Trees: An acorn bunged in a pot and a 20-year obsession

It doesn't take a tree expert to plant a tree. Average people across the UK are planting acorns and conkers in pots and parklandss to do their bit to save the nation's forests. Caroline Allen reports.
For years a school teacher, 55-year-old Sheila Jeffries used to bring acorns into her classes. She would ask her students to close their eyes, then place the seeds in the palms of their hands and urge the students to "feel the life force."

Today a painter and writer, Sheila can say she has planted some 500 "life forces" in the 45 acre property that she and her husband own in Cornwall.

Sheila is not an expert on trees. Twenty years ago she was simply an average person taking a walk through a London park when she took a shine to a slick conker beneath a Chestnut. Sheila picked it up, took it home, and not knowing what else to do with it "bunged it in a pot". It wasn't until Sheila was spring cleaning the garden six months later that she happened upon the forgotten plant. Struggling up from the seed was a small pink and white shoot.

"I was gobsmacked," she says.

From such humble beginnings, an obsession was born. The hundreds of trees Sheila has planted to date range from Lime to Beech, from Oak to Walnut. Every year around the time of Sheila's October birthday, she plants as many trees as years in her life. She admits this year she has gone a little over the top.

"I'm about 110 years old at the moment," she says.

The relationship Sheila has nurtured with trees has changed her life.

"What moves me most is, here is a response of another life form. The fact that you cared enough to pick up the seed, the fact that some day it'll be a mighty tree, and contribute to the healing of the earth."

Sheila stresses that she has no official expertise with trees. All of her knowledge, she says, has come from experience, from trial and error, from "looking and doing".

"There is very little to read [on the subject]," she says. "Usually, the tree itself will tell you. If it doesn't like what you're doing, it won't grow."

A tree planting event will be held today on Sheila's Cornwall property in Helston. It begins at 2:30 p.m. and is open to the public. 01326 280050.