Bring Back the Birch.

When we moved here a little over six years ago, to my delight there was a little grove of mature birch trees at the bottom of the garden.  Alas, I think they were a little too mature and already showing signs of senile decay. Most years we have lost at least one. Last year we were down to seven trees as you see in the photo below. Now after storm Doris we are down to just five.

The trees have squatters in spring. Some years blue tits nest here. I hear them tapping away customising the holes.

Birch trees don’t live a long time but it doesn’t help if they get too near to the bonfire, as you can see the next one is scorched.  To be fair, the bonfire got too near to the tree. I am looking at you, dear Pianist, maker of big bonfires. Woodpeckers find the bark full of tasty morsels. You can see where they have been drilling.
In summer we get flights of little long tailed tits chattering away as they look for seeds.  Actually, I just found out that the collective name for a group of long tailed tits is a ‘zephyr’. Sometimes we get siskins too. The pretty toadstool Amaninta muscaria; Fly Agaric  appears round the roots of the trees in autumn some years for any passing elves to enjoy.

In an ideal world I would love to have a grove of birch trees like the peerless one at Anglesey Abbey below.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful? I can’t aspire to this, but I can’t bear to be without birch trees and so I decided to buy some new ones. Obviously not quite as many as in the photo above. I  was lucky to find them at a reasonable price at a tree wholesale nursery. They were the last of the bare root Betula jacquemontii and so they were half price. £12.50!  There were only five of them but it is a start, I hope to get some more in the autumn.

As they mature they will get lovely milk- white bark. There are several beautiful hybrids of the Himalayan White Birch, Betula jacquemontii. ‘Silver Shadow’, ‘Jermyns’ and ‘Grayswood Ghost’ are all stunning. But I am quite happy with my ordinary ones. When they mature they will gradually become snowy -white ghost trees. Some of the lower  branches need to come off, but I shall have to wait until autumn now. If you cut birches in spring or summer, they bleed sap.  As the tree matures, pieces of papery bark hang loosely from the trunk. I understand you shouldn’t peel them, but sometimes it is quite impossible to resist.

There are other gorgeous birches as well as the snow white ones, although the bare outline of Betula jacquemontii against a blue sky in March takes a lot of beating.

I love the buff coloured Betula ermanii  too. Years ago at the Cambridge Botanical garden I fell for this amazing specimen of Betula albo-sinensis septentrionalis which is  a gorgeous mixture of coppery pink, red, buff and orange. I love it so much that I have planted one in my winter garden. To get a multi- stemmed tree like this, you have to be very brave and chop your new tree down. I haven’t the courage for this. You can get a similar effect by planting two trees in one hole. Or you can buy them already trained as multi-stemmed trees but they are very expensive.

Betula albo-sinensis septrionalis

Another mature birch tree in my garden is a lovely specimen of the warty tree Betula pendula. The synomyn of this tree is Betula verrucosa.  I have shown you my verruca tree before but here it is again.


Betula pendula in summer (Tree on the right.)

Before I moved here I used to have a lovely group of birches and every year I scrubbed them to get rid of the algae. It’s best to do this when there is nobody about; if people catch you doing it, they give you funny looks, specially if your kitchen floor is less than pristine.  I planted these trees in a circle and eventually their branches joined together. I had no plants in the circle, just gravel and in the middle there was a  huge stone to sit on.

Here, I  will plant them quite close together like the ones at Anglesey Abbey. I might underplant them with pure white Narcissus ‘Thalia’  Maybe I will even risk chopping one down in the hopes of getting a multi-stemmed tree.

There is a Chinese saying; ‘The best time to plant trees is twenty years ago. The second best time is now’. So I had better get going.


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27 Responses to Bring Back the Birch.

  1. Oh, a birch grove–how lovely! Several birch species are common here in my part of northern North America, too. They add such charm to a landscape. Your Betula pendula is spectacular! Now I will imagine you scrubbing the bark. 😉

  2. I couldn’t agree more, these are such beautiful trees and you have a fine collection. I too toy with the idea of whether to axe my ten year olds down in the hopes of creating silvery Corinthian style columns arising from one base too. I’ve see it done, but only ‘on paper’. Planting a few close together sounds like a good way of saving the gardener a bad case of the collywobbles.

  3. Sam says:

    I’m smiling broadly here. We’ve just ordered 15 bare root B.u. jacquemontii whips to plant in a river/drift at the bottom of the garden. We had one magnificent specimen in our previous garden and I loved it so much I was even known to wipe the bark clean..! I underplanted it with white tulips, ajuga and lazuli nivea. It will be great to see yours grow and the white narcissi will look lovely.

  4. Pauline says:

    A birch grove, how exciting! We have a few, 3 B Jaquemontii, 3 B ermanii and 1 B pPapyriferra, I too wash them each winter, much to my husbands amusement! Yours will look lovely with white narcissus underneath, mine have snowdrops and red stemmed Cornus for company.

  5. rusty duck says:

    What a bargain! I’ve been hankering after a trio of birches too. My problem is where to put them with open sky at a premium thanks to the native trees. Might have to get the tree fellas back..

  6. Kris P says:

    Your post is a wonderful ode to the birch tree. What a lucky find to pick up 5 trees at such a reasonable price! I planted 3 noID birch in the relatively tiny backyard of our former house, setting them close to one another in the hope that would control their size. A vine strangled one in infancy (my fault) and, when the other 2 began to get really big, we were forced to remove one. My tree-hating neighbor prevented me from even considering planting any in my “new” garden.

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    I do love birch – there are so many lovely ones. I planted 5 paperbark (B.papyrifera) several years ago, so I could view them against dark pines at the wood edge. Sadly, my spouse in his enthusiasm when pruning the blueberries, did away with two, so now I have only three that have begun to show their lovely white bark. I still miss those two!

  8. Well, everyone has a Birch story, I had River Birches (Betula nigra) when living further north and always pined for Paper and White Birches, lovely all but ephemeral. I will enjoy yours from far afield.

  9. Brian Skeys says:

    You have a bargain there Chloris, they do make an impressive sight when mass planted. I don’t have the room for that, I did manage to buy a young one that had been stooled on a single stem and now has three branches, I just have to decide where to plant it!

  10. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. They are wonderful trees and it must be sad when you lose any of them. Well done on planting more. xx

  11. Frog says:

    Wonderful trees, wonderful post.

  12. Christina says:

    A Birch grove, yes what a wondrous thing! Well done for planting trees for the future; I wish I’d planted more trees when we bought this house but I had the stupid idea it was too late for me too enjoy them – looking at the Melia and the huge shrubs of Quercus ilex I know I was wrong. Sadly this winter I lost the newly planted Carob, it was too new to take the bitingly cold winds.

  13. Sounds wonderful and what a bargain! I don’t have the room for a coveted birch grove, but we did plant one multi-stemmed B. jacquemontii a few years back, which is much loved. Love the idea of under-planting with Thalia. I’ve tried ‘Woodstock’ hyacinths, but they are too dark really. Time for a change I think.

  14. pbmgarden says:

    Love the idea of your birch circle.

  15. bittster says:

    What an excellent next project! Birch are practically a weed in our mine scared landscape but I still had to plant one as well. Of course it had a rough start and I did end up cutting it back but now it’s finally beginning to look like something, even if it is a leaning something. My albo-sinensis seedling is coming along. I hope it lives up to the hype!

  16. Steve says:

    Try planting three in the same hole close together. Eventually they will knit together and for a multi-stemmed plant. Apparently jet washers are good for cleaning the bark for a good show.

  17. Cathy says:

    What a joy to see your birches (and that grove at Anglesey Abbey). I planted B. a multi-stemmed group in our old garden. Your pictures made me wonder how they are doing now. I hope the new owners have been patient and not scrubbed them out! Thanks for your post!

  18. Robbie says:

    I love Birch trees! They are my favorite. A neighbor down the way from us in the ravine has a HUGE old one that has been there probably as long as my 70 plus silver maple on our property. This was an area the Black Hawk Tribe use to winter. I know the trees are old down the ravine and there are other white birches.
    I admire the fact you decided to replace the trees. That is faith in the future!
    I had to chuckle about scrubbing your trees and kitchen floors-LOL. I have to admit, my free time is working in the garden and floors are last to get cleaned AFTER the garden is tidy:-)

  19. Cathy says:

    Oh how exciting for you – and I am so glad you got a bargain batch too. I am so pleased I had the ‘whims’ to start the woodland and the woodland edge border – even if the trio of birches I planted in the latter were, in my ignorance at the time, plain silver birch and not jacquemontii 😉 Excellent and informative post, as always

  20. Love the title! I also love birches, and en masse they are even better. Your new trees look like good specimens and so cheap, I am sure you will be very happy together.

  21. snowbird says:

    Damn Doris! What a shame, losing lovely birch trees! That little grove looked gorgeous, hopefully your new trees will grow quickly and form a new one. I’ll be following the chopped down one with interest, I certainly wouldn’t dare do it! Goodness….just love your warty tree!
    I have several birch, some where here when we arrived 27 years ago, I do hope they don’t die on me, their bark is gorgeous in the

  22. Lavinia Ross says:

    Beautiful photos! I love white birches, but my climate is probably too dry in summer for them, as it doesn’t generally rain from late June through early October.

  23. Bodger says:

    The British say of chestnuts that you plant them for your grandchildren. I’m with you, I would go for birch for myself and the youngsters can dig their own holes. Lovely picture of Betula jacquemontii against an azure sky.

  24. Birches are a wonderful plant and they add beautiful interest all year long. Wishing you much success with your new trees!

  25. Just let them seed themselves. I didn’t have a tree in my garden 7 years ago and now I have stands of slender birch from a neighbouring tree.

  26. Pingback: GOOD LUCK

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