Have you ever tried wrapping an entire tree in frost resistant fleece? It was probably a crazy idea from the start. Last year the long hot summer days decided to arrive in March and April and the garden went berserk. The apple tree burst into life with fresh pink buds, each one promising to become a juicy apple in the fullness of time. It looked stunning. Then came the warning of a late frost. Those icy fingers would force their way into the tight bound blossoms and all would wither into a brown slurry of decay. Something had to be done.
We arrived back from the garden centre with a large, frost resistant sheet and started to wrap our precious tree from head to toe. Bob was up the ladder and I was down on the ground. We worked in harmony which meant as I pulled one way to secure the fleece with an array of clothes pegs, he pulled the other causing them to fly off again in all directions. I stood back to assess the situation and watched him knock a fair number of tender blossoms onto the ground as he tugged and heaved at the fleece. ‘Stop,’ I shouted, ‘there won’t be any left at this rate.’ So more gently we both lifted and enfolded until every branch was tucked safely inside the ghostly spectre.
The birds hated it. Unable to ricochet between the branches to get to the food, they lined up on the fence to discuss the situation. One brave soul, usually a pigeon, would venture forth, but as soon as he got close to the feeder the fleece would flutter in an alarming manner as if it were about to enfold him in its soft white arms. There wasn’t a great deal of frost in the end and two days later we were pulling all the stuff off again. It’s difficult to know if the buds sacrificed in the great cover up died for a worthy cause, but we did have a good crop of apples that year.
This year has been a different story. The apple tree looks totally lifeless and may well be dead for all I know. It is always a miracle when a bunch of sticks sprouts new life. Take the clematis for example. The one in my garden spends half its life feigning severe illness and it’s only my tardiness which saves it from being pulled out by the roots. Then, when your back is turned, it sends out shoots from every crevice and the brown parched trellis turns green overnight. I’m sure one or two of them have kept up the charade far too long and found themselves on the compost heap for playing such a prank. I have not given up hope for the apple tree as evidently this March has been about 20 degrees colder than last year. My garden thermometer has hovered below the 40 F mark, but I do wonder if I was a little ruthless in my pruning last summer. As George Osborne can confirm, if you make too many cuts you don’t get any growth.
No matter how ruthless I may have been it is nothing compared to my neighbour. Some, as yet unknown, individual has recently bought the house three doors down and before he has even set foot over the threshold, his two fir trees have been chopped to the ground. I suppose they had it coming really as these huge trees leant against the fence in an audacious manner not caring if they were in anyone’s way. As we know, urban trees need to be a lot more discreet than that. When you aren’t emotionally attached to a tree it is easy to pull it out along with the fitted kitchen and the woodchip paper. After all what do they know of the starlings who use the evergreen branches to make their spring nests. They have never sat outside on a summer’s evening and heard the blackbird sing his heart out from the topmost branch or witnessed the kerfuffle when a magpie creeps into the depths of the foliage to take the eggs.
I have memories of those trees which go back over ten years. When Oscar was a young cat about town he climbed up the tallest fir tree and stole one of the starling’s nests. I heard the screeching from the front room. Before I could get out to the garden Oscar came slinking in through the cat flap and still crawling commando style made his way up the stairs. I could see the starlings madly flying round outside and found a trail of nesting material leading to a rather battered nest which I am afraid to say contained three dead babies. The starlings continued to dive bomb Oscar whenever he left the house for days after and I’m sure he learnt his lesson as he has never harmed another bird. Nowadays they feed with impunity right in front of his nose, knowing that the effort to catch them is an effort he is not willing to make.
I spoke to the man who was taking down the fir trees and told him that the starlings and I would miss them. ‘Oh it’s ok,’ he said. ‘The new owner is going to put up a silver birch.’ Not sure what the birds will make of that. They prefer practical to aesthetical, but in the end we all have to get used to it or push off somewhere else. Perhaps the blackbird will take to this new boundary post and it will be business as usual this summer.