The tale of an apple tree

Just after Christmas, when the snow fell suddenly and thickly, we lost a large apple tree that stood in our front garden. It was massive, ill-kempt, covered in ivy, and fairly unproductive. It was usually smothered in blossom for a few days in spring, when it looked its best, but the few fruit it bore were small, yellow and pitted – and virtually inedible for humans.

The birds loved the tree, though. One winter, about four years ago, a single Fieldfare took up residence in the tree and stayed there for weeks, slowly working its way through the apples which still remained. Woe betide any other bird who tried to get at the fruit: that Fieldfare was the boss.

At various times Collared Doves and Woodpigeons have nested in the tree, and the ivy berries attracted not only crowds of Woodpigeons but also a pair of Blackcaps who have been over-wintering here for a decade or more. Though research tells me that they’re almost impossible to be the self-same birds, nor are they the ones that nest in the shrubs behind our house each summer.

Anyway, having resisted the deliberate felling of the tree for a few years, as it grew larger and cast deep shade over a large part of the front garden, it started to show signs of being less than well as autumn 2012 drew on. By Christmas it had developed a distinct list, and the snowfall finally finished it off. Overnight it came gently down across the fence between our garden and next door, blocking the path to their front door, and taking a chunk of fencing with it.

Subsequently, a long, cold day’s work by Michael, (our neighbour who happens to be a tree surgeon), and his chainsaw, got the whole thing cut into pieces and stacked in the gardens. Then another day saw much of it being sorted and recycled: logs for the fire, kindling, sticks for the garden, rubbish. There is still a sizeable pile to go at, and Monday was spent constructing a log store to house the impending glut of firewood. At least next winter we shall not go short of wood.

Our house was built in 1896, and before that, this area was orchards and market gardens. There is an apple tree in the back garden – a lovely one – which we believe was planted by the family of an old lady who lived here all her life: sometime in the 1920s. The tree in the front was even bigger: I think it must have been at least 60 years old.

The planting I recently re-did in the front garden, to make best use of the apple tree’s dry shade – hellebores, ferns, digitalis – will have to be rethought. The sudden removal of the shade will have interesting consequences, no doubt. I intend to plant another specimen tree in due course: though not an apple.

Some of the birds are looking a little confused – whilst dunnocks, wrens and robins enjoy fossicking about in the remaining piles of branches and twigs.

At least, though, we will appreciate the wood on cold winter evenings next year… Goodbye old tree.

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