The mighty oak (Quercus rubor), the one in the centre of our garden is due for a haircut, we decided. Visitors comment on our lovely garden – but such a shame about the oak tree – all that shade. If they lived here, they would chop it down, except that it is subject to a tree preservation order.
If the tree was chopped, there would be an open space. The summer sun would beat relentlessly down, and an umbrella would be needed. I would miss the sturdy black limbs etched against a grey winter sky with the playful skitter of squirrels among the branches. I would miss the birds, there are two magpies in the branches as I write, and hundreds of others birds visit to feed on the myriad of insects living in the nooks and crannies of the bark. Blue tits nest in the attached birdbox and tree creepers and the nuthatch hang, head down, to feed.
Oaks come into leaf late, after the crocus and daffodil, bluebells and wood anemones have done their stuff. After the camelia, rhododendron, magnolia and azalea have flowered, and the acer have produced their colourful lacey leaves.
As the sun rises in the sky, the oak leaves give a welcome dappled shade. The two swings hang from its branches are in full use in summer. One for a vigorous, high-flying grandchild, and the other, a sedate, cushioned macrame seat, swings me gently with a book and a glass of beer.
In the autumn, the leaves turn to gold and then fall as a brown carpet onto the lawn by the first week in December. They are swept into a pile and two years later, are excellent leaf mould.
Oaks can live for 1000 years, the Major Oak in Nottingham Forest, beneath which Robin Hood is said to be buried, is at least 800 years old. The Bowthorpe Oak in Bourne, Lincolnshire is reckoned to be over 1000 years old. Oakwood is valuable, rich in tannin, it resists decay and is strong. Six thousand oaks were felled to make HMS Victory, oak is used for the barrels which mature our favourite tipple, and the gall of the oak was used to make the ink used to write the Magna Carta.
Everything you possess needs care and attention at some time, so we arranged with Paul and his lads from Lakewood Tree Surgeons to give the tree a trim. Crowning, it is called, and permission from the council is required for it. Paul arrived and manoeuvred his cherry picker, like a giant unsteady praying mantis into the garden. With a man on the end, its long arm wavered and swayed high into the tree to trim the sides. Meanwhile, Paul climbed 20 M or so into the topmost branches with his chainsaw swinging from his belt.
I loved climbing trees when young. I knew that oaks were a worthwhile challenge, most conifers were easy but boring, holly was prickly, but could be tall. I had to be wary of birch for its branches are thin and brittle.
Now, the job is done. The lads are safely down and the garden tidied up. New ropes dangle 10 metres awaiting new swing seats, and there is a pile of logs that will keep us warm next winter after a summer in the woodshed.