Anyone living in the South East of England, and in fact all over the country, can’t have failed to notice the strong winds that have been battering us recently. This has caused a few problems for us gardeners at Chartwell in terms of losing trees, or limbs of trees, and the safety implications that this presents.
A few weeks we lost a Laburnum near the Rose Garden as well as a large portion off the top of an established Cedrus libani (Cedar of Lebanon) near the Studio that had already lost a major branch a couple of months earlier. On that occasion we made the decision to close the gardens to ensure that no visitors were put at risk from falling trees or branches. Every National Trust property makes an assessment of their gardens during high winds to judge whether it is safe for people to be in proximity to their trees. On top of this, tree surveys are carried out each and every year to assess the overall safety of all of the trees in the garden in order to predict whether they might be likely to shed branches or even topple over. Those trees nearer to areas of increased public access, such as overhanging paths or benches, are ranked as being higher risk than those in remote areas of woodland. Last year, Steve, Matt and myself successfully completed National Trust Tree Inspection Level 1 courses at nearby Scotney Castle and Polesden Lacey, so we are well equipped to deal with any potential tree safety problems.
As the picture at the top of this blog post shows, high winds were also responsible for the loss of an apple tree (Malus ‘Bramley’s Seedling’) from the orchard here at Chartwell recently. This had been a productive tree over recent years and was showing no signs of any stress to suggest that it might be at risk from falling. In fact, it was still in blossom when it toppled. Some people may be interested to learn that the roots of trees rarely venture particularly deep within the soil. In fact, 80% of all tree roots exist in the top 12-36 inches. Their shallow roots allow them to absorb as much of the water near the soil surface as possible. While this wide spread of shallow roots is more than capable of anchoring trees securely in the soil, high winds can cause problems as we have seen. The situation can be even more problematic if the soil is very wet or unstable. The roots of the fallen apple tree at Chartwell were quite rotten but appeared to be pathogen and disease-free.
While the loss of an established tree can be very disappointing, it is possible to use it as an opportunity to redesign an area of a garden or to allow other plants to flourish in it’s place. While we do intend to replace our fallen apple tree at some point, as the above picture shows, it’s absence opens up the view to Churchill’s house more clearly.
Damage to trees from high winds do not always mean that the tree in question must be removed. Last week the winds caused two Gage trees (Prunus x domestica) on the banks of the Kitchen Garden to topple over. However, they didn’t fall completely and we were able to right them and stabilize them by staking them, supporting them wit props and by firming the soil around the roots. This mirrors a case many years ago at Chartwell when one of our walnut trees (Juglans sp.) in the main orchard fell over during a storm. It was righted using ropes and against the odds managed to survive. To this day it still thrives. We have many fascinating trees here in our gardens. Come and check them out soon, as long as it’s not too windy!