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Urban Gardener: Feel the force

So I was lying there, right, and Richard (you know, my osteopath) said to me, "I healed a tree the other day."

"Er, OK ... shingles?" I said, feebly anticipating a punchline. "No really, it had been struck by lightning at Wisley."

"Ah, right," I murmured, now wondering what the risks were with his hand cupped under my lumbar region.

"Actually, I wish I hadn't healed it," he said almost to himself, "it would have been a useful teaching aid for my students."

The fact that Richard has helped me steer clear of any major back trauma for almost two years now means that while I can't really get my head around what he's just said, I'm hooked. Cyril, my grandfather, was a bit of a tree hugger on the quiet. Once a week he would cycle to a beautiful elm tree in Bracklesham Bay on the south coast, wrap his arms around it and say out loud, "Let the strength of your branches go into my arms, the power of your trunk strengthen my torso and the force of your roots fortify my legs!" The fact that the tree became infected with Dutch elm and was felled makes an amusing enough anecdote, but in truth I gather that, on finding that his weekly tonic had succumbed to the disease, Cyril was crestfallen. I suspect some of his own sap died that day.

Anyway, it turns out that Richard occasionally takes students of osteopathy to Wisley to experience the energy that trees exude in order to help them fine-tune their senses for when they work with people. Two weeks later we met him and his wife, Marika (also a healer and expert dowser) under a beautiful, spreading lime tree at Wisley for a demonstration. The space felt good except that three hydrangeas under the tree's canopy looked like they could use a drink. Touching the stems of the hydrangea, Richard explained that there was energy here that most people should be able to sense. I could feel it, the same feeling of elation you get on most woodland walks.

Just a few paces on, near several Scot's Pines, even though we could still see the lime the energy felt different. I questioned whether this had anything to do with light but later we stood among a group of tall pines each with an interesting lilt showing a sort of collective response to their location and the energy was strong again. On reaching a copse of juvenile oaks near the River Wey, energy levels flat-lined, clearly because land on the opposite side was being raped and pillaged to make a new golf course.

Further on, several different trees could well have suggested disharmony but, all fastigiate by nature, the space had vitality,largely driven by the vertical emphasis within the space. "You don't need large trees to imbue a sense of good energy and growth," said Marika, "an area of heathland, gorse and heather can be just as powerful." On returning to the first lime tree we noticed that two of the hydrangeas had noticeably improved as if they'd been given a bucket of water in the half hour or so we'd been away. Marika explained that newly planted trees, shrubs or anything occasionally sulk and never really get going for no reason. The "healing", that may or may not involve touching the plant, is nothing more than giving it a good talking to or simply visualising a "good" place within its proximity to kick-start new growth.

Like my grandfather's disappointment with the elm, Richard was sad to find that the robinia he said he'd healed had been felled for health and safety reasons. All that was left was a stump. "You might still be able to feel a faint signature of the lightening that struck it," he said. I put my hand on the stump's wound. I wanted to feel something but couldn't, except perhaps a faint tingle, like the one you get when using the touchpad of a laptop for too long, but nothing I could swear to. "Men are less sensitive to such things'" he explained. "They have less to deal with in terms of hormones and bodily changes." No doubt this was the case but it could also have been a simple matter of distraction. I doubt whether anyone has ever been thrown out of Wisley for touching up the stump of a dead robinia, but I sure wasn't going to be the first.