Saturday 21 January 2017

The Long, Long Life of Trees

I recently enjoyed reading Fiona Stafford's fascinating book The Long, Long Life of Trees, in which she gives detailed descriptions not only of the history of some of our best loved trees, but also the story of how they fit into culture, art and folklore.

Trees shape our lives and our world.  I thought that it would be interesting to reflect on three of my favourites.

How could I even contemplate a list that didn't include the oak tree?  Majestic oaks have been a part of our history and culture for generations and some of the oldest oak trees live beyond 1,000 years.  Just imagine the stories they could share if they could speak of their history!  I love them for their distinctive leaves and the little acorns which appear in autumn.  Great oaks from little acorns grow.  I love the sheer grace and majesty of the oak's soaring height.

One of my favourite broadcasts was The Oak Tree on BBC Radio 4.  It was a fictional history of an thousand year-old oak tree in Northumberland from tiny sapling to grand old age.  This programme was first broadcast about ten years ago and until fairly recently, was still available.  I had listened to it each autumn over the years and enjoyed it immensely, but sadly, it is currently unavailable.

Another of my top three is the horse chestnut.  This tree has such spreading boughs and beautiful leaves which provide a shady spot in which to sit on a summer's day.  In spring, it is in blossom with the most wonderful white candelabra and in autumn, green spiky globe appear which ripen and fall off and split open to reveal their treasure within - shiny brown conkers.  Conkers always remind me of crisp autumn mornings, going back to school and the conker fights which took place in the school playground.  Simple pleasures at a time before technology took over the lives of children from a young age.

My third choice is the apple tree, or more specifically, the Bramley.  How I miss Bramley apples!  Apple trees generally don't have a long life in comparison to other trees, but what bounty they produce.  The Bramley is the perfect cooking apple and my favourite apple dessert is apple crumble.  Perfectly cooked apples with a hint of sweetness (but not too much, as the crumble topping contains sugar) and a crumbly topping made with brown sugar for that slightly caramlised consistency.

I suppose my list is incomplete without mentioning an eating apple too (although this may be considered cheating, as it is another tree!). Anyway, my choice is the Cox's Orange Pippin, which is yet another apple variety which I greatly miss (although I was fortunate enough to come across some a year ago - what joy!). It has an aromatic intensity and depth of flavour which is second to none.  Other apples pale into insignificance.

My dream is to one day have a house with a garden which is large enough for a small orchard of Bramley apples and Cox's Orange Pippins.  I can't imagine anything better than being able to step out into my garden and pick my own apples and then store them safely away from any passing mice, to enjoy during the cold, dark days of winter.

What could be more perfect than a chair by the fire, a good book like The Long, Long Life of Trees and an apple to munch whilst I am reading?


  1. I must look for this book, it sounds fascinating. I too love the trees you have chosen and the sight of the chestnut in spring and early summer with all its 'candles' is one of life's great joys:)

  2. Rosie - I loved this book. I share your love of horse chestnuts covered in 'candles'. Marie x