Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Leaf of the day’ Category

Tree Huggers of the World Unite

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Leaf of the Day will never be the same again.  The beech tree, prime leaf drop culprit at Court Cottage, is no more.

When we moved in over 10 years ago, there were three fairly mature trees in the back garden area. This is a bit you do not see if you come to a workshop.  There is access to the main drive, garage, car-port etc from the side road – there’s a wood store and the veg garden etc.  There is also a piece of ground that I am going to call ‘lawn’.  It resembles lawn in that it is partially green, though much of this is now moss.

These trees – a copper beech, a cedar and a rowan-tree – were planted about 30 years ago.  In the time we have lived here, we have had them crowned/reduced three times, pretty drastically.  There is, however, a limit to how effective this will be in terms of a) keeping the trees looking good; and b) encouraging them to not push the cottage right over.  The cedar in particular was looking less stately and more towering lollipop as a result of its 3 haircuts, while the beech was just spreading, as they do, being forest trees.

Here they are:

The last time we had a tree surgeon over which was a couple of weeks back, he told us honestly that he could reduce them, again, but they’d just keep coming back at us; that it’d cost almost 4 times as much to have them topped/pruned as felled; and that if he lived here, he’d get shut of them.

The ‘little’ fir trees on the side of the drive are actually too tall to trim without a tall ladder – but the beech and the cedar dwarf them.

I wavered still, but Mark was keen to have them chopped down.  And in the end, I had to agree because of the proximity to the cottage – closer than any sane person would plant forest trees and within bough-touching distance by the close of 2015.

The chap whose company came over to look at the trees was very kind.  Basically, he humoured me as I blathered on about how sad it was, how we loved the trees, how we’d miss them, how we’d tried to practice SRT in the beech tree (fail)…he didn’t say much but I could tell he was sympathetic.

So anyway, very soon, came dreaded the day – and of course, it dawned frosty, blue and beautiful, just so the majestic trees would look their very best as they spread their limbs out against the glittering, winter-ice sky and rosy dawn.

I began a sniveling, eye-watering limbering up to full-on crying at sunrise.  By 7.30 I was quietly sobbing in the kitchen, trying but failing to imagine my view without the trees, as I stood in the gloomy-end of the kitchen, looking at the ‘lawn’ and drive. It is (was) gloomy here all year round. In summer, the copper beech, in full leaf, robbed about half this area and half the kitchen of any natural light save that filtered by its bronze leaves.  Copper beech, stately and lovely as they are, especially when viewed in park-land estates or on telly when watching Woolf Hall, are light-thieves.  They actively soak up light around them, quite apart from creating a shade so deep it is oceanic in its depths.

Even in winter, it towered and anyway, the cedar was evergreen, so it always loomed.  Recently it had taken to shedding its pernicious brown needles, much finer than a Christmas tree’s, all over its potion of ‘lawn’, the drive and the paths.  From here, it was easy for all humans and animals who use the back door, which is everyone basically, to tread these all over the house.

But still, that morning, I was very sad.  The moment arrived when the tree-men maneuvered their truck and trailer down the road – always an exciting time for this village, any work being done by someone they have not approved, are related to or recognise.  Well!  The owner had sent two little boys! They were tall for children it is true, but still about eleven years old.  So now I was upset and anxious about these little boys having chain saws and climbing things – on my property – and also, being English, I was suppressed, being unable to express this anxiety in case they were insulted.  Mark took a quick look, in response to me hissing at him that the kindergarten class of tree-surgery had rocked up.  He pronounced them to be adults. Hmmm.  Only just.  I made them tea (they declined squash and cookies, most odd) and may have brought them up to date with my ‘I love these trees, but they have to go’ dilemma.

I went indoors and actually begged Mark to give them the cheque for the work – just to go away.  He said no.

As they fiddled about on the road, out of eye-line, I crept out and bade a last goodbye to my trees.  I took some photos.  Then  I wondered, as you do, just how wide that cedar had grown.  When we moved in it was mature but still fairly slender.  It looked much sturdier, so thick-set now.  So, I put my arms around its trunk.  My longest fingers could only just touch.  That’s a big tree.  It wasn’t meant to be a hug, but of course, it sort of was.  It was just my curiosity to see how big it had grown.

Unfortunately at this moment, the older (well, taller) of the two man-child tree-surgeons wandered back up the drive carrying a mile or two of coiled ropes.  Our eyes met.  He paused.  I let go of the tree and stepped away.  He proceeded to lay out the ropes.  We agreed, via the silent code of our people, not to attempt an explanation or ever to mention it.  So, he thinks I am a red-eyed tree-hugger.

Some hours – but fewer than you might suppose – and an awful lot of noise later, the children had finished playing in the trees.  They were no more.  I had also asked them to leave circles of the trunks for me, on the drive, plus any boughs we can saw up for fire-wood.  The circles make great eco-seats for the garden, we have two stacks of them from some trees that were felled elsewhere and were given to us – they are useful, home to lots of creatures and they look nice.  Now I have enough to make some more seats here and take to the allotment to sit upon.

And, I like it better now.  It is bright, light and just less gloomy.  So much soul-searching, and so many other solutions tried – but Mark and the tree-man were right.

The ‘lawn’ may recover; or I might use this space to keep chickens – a recurring dream. It may never be realised, but this would now be a good space. The  rowan-tree was spared, posing no threat and probably being full size now, but it may do better now it is not cowering in the vast shadow of the cedar.

And a small lesson learned about being less resistant to even fairly small changes and to listening to the views and advice of others.  They were right, and I am glad.

Random Grumpiness #1

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

I’m not in a bad mood.  No, really.  I’m fine.  I’m almost always in a mood that can be defined as quite to rather good.  I’m usually such a happy person, that if my mood-o-meter only registers ‘OK’, people who know me well ask if I am sad…what’s wrong, Ali?  You seem down today…?  But in fact, I’m just marginally less happy than usual.

This makes me sound either simple, or annoying, or both.  I am simple.  I like many simple things and they make me happy.  I can be annoying.  I suppose.  Being annoying, also, makes me happy, especially to Lily.  But I am not a constant ray of sunshine.  Even when I am happy, I can be, and often am, scratchy with short spells of grouch.  ‘Sarky’, my old form teacher called me.  I was twelve.

I am therefore bringing you the first in what will probably be a very intermittent series of Things That Can Make Me A Bit Grumpy.

Here are two such things.  First (and this just about qualifies for Leaf of  the Day too) is the Beech leaf-husk. When the leaves (or it might be the tiny flowers, but I think it is the leaves) start to emerge from the bud, they first shed a fine husk, a case.  These – and there are literally millions of them – then invade the garden, house and car.  For weeks. I really think, given that the beech tree leaves are an absolute bane of  my life, and then it is sometimes infested with hairy caterpillars, which I fear the dogs will eat, thus dying or at the very least losing part/all of their tongues (I once read about this. Therefore it has become an Obsessive Thing), and it needs thinning every 3 years, or else it will up-end the cottage – that the time may have come to get rid of it.  Oh no!  cry the family.  You can’t be serious.  Oh, but I am.  Unless you, family, wish to take over operation-beech every year?

The other thing?  You want more grouch?  OK.  Gym territorialism.  You know that space, in the gym studio, where you always stand, right by the air fans but with plain sight of yourself in at least two mirrors?  It’s not yours.  Or mine.  We have membership, not ownership.

I know we all like to go to the same places/seats/spaces etc, we can’t really help it, we are programmed that way.  There’s a great ‘joke’ I heard about Methodists. I was, by the way, brought up as a Methodist, and I heard this hilarious ‘joke’ in church, so it’s OK for me to tell you.  There was a chapel in Jamaica where they worshiped with the doors open because it was hot in there.  Every Sunday, about half an hour after the start, an old dog wandered in and just flopped down in the cool shade.  They knew he was a Methodist because he always went to the same pew.  Boom Boom!  Oh yeah, we knew how to have a good time!

But anyway, gym space – the place you set up your bench, or stand before a class begins – is just a rented bit of space, for that hour.  If I move to a new space, I sometimes get mild to moderate passive-aggro from other users, such as:  you can’t stand there!  You always stand there, (pointing to a space about 2 meters away).  Or:  you!  Go stand at the front/back!  This is my space.  And they do actually mean it.

Oh dear.  It’s not your space.  Or mine.  It’s just a bit of floor, plus air and light.  I do it on purpose sometimes, not just to wind folks up, though that is of course a nice bonus.  I do it because it breaks me of that Methodist repeated pattern behaviour to which I know I could become a slave, in much the same way as I steadfastly refuse to salute magpies or throw salt over my shoulder.

Next time in grump-corner, supermarkets, newsreaders and radio ‘phone-ins.

Leaf of the Day: thy neighbour’s leaf (and some knitting)

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

My neighbour is a funny chap.  He’s got some funny ways, I mean.  For example, he once ‘weeded’ and cleared his garden – with a flame-thrower.  Not a little blow-torch, no, it was a giant, roaring flame-thrower.  I was gardening in my vegetable garden one summer* evening and I heard a loud, throaty roar start up, accompanied by a dry crackling as all the vegetation in his garden was instantly incinerated.  You could feel the heat! Literally, scorched earth.

* Summer:  a season that people in England used to experience between Spring** and Autumn***

** Spring:  a season that used to follow Winter****

*** Autumn: a season that used to precede Winter

**** Winter:  our year-round weather

Anyway, my neighbour is not a fan of the gardening.  But he does own some big trees and one of these is right on my border, next to my vegetable garden.  What is more annoying even than having to slave over raking up my own enormous pile of indestructible leaves, is having to then sweep up the deluge of his leaves as this gigantic tree deposits ALL its leaves in my garden.  The only bonus is that, unlike my sneaky copper beech and magnolia, this tree drops them all in one massive go.

That aside, I am loving the garden at the moment. I can’t walk on the veg garden as it’s been too wet and other than emergency hoe-ing I’ve been keeping off it.  So have not yet planted the garlic which as we know must be in before Christmas.  But the borders at the front and the lawn there have been receiving regular attention with what I like to call my Rolling Maintenance Programme.  The RMP is just a fancy way of saying I garden every week, on about 2 – 3 days of the week for 1 – 3 hours at a stretch.  In winter****.  In summer* (see notes above) this is at least 3 days a week for 2 – 3 hours each time.  This is never going to make the garden super-neat, because there is the same amount of garden at the back and far side of the cottage as the area at the front. But I’m not after super-neat. I am after a working compromise between neat (desirable) and jungle (the situation if I turn my back for more than 2 weeks or let the RMP lapse).

In other news I am going to knit myself a jumper a bit like that/those in The Killing, as worn, but not knitted by Detective Sarah.  The yarn is ordered and I have the pattern I want – it’s the cover jumper in the Rowan ‘Tweed’ book by Marie Wallin.  I tried the garment on when I was teaching last week and I love it.  Yes, people, it’s Fairisle! And it’s aran wool….walls shake, thunder rolls, is the end of the world nigh?

These are my colours:


Not quite the same as in the book, I preferred the pale grey to the other contrast they used.  The first shade is the MC.

I wanted to knit it in Pendle:


as the MC but Rowan doesn’t produce that shade in aran, only DK and Fine.  I wonder why?

Anyway, I have the 2 contrast yarns and now await the main shade.

Here is the jumper:

Knit this womens sweater with fairisle yoke from our Tweed Collection. A design

I haven’t seen The Killing.  I am listening to it so I hope this is about right.

I am warned by Mark that I must not say:  ‘I am wearing my Killing jumper’ in public and especially not when teaching.



Leaf of the day: petunia

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

This is the result of organic gardening:

All the leaves and flowers of my formerly lovely black velvety petunias have been eaten.  Overnight.

So strictly speaking, it’s not the leaf of the day.  It’s the dessicated skeletal stalk of the day.  Clearly I am labouring to provide a snack-bar for the slugs and snails, a little bijoux place they have just discovered and then told all their slimy mates about.  I must have had an amazing review in ‘Slug & Snail Weekly: where to eat’ column. Here is an action shot of a vile slug, chowing down on another soon-to-be-dead plant:

But I can’t use poison because I fear the frogs and newts (do newts eat slugs? I know frogs do and I know I have some newts in the pond because I saw them, once, ages ago) who live in and near the pond, and even worse, the hedgehogs and birds, will eat a slug or snail that I have poisoned and then they will die.  So that’s out. I tried beer traps and that was so gross I almost sold the cottage and moved into a hermetically sealed garden-less apartment with not so much as a window box.  Really – it is the most disgusting option I can imagine.  I am going to spare you the reasons but it’s rank.

Any tips?  I would rather not have plants that slugs love than use any poison and I have found the organic brands, harmless to pets and wild-life also appear to be harmless to slugs. So until this ‘summer’ it had been many years since I planted any petunias, so redolent of civic planting and your aunty’s garden when you were in ankle socks;  but I do love a petunia me, and these were (you are going to have to trust me on this) almost a true black and with a texture like fine velvet.

Here are some that have not yet been chomped:

…it is only a matter of time…




Leaf of the day: magnolia

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Ah ha!  I tricked you!  Of course at this stage in the year this queen of trees has no leaves, only gorgeous blossoms, just unfurling for today it is almost hot, on naked branches.  The best blossoms are those that grace a naked bough, I think.  I love this tree, I actually hug it sometimes (oh, I don’t care, no-one reads this much anyhow, it’s just us):

The leaves, when they come, are large and thick, almost fleshy.  Then I love that it gives shade in a hot part of the garden.  In autumn I love it less for its leaves fall in rushes and swamp the plants below, have the life of nuclear waste and rot down in about 10 years of solid composting.  I forgive all this for the beauty it gives me in March.  This part of the garden faces west, and the flowers lean away to the lighter, warmer aspects, like candle flames in a slight guttering draft.

While we’re here, in the front garden, let’s look at this bush, I call it, very inventively since it is beeloved (oh lol) by bees, the Bee Bush:

I don’t know its real name but this bush is huge, about 12 feet round at least and about 5 feet high and smothered all over with blossoms.  Here is a little bee, with big fat pollen-trousers, on the bush:

It has waxy leaves, is ever-green and at this time of year, a sweet and quite strong scent. There is a companion bush, much smaller, nearby that has red berries, so I think they may be in a civil partnership.  If you know what they are, please tell me as the little bush is (I’m going to whisper) dying, I think, due to being overrun by wild honeysuckle and wild passion-flower, both of which love the front garden and live in the lawn!  I do try and keep them both at bay but I fail.  So you see, I need a new partner-bush, the one that does the berry-bearing.  Thanks!


Leaf of the day: pine needle (technically, is that a leaf? discuss)

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The annual pilgrimage to the garden centre to get the tree has taken place and the tree is up.  I think it is our best tree for ages.  I can only hope that the poor boy who was our tree-host on the evening we chose it, agrees. We got off to a bad start because the tree selection area had been moved.  Usually it is outside but covered over a  bit so it feels almost like you are outside properly, with the dark outdoor plant area behind you and the lights of the garden centre itself in front.  And then the trees are stacked in areas determined by size and type and cost.  This year, they have been moved; they were practically in the entrance.  Lily has never liked change, nor do I.  But really, I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when she saw the new tree-sales location, she was outraged!  Might need to work on that with her in 2012  when she changes schools…

One of your party (or a designated tree-person) wrestles the tree that you fancy out of the stack and holds it up.  This is demeaning to trees, I know, being a sort of tree beauty pageant.  But I can’t stop myself.  I have very specific tree requirements.  A lot of our decorations are heavy, so we need a tree with some sturdy branches;  a graceful but floppy tree is of no use to me whatsoever.  Our cottage is small, yet we want a big tree due to the outrageous number of decorations we own, so it has to be wide but not too tall.  I also quite like a tree with a ‘flat’ side (to go towards the french doors bit of the corner into which we ram it), and an opposing ‘sticky out’ side.  I don’t want a lot of naked trunk anywhere and I like the needles to be perky.

However, there is an unwritten rule about how many trees you can have displayed to you by the tree-person before you are bound by the Code of Practice On Christmas Tree Buying to just say:  OK that one will do.  I feel (the Code is more given to guidance here) that this number is probably 3.  I am no longer bound by the Code.  Even though I feel awkward, and I do praise all the trees I am shown, even the clearly inadequate ones, I plough on – though not, yet, very far into double figures – until I find The Right Tree.

Last weekend, our tree-person was simply lovely.  After 3 trees had been praised but rejected, I shared some quite specific information about our (my) tree needs and after tree number 5, he was pre-rejecting trees for me!   He’d root about into the stack and muttering slightly, but happily I think, under his breath, he’d shove some aside:  mmm…maybe…? head turns slightly to me, sees almost imperceptible yet also sad shake of  my head – no, not this one…maybe this one…? No, not you…  THIS one!  He was right!  Now that’s a intuitive person, happy in his work.  He was also showing off the trees as if they were his celebrity partners on Strictly Come Dancing.  Out came the tree, and he’d pivot it into a good space, tap it lightly but firmly into the ground to shake out the branches and then execute a triple twirl sequence worthy of Anton and Erin.

I thought I’d make an excellent tree sales-lady, but then my family pointed out my aversion to the cold or even a slight chill, and also my tendency to get over-involved – I’d be offering to pop round and help them decorate.

The garden centre, by the way, has morphed into a disturbing Winter Wonderland with disjointed ‘rooms’ dedicated to styles and colours of decorations.  There is Narnia:  white, silver, with a sinister Ice Queen model figure (who I think was also the witch at Hallo’een but there we are).  There is Toy Land, with a train careering through a cardboard and cotton wool tunnel, and some robotic reindeer whose movements are so staccato, they look like they are body popping.  And there is Rustic Christmas, where there are really odd animal decorations, including owls (rejected by 1 woman whom I overheard discussing the merits of these versus the badger decorations, with her epically disengaged teenage son.  For the record, she felt that badgers are more Chritmassy than owls).  If you want a trowel, unless you want one with a Cath Kidston style flowery handle, you’re stuffed, basically.

However good your tree, it will shed, which brings me to the topic of the this post:  pine needles.  The festive vacuuming of the merry needles has begun.  We don’t have carpets in most of our rooms, and the sitting room has a stone floor, frankly a bit of trip-fall hazard, because it’s ancient and uneven and the flags have crevices.  I am *quite **assiduous (*very **obsessive) about getting last year’s pine needles out when the old tree gets taken down.  And yet, each time I put up the new tree, I always find old needles from last year in a crevice, wedged in a crack, under the radiator, even stuck into the skirting board.  It is a great Christmas mystery.  I feel if I had a carpet, I’d stand a chance against the needles.  In fact I do have carpet down in the dining room (AKA workshop/work room) and also, since it’s not a sitting room, more space.  However, my suggestion that we locate the tree in there was clearly outrageous, wrong and at odds with whole universe, and I am sorry I ever mentioned it, OK Lily?

Leaf of the day: beech

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Today’s leaf is beech, specifically, copper beech.

I have been gardening a lot.  If by gardening you mean being a leaf-sweeping garden troglodyte, permanently bent double dragging a sack of leaves/dog poo over my shoulder, Quasimodo style.

So, here are my observations (don’t say this blog is ever anything less than sparkling and fascinating).

Here is the rarely glimpsed single beech leaf.  In fact, this is never seen in my garden.  For the purposes of leaf-fall analysis, roughly estimate the number of leaves on your beech tree in late spring or summer and then, to achieve an approximate estimate of the number of leaves that will fall, multiply this number by eleven-million.

Further analysis on my part over many years has established that the beech leaf has an after-life longer than that of nuclear waste.  They never rot down.  I am baffled as to why we haven’t harnessed the staying power of the beech leaf and used it for insulation purposes or maybe devised some way to spin yarn from them – we have bamboo yarn, after all, and even soya-based yarns.

Finally, they have magical properties.  I have 2 dustbins by the back door (now redundant in the brave new world of recycling with Somerset Waste AKA ‘you do our work for us, OK?’).  These act as a kind of beech leaf trap, so every week in beech leaf falling time, I move them and sweep behind them.  Half an hour later, a ton of beech leaves is once again trapped behind them, even after the beech has dropped all its leaves. Spooky.  Yes, I know you’re thinking:  get rid of the dustbins.  But, I plan one day to single-handed, effect the fall of the waste ‘partership’ and then, oh yes then, I’ll be the one, laughing, with the dustbins, all ready and waiting.  Ahem.  Sorry.  But I suppose in the meantime I could move them.

Look out for future blogs in this leaf of the day series!  Next time:  the elm.