The trees up above us

'Yes, dear reader, this is a nature column today. It does have a sensational development later on, but only of an arboreal nature'

Share
Related Topics

When I was a part-time gardener in Ladbroke Square, in Notting Hill – I am going back to the days before Hugh Grant was born, and people in Notting Hill could still remember the War, and the barrage balloons moored in Ladbroke Square – in the days when I was actually paid to do gardening, I learnt something about trees from the full-time gardener, Mr Pyke.

Mr Pyke had learnt his trade on big estates in Norfolk, so he knew everything about everything. He told me all about how you grafted one tree on to another to get weeping ashes (there are some nice examples in Ladbroke Square). He told me that you should bury as many autumn leaves as possible in order to enrich the ground, but that it was no use burying plane leaves, as they were too glossy to rot quickly, and could be burnt. He taught me all about the ginkgo biloba, which grew there, and the vast Turkish oak tree that grew bearded acorn cups on the main lawn, and many other things that I have since forgotten.

The only thing he didn't know about trees was the problem of Dutch Elm Disease, which struck the square (and the rest of Britain) while I was there, and which led to a lot of nice trees being cut down, and other trees coming into their own. By the time I moved back into the country in the 1980s, it was almost unheard of to see a large elm tree, and quite rare to see a small healthy one. The landscape is now dominated by ashes and oaks and limes, with of course the ubiquitous sycamore, which seems to propagate itself more skilfully and lustily than any other tree.

In springtime, our local meadow is covered with tiny little sycamore shoots, all programmed to grow into mighty sycamore trees if given the chance. They never get the chance, because the cows come along and eat them, but it's noteworthy that no other tree has the same quantity of shoots out there in the field.

On the other side of the field, down by the River Avon, there is the usual straggly line of riverside trees, a lot of them inoffensive alders. (Yes, dear reader, this is a nature column today. It does have a sensational development later on, but only of an arboreal nature.) There are also quite a lot of willow trees, and over the years I have started to notice that willow trees seldom grow alone. Beside the average willow tree, you often get a hawthorn or an elder tree pushing its way in, spoiling the clean lines of the river bank, but it wasn't until I looked closer that I realised that these other trees are, very often, growing on the willow.

The reason for this is that willow branches often crack, and in these cracks there builds up a deposit of earth and muck and rotted leaves and other kinds of humus, which would probably sell at £20 a bag in your garden centre for potting compost. Into this compost fall little seeds, and these little seeds germinate and start growing, completely unaware that they are 10 or more feet off the ground. So it is quite common to see hawthorn bushes growing at eye level, or elder trees, or brambles – though, of course, brambles don't like growing upwards particularly, so if they take root upstairs in a willow they promptly start growing downwards until they hit the ground.

The oddest example of this is downstream from us by about a quarter of a mile, where a sycamore seedling has taken root in the armpit of a willow tree about 20 feet above the ground. Sycamore seedlings seem to have no natural enemies 20 feet up in the air, so it has grown safely and securely, until it is now a full-size tree.

Yes, there is a full-size sycamore tree growing in the air, 20 feet above the ground. Its base is above your head. The roots then come out of the base and go down the willow tree trunk, looking, looking, for some ground to sink into, until eventually, 20 feet below its base, the roots finally hit the river bank and can do what roots are meant to do – that is, go underground and look for water.

Every time I see this tree, I can't help but think of Thomas Pakenham's book, Meetings with Remarkable Trees, and I think to myself: Mr Pakenham, sir, I bet you never looked up into the air and found your eyes meeting a sycamore tree, growing 20 feet above you....

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star