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.
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.
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.
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.