugging.

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My passion for trees

A quick recommendation for some TV viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Judy Dench tell us all about her trees in My passion for trees. The documentary took us through the seasons, detailing different aspects of trees. How they respond to threats, communicate, grow, and deal with the seasons. She listened inside the tree with a special microphone. Digital mapping measures the extent of trees in her garden. The historical uses of trees are looked at. The role of trees in reducing green houses gasses is examined. It made me happy that within my school garden I have planted several new trees, with the children, within our garden. One of the latest being this bare root pear tree. Hopefully come Spring it will have rooted and we’ll see blossom.

pear tree.jpg

Also a quick shout out for a tree related book on sale in kindle twelve days of kindle sale.

The hidden life of trees.

From the blurb:

Are trees social beings? How do trees live? Do they feel pain or have awareness of their surroundings?

In The Hidden Life of Trees Peter Wohlleben makes the case that the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

A walk in the woods will never be the same again.

And another taking my fancy for pushing story telling with the young.

Into the woods.

Into The Woods is a revelation of the fundamental structure and meaning of all stories, from the man responsible for more hours of drama on British television than anyone else, John Yorke.

We all love stories. Many of us love to tell them, and even dream of making a living from it too. But what is a story? Hundreds of books about screenwriting and storytelling have been written, but none of them ask ‘Why?’ Why do we tell stories? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way?

John Yorke has been telling stories almost his entire adult life, and the more he has done it, the more he has asked himself why? Every great thinker or writer has their theories: Aristotle, David Hare, Lajos Egri, Robert McKee, Gustav Freytag, David Mamet, Christopher Booker, Charlie Kaufman, William Goldman and Aaron Sorkin – all have offered insightful and illuminating answers. Here, John Yorke draws on these figures and more as he takes us on a historical, philosophical, scientific and psychological journey to the heart of all storytelling.

What he reveals is that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative – one that echoes the great fairytale journey into the woods, and one, like any great art, that comes from deep within. Much more than a ‘how to write’ book, Into the Woods is an exploration of this fundamental structure underneath all narrative forms, from film and television to theatre and novel-writing. With astonishing detail and wisdom, John Yorke explains to us a phenomenon that, whether it is as a simple fable, or a big-budget 3D blockbuster, most of us experience almost every day of our lives.

Invite a tree to tea

Yesterday my Woodland Trust-invite a tree to tea pack arrived in the post. The Woodland Trust is encouraging people to get out and whether it’s having a picnic or a garden party invite a tree along. They have put together a delightful pack of activities available for free from the link. A lovely way to spend a day with kids or enjoy a glass of wine amongst the woods. The woodland trust recognises the need to connect children to nature if they want their work to continue to get support.

In the UK only 13% is covered by tress. This is rather pathetic compared with the average of 37 % in Europe. For a country once covered largely in woods this is devastating in terms of its effects on nature. As a result 60% of animal and plant species have declined in the last 50 years. Theresa May has closed the climate change department, along with the appointment of Andrea (foxes must die) Leadsome to Environment Secretary, shows clearly the environment and conservation is not going to be a priority for the new conservative government. Andrea Leadsome has previously suggested selling off forests. A little ironic from a woman who said she was better to lead as she had a stake in the world for her children. A refusal to accept climate change and looking at how we tackle our fossil fuel reliance will eventually crash our economy. It is incredibly short sighted from Theresa May, but then she possibly isn’t expecting to be re-elected. So more than ever is a time to support the Woodland Trust in their work encouraging people to enjoy trees and wooded areas and protect the little we have.

EDIT: I took action.

I plan to use the Woodland Trusts tree party set with my class to encourage their love of nature and to take care of the trees we have on our school site. We have our end of term reward next week and weather permitting we will get out and have our picnic under one of the trees on the school playing field. Then we can indulge in some of the the games from the pack and maybe go find it.

The set contains a few games to do. There is a leaf ID sheet for the kids to look for the different leaf patterns. There is a nice scavenger hunt with a list of wild objects the children might find (leaves, feathers, dandelion clock etc). Some stickers to show which trees they found. Then some lovely cards to use for photos to change the kids faces to animals.