The forgivably destructive power of the oak

Very nearly ten years ago we bought a tree with a house attached.  That’s not quite how it was advertised, but that’s how we chose to see it.  It was the old oak that I really wanted, and the house was, well, manageable.

The tree was pivotal to the sale, and has been pivotal to our lives ever since.  We’ve played and partied under it, swung down from it (with up to four different swings going at any one time), and have spent many a sunny afternoon sitting under it, peering out on a passing world from the recesses of it’s vast, billowing canopy.

It marks time at whatever scale you might chose, or whatever scale matches the mood or the occasion.  The past century has taken it from a seedling to middle age, looking like it might just be starting to suffer the occasional arthritic tweak. It marks the passing of the decades as its outer branches snake along the ground in a slow crawl towards the house.  It marks the passing of each year, and the seasons, in its cycle of leaves and acorns (about 600kg of the latter in a heavy year, the kids and I worked out), and it marks the passing of the hours, even the minutes, in the way it catches light, or provides a temporary resting place for the passing show of birds.

But it’s not all poetry.  There’s at least two aspects of it’s life that are a bit troubling.

The first is, simply, that something that large and dominating makes a total nonsense of any gardening that you might want to do under or near it, or even within eyeshot.  It visually trivialises all your best efforts.  I knew this from the start, and didn’t bother to try.  All we’ve done is to surround it with a semi-circular hedge, way outside its canopy.  The thinking was that if it’s going to be the lone star of the show, it may as well have a stage on which to perform.

But it’s other slightly deleterious effect is that it is so totally fulfilling and complete in it’s own way, it has made me into something of a lazy gardener.  I’d previously stated, ‘just give me one good tree’ but I don’t think I realised how totally satisfying one good tree was going to be.  For nine years now, there’s been almost nothing else I need, or want, from my own garden.  That, however, is changing..

With all the astonishing benefits of finding ourselves the current custodians of this incredible old tree, you may wonder why it’s even necessary to mention these two tiny and trivial difficulties.  It’s some weird honesty thing.  It’s like I have to acknowledge the latter in order to really, fully experience and celebrate all the blessings of the former.


  1. A thing so usual, universal and ubiquitous. Trees define the enormity of space and time and our emotion. . What other element in our natural environment , other than geology and the earth in which we garden,defines our existence with such longevity, permanence . How quickly we can dismiss their importance with a chainsaw.
    I would be a lazy gardener in such presence though I might indulge in a Galanthus or 2

  2. The tree that was the reason we bought our house 20 years ago was a grand old peppercorn. It must have been planted when the house was built, early last century. Its lovely lacy shade dappled the whole back garden and it was under its great arms that my children grew up. Then suddenly, last year, it fell down. For months I was in mourning and couldn’t bear to look out the back door. But there’s nothing as optimistic as a new tree and now I’m loving watching my newly planted caesalpinia ferrea make the space its own.

    1. Brave indeed. The day our tree falls is the day the ‘For Sale’ sign goes up out front. Meanwhile I’ll celebrate its presence.

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