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Jan/Feb 2011

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Special oak falls, ‘Joseph Rock’ and the winged spindle

With all the tales of woe we have had this year, I suppose it is not really appropriate to start the New Year with another one, however, I have to mark the demise of the most beautiful oak we have ever grown. We planted Quercus dentata ‘Karl Ferris Millar' about twenty years ago. We nursed the small tree through its first few winters by putting fleece over it. When it grew above the ground-frost line, we no longer needed to do this. It grew straight and strong to seven metres. Its slightly hairy leaves were huge, some as large as 30cm long and 18cm wide. The new leaves were a stunning pale green. 

Middlands

It was in November that it excelled and, ironically, it was in the storm of 6 November last year that it came down. Each November the front of the leaves turned chestnut brown and the back a stunning pink. When the low winter sun shone through the branches, it was a sight unequalled in our garden and it wasn't finished even then. It kept its leaves all winter and they turned the colour of polished mahogany before the developing new leaves eventually pushed them off. Add to all that a beautiful bark and you can see why I was more than a bit sad when it came down. I noticed that it had fruited and there were a few seeds. I hope they are viable. I will sow them and hope for the best.

I have sourced a new plant and if I get another twenty years out of it, I won't complain. I will plant it in a less windy place. I will spread the seedlings around, if I get any, and hope that other people in the future can experience the joy it gave us for twenty years. I understand the reason for the failure, after that number of years, was probably non-compatibility between the root-stock and the grafted top. Being a named variety, it would have been grafted or budded.

2010 was a wonderful year for autumn colour and as now is the time for tree and shrub planting, and these are a few that perform consistently here. Beech is always fabulous whether as a hedge or a tree. Maples also excel but of them all Acer griseum, the mahogany bark maple, with red leaves and peeling mahogany-brown bark, is the star and is suitable for a small garden. Acer cappadocium a much larger tree with leaves that turn sunshine yellow is a winner. Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock' is a small tree the red leaves of which, in autumn, are stunning with yellow berries and, if you are really lucky, a flock of waxwings will come to eat the berries, as they did one year here. I also love Sorbus koehniana, a small tree with porcelain white fruits that hang on for a long time in winter. The winged spindle, Euonymus alatus, with pink autumn leaves is one of the finest . Finally I can't leave out the reliable Viburnum plicatum ‘Lanarth'. It colours early and the leaves last a long time and who would fail to be wowed by its waterfall of white flowers in spring.

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