Trees That Made Britain

Ticknall Garden Club were privileged to have a visit from Tony Kirkham, Head of the Arboretum at Kew Gardens, at their November meeting. He proved to be a genial guide to his chosen topic of Trees that Made Britain. His TV programme, made a few years ago, highlighted the important role that native trees have played in our history and culture.

The English oak, that most iconic of trees, built ships like HMS Victory and provided the timber frames of houses. It made the beer barrels and the casks in which whisky must be matured for at least 3 years. The tannin in oak tanned the animal hide to make leather.

The alder tree loves marshland and gives its name to places like Carlisle as Carr is the name for a woodland of alder. It was ideal for charcoal burning and was a prime ingredient of gunpowder. It also fashioned the clogs of Lancashire.

The common yew often predates the graveyards in which they are often seen. Involved in pagan worship they were incorporated into sites chosen for Christian churches. Long living trees they were used for the longbow which proved such a superior weapon in battles in France. Today taxol is synthesised from yew for the treatment of breast cancer.

The number of apple varieties has reduced greatly in recent years and their limited availability in supermarkets has contributed to this. However the tradition of wassailing on Twelfth Night still prevails when homage is paid to the apple tree. All Bramley apples trees are descended from a seedling grown in Nottinghamshire in 1808.

The Scots Pine is a commercially grown tree used for furniture roof trusses and fences. Its resin is good for firelighting and was once much used for tar and turpentine. The Douglas fir is a valuable tree used for masts and flooring. Tony defended the use of these conifers for re-afforestation in Scotland.

The ash tree has a flexible wood once used for aircraft and coracles. It is still used today for furniture and favoured for bodging on a pole lathe. Already under attack from ash dieback the emerald ash borer now also threatens the trees.

The humble Hawthorn was praised for its stunning blossom and its contribution to the hedgerow tapestry of our landscape.

Tony lamented that so few old trees in more isolated open ground qualified for tree preservation orders.
Tony’s predictions for future developments included more planting for black truffles and the use of advanced computer technology to aid timber cutting. The increasing popularity in the use of biomass fuels also ensures a practical future for trees.

From his boyhood fascination with the sticky buds of the horse chestnut and getting not one but three GCE’s in woodwork Tony Kirkham has achieved a mastery in the realm of arboriculture and passes on his enthusiasm with wit and enthusiasm.

Pamela Adams
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Pamela Adams

In addition to her many other interests, Pam keeps us up to speed on the activities of the Ticknall Garden Club.