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See a sample issue of The Irish Garden!

April 2013

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Stage left! Rachel Darlington moves some dead tree ferns


In the winter of 2010, I suffered the devastating loss of four tree ferns. While I have no intention of beating over old ground, I will mention that this loss posed certain problems. A live tree fern is a fabulous asset in a border but even a dead one has its uses. Tree ferns are priced according to the length of the trunk. The taller the trunk, the more we fork out. So even with dead trees, the stem adds interest, texture and height. I wanted to keep my dead tree ferns in the borders but I didn't want them exactly where they had originally been. They now needed to be more background than front-of-stage so one of them had to be moved a foot to the left and a second had to be moved two feet to the right!

When I explained the predicament to my husband, at first he didn't believe me. He thought it was a joke. He could understand the necessity of moving trees that had outgrown their position, become an eye-sore or even those which required a different terrain. But the idea of moving two dead trees, ever so slightly, within the same border was beyond him. So, you can imagine my reluctance in mentioning this year's conundrum to long-suffering hubby. This time round a tree needed moving, not slightly to the right or the left, but upwards by about a foot.

Last December, I created a new border, using the no-dig, lasagne method of piling compostable material up in layers. But there was one minor drawback. Impatient to get planting, I had put a tulip tree in the lasagne bed before starting the layering process. What happened was that at the end of a year all the prunings, grass and earth of the lasagne bed had composted down, but leaving a bed that was a foot higher than the tree sitting in it.

Knowing that trees must never have their trunks buried, I had made sure to clear of compost a circle around the tree. The tree was a nice one, a variegated tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Aureomarginatum'. Like all tulip trees, this one was vigorous so I had a narrow window of opportunity for moving it at all. No, there was nothing for it. The tree had to be dug up, the bed levelled and the tree re-planted. It was a job I could do myself so I did it, and conserved my reserves of persuasion for another day!


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