Regular readers with an elephantine memory may remember a post I produced back at the start of January about some of the damage the gardens here at Chartwell had suffered as a result of the Christmas storms. Well, although one of our more treasured trees managed to survive that festive battering, it did unfortunately fall foul of some high winds a little later on in the Winter. The constant heavy rain we’ve experienced over the last 12 months certainly wouldn’t have helped either, but a few weekends ago an ancient Field Maple tree (Acer campestre) in the Parkland on the other side of the lakes sadly lost some major sections.
Sir Winston Churchill himself would have enjoyed the view of this tree during his tenure at Chartwell. In fact we think that the tree was probably introduced by the previous owner, John Campbell Colquhoun, who was a keen planter of trees as you can read about in this here blog from January 2013. Because of the historic nature of it, we are keen not to lose the tree entirely. With this in mind we have decided to try and preserve the old girl, instead of removing the remaining sections as perhaps we might have done in another instance. Steve, our Estate Supervisor, is particularly fond of it and wants to make sure that our visitors can keep enjoying this Field Maple for years to come.
The Estate team of Steve, Ben and Georgie together with some help from a bunch of hardy volunteers have therefore been spending quite some time erecting a permanent fence around the Acer campestre, constructed themselves out of spare and coppiced timber. The benefits of this are that it keeps our visitors safe from any further falling branches as well as protecting the tree itself from any undue human (or indeed bovine when the field is used to graze cattle) intervention.
The tree itself doesn’t appear to have split because of any disease that we can see. It seems as though it is simply old age combined with the accumulative effects of the nasty weather that has done for the poor old Maple. It comes to us all I suppose! We plan to plant some young Acer campestre saplings in and around our exisiting specimen so that when it does finally fall there will be a new generation waiting to take its place. In the meantime, the area inside our new fence will be planted up with wildflowers to make a feature of the site that plenty of visitors will walk past on their way up to the woods.
The name Acer means “sharp” or “pungent” and campestre means “of fields”. Acer campestre is actually the only native Maple tree in the UK. Also known as the Cat Oak or Dog Oak, the Field Maple can reach up to 90ft in height in an ideal situation. Good for wildlife and easily grown, this vibrant native tree has autumn foliage which turns a beautiful clear yellow, or sometimes flushed with red. A good foraging tree, supporting over 50 species of wildlife, the small flowers are attractive to bees and insects, whilst the seeds are eaten by mammals such as wood mice and bank voles.
In folklore the Field Maple is associated with the heart and love and is said to bring contentment to those with heavy responsibilities. Carrying a child around this tree or passing it through the branches was also believed to bring long life to the youngster. In Alsatian folklore it was said that bringing branches of field maple into the house would protect against bats and keep nesting storks safe from disturbance! Very handy, I’m sure you’ll agree. The wood of the Field Maple is traditionally used to the turning of masers, or mazers, the ceremonial drinking bowls associated with the ritual of wassailing. In fact, Acer campestre is sometimes called the Maser Tree.
In medicine a concoction made from the sap of the Field Maple has been used to treat sore eyes, and the astringent bark used to cure gallstones and high cholesterol. Like all Maples, the sap contains sugar, which can be concentrated into a syrup or used as a sweetener for food. It can also be used to make wine. I’ve not tasted it but if anyone wants to offer me some I’ll certainly give it a go! The wood of the Field Maple is fine-grained but the trees are too small to supply large pieces of timber. It takes a high polish however, so is valued by cabinet makers and wood turners. It has an attractive curving pattern of growth rings and has long been used to make musical instruments, such as violins and cellos. Harps have been made from it since Saxon times and in fact a harp frame made from Field Maple was found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Field maple is efficient as firewood and also makes good charcoal while the roots of the tree are sometimes used to make snuff boxes or pipes.