Saturday, April 30, 2011

There's Not an F in Oak

When we moved into this house, back in 2000, there was this straggly little twig growing out of the dust, mortar and crumbled alleyway dividing our house from what is now Fishwife's abode. It was ignored for over a year. In the autumn of 2001, my late father decided he was going to sweep up and tidy the alleyway and when he got to the twig he bent over to rip it out of the wall, but I stopped him and pulled it out instead. It came away with ease and an intact root system. It was something of a miracle considering where it had been growing and what protection and nutrition it was receiving.

In 2001, my dad built a raised herb planter on our patio - people who have been to my house will probably recognise it or possibly even remember it. I opted to put the pathetic seedling into the corner of that and it thrived. In 2007, the wife suggested we needed to get the sapling - as it was now - out of the raised bed and into the garden. The job of getting it out of the raised bed was more difficult than you could imagine and the root network was literally all over the place. It caused a lot of mess and when I got around to putting the 20 inch tall tree into the ground, Alan Titchmarsh would have been having kittens. It was not pretty and I had to treat the tree like a gymnast trying to get into a ball.

Yet, inside four years it is now taller than me and looking really healthy. This is good. The world needs more oak trees and that was almost the philosophy I had when I salvaged it from the clutches of my, at times, destructive dad. The wife bought me a Dorling-Kindersley Tree book the year we transplanted it, because I was concerned that my little oak tree was not like your conventional oaks that grow across our country. On careful examination of said tree book, we both cam to the conclusion that we had a Hungarian Oak sapling - not uncommon in this country, but compared to all the other kinds quite unique.

End of story? you'd think so. Tree growing nicely, along with the other salvaged trees - the apricot (yeah, I have a fucking apricot tree and it gave us 22 apricots last year!), the horse chestnut, the cherry, an apple tree, a few maple seedlings and two nectarine trees - which the wife is really excited about. We do trees probably better than we do flowers. except everything was thrown into disarray yesterday. "Phill, you know the oak tree?" I nodded. "It isn't an oak tree." Huh?
Sure as sheep shit is useful for your legumes, the Hungarian oak has sprouted flowers that are not in any way connected to oaks. I went through the tree book again; knowing I had a job pinning Hungarian on the sapling despite it looking as though it was pretty much that and nothing else and came up with the small possibility that it might be a Swedish Whitebeam - which, is a bit more exciting than a Hungarian Oak. The evidence is pretty convincing, even if the leaves are a little different. For years we thought the apricot was a cherry tree, then a plum tree, then an almond and eventually a peach before we realised it was what it was. I'm pinning my colours on Swedish Whitebeam; not only does it appear to fit the descriptive bill, I think it's pretty cool we have an(other) uncommon tree in our garden!

On an unrelated note: Did I mention that I found a morel over Easter weekend? One of the most prized of all mushrooms and one of the few that grow in the spring; Morels are effectively one of the world's most expensive fungi you can find (after truffles, ceps and chanterelles) and chopped up with other mushrooms in a cream and white wine sauce on slow dried pasta it was really rather... ordinary. Yeah, I've had them before, but not for a long time - over 10 years to be precise - and these brains on sticks as the wife calls them are actually a lot of hard work and you are left wondering if they are so valuable because of how rare they are and not what they bring to the table.

The garden allotment is springing into life. Potatoes, spinach and rhubarb are all thriving, despite the lack of rain and this weekend I'm planting some beans. With potential hard times ahead, these high yielding crops might save me a few quid come the late summer!

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