Tree following in February


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When I woke up yesterday morning, having wandered about on the riverbank taking pictures of our walnuts on Friday afternoon, I felt quite sure that the two young trees (around which we have been so lovingly mowing circles for two years) were for the chop. In the picture above you can see the two youngsters in their little circles, with the two mother trees by the riverbank, but still inside the garden boundary.

It just felt right to add something that would give me more joy than these do (and I bought a small red oak, Quercus rubra, in November). I’m quite bothered by the effect of the juglone-exuding roots on other (eventual) plantings in their vicinity.

But then I started looking at the mature trees more closely and realised that they both had ivy growing up them. Now, contrary to popular belief, ivy does not kill trees – what it does is take them over and eventually bring them down when they are in the last years of their life. That ivy is a warning – a bit like the wrinkles on my face.

And we do want some walnuts (Nick’s dream of making walnut oil may always just be a dream, but I make nut loaves and add nuts to quite a lot of the vegetarian food I prepare). If we leave the young trees they will be there, waiting in the wings, to take over when the old trees topple.  So I think the jury’s still out. And ‘my’ tree’s branches do make rather pretty patterns against the village church.

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For a bit of a change, I thought I’d go and look at the trees from the riverbank.
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This picture is looking back up at the house and the Châtillon skyline through our rickety old garden gate.
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The tree above is the supposed ‘mother’ of the tree I’m watching. It has less ivy encroaching than the other – but it’s still there. This is the tree I am imagining is the American native, Juglans nigra, because that species exudes the most juglone and the ground under the tree is much more bare than it is under the other.Tree Following February 129

Juglans nigra, or Black Walnut, has smaller green husks than the common or English Walnut (Juglans regia).  The nut itself has a much harder casing, and the flavour is described as stronger, ‘earthier’. They also stain your hands more than those of English Walnut. Walnuts have divided (pinnate) leaves and Black Walnut has more pairs of leaflets than English Walnut. The leaflets are more lance-shaped, narrower, and much more pointed at the tips. English Walnut has leaves which, although still pointed, are more rounded at the tips.

Unfortunately I’ve a long while to wait to compare their leaves – until mid to late May. Today I discovered an excellent key to walnut species on I think I’ll be referring to it many times over the course of the year.

Croqueurs 042This is the tree I am imagining to be the English Walnut or common walnut (Juglans regia). It was introduced by John Tradescant to Britain before 1656 and is the preferred walnut for culinary purposes, with a milder flavour than the Black Walnut (although the black species does seems to have its aficionados, as I gathered during a hasty internet trawl). Juglans regia has a great natural ability to produce variable offspring. It seems that British monasteries were probably the first to recognise and make use of this variability in searching for trees with the best quality of fruit. Dutch arboriculturists and nurserymen continue the search.

I’m starting to wonder, in fact, if we just have five different variations of Juglans regia in the garden – which might explain why they come into leaf at different times. Apparently cultivars were selected for frost-resistance (as well as quality of nuts), a problem in cultivated walnut. I’m imagining now that our ‘late-leafer’ baby has been damaged by frost as the foliage emerges – not that it actually comes into leaf so much later. Given that walnuts are so highly prized in France, it seems likely that the two old trees were actually planted at the edge of the garden where they would interfere least, but still supply the desirable nuts. I’ve been assuming that the babies are just that … so will be showing the normal natural variations.

But hang on a minute – someone’s thrown a spanner in the works. I read very clearly in David More and John White’s Trees of Britain and Northern Europe that: ‘this is a tree for warm, dryish soils; it hates cold, wet clays. So what on earth have we got here in a part of the garden that is usually flooded (albeit briefly) at least once a year? And on our heavy clay soil?

The riddle of our walnuts is becoming more complicated. Only my Tree Following this year has a chance to sort it.

Tree Following February 022Meanwhile I stumbled about over winter-fallen wood on the riverbank, with my small furry friend, and noticed that we had a bit of clearing up to do.



Tree Following February 041The stones in the middle of the little river Apance are the remnants of the pedestrian bridge that walkers (myself included) and fishermen use to access the woods opposite. The walking stones were dragged away by the strong current during winter storms last year. No one can cross over to enjoy the woodland any more. Hopefully the village will repair it soon. Tree Following February 037
Looking back up from the river bank to the village silhouetted up above.
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It was the kind of afternoon you really treasure in February – I think the temperature was up to 8 degrees C. As you can imagine, most of the other trees down here are willow. We enjoy the shapes that all of them make – especially when the river floods and they stand up to their knees in water.

I’m glad that Nick strimmed ‘our’ bit of bank last year, although there’s a fair bit of fallen wood on the ground now. We dragged our deck chairs down and enjoyed a glass of wine among the nettles one fine evening last August. It’s not our land, it belongs to the village, but we’d like to start looking after it properly and make more of it – it’s lovely and soggy down here, and we have such a dry garden!

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This is my contribution to the Tree Following meme that Lucy Corrander hosts at Loose and Leafy. Her posting this month is, as usual, packed with great shots (particularly of Weymouth and ‘cats’ of the unfurry kind). This is what happens when you enjoy going off piste! I need to learn …
Here are the links to the other Tree Following posts on her site, which you’ll really enjoy if trees are what ‘floats your boat’ (I think I spent too long looking at Lucy’s pictures of Weymouth!).

Hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow(ish) with news of my exploits at the Croqueurs de Pommes scion market today. Meanwhile, from my walnut trees and I, have a special evening …

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18 thoughts on “Tree following in February

  1. Donna@Gardens Eye View

    I look forward to seeing what walnut trees you discover are growing. I lived near a grove of black walnuts for years….they grow tall and not much grows under them….this will be fun to see what you discover.

    1. Cathy Post author

      That’s interesting Donna – I’d really welcome the comments of people like you over the next year – people who have experience of living with walnuts.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the pics. I’m looking forward to looking at them more ‘knowingly’ this year after living with them for three.

  2. bittster

    Your mature walnuts really do have a solid grace to them, I’ll be interested to hear about what their ID turns out to be. Black walnuts are one of my least favorite trees but yours have such a nice form to them I’m going to think they’re the English type.
    Your riverfront will be a nice retreat for summer days!

    1. Cathy Post author

      That’s interesting Bittster … and yes, studying their overall form over the next year will help with the ID (lucky we are so high up so it’s easy to see their shapes!). Hopefully we’ll spend many more happy times down by the river. It was something we always planned to do.

  3. Chloris

    What a lovely post. You live in such a beautiful place. I have a mature walnut and although the squirrels always beat us to the walnuts I keep the tree because it is so beautiful. The bark is amazing.
    I shall enjoy watching your walnut through the year.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Chloris – and how nice to have a positive walnut report! Many people say not very nice things about them! I presume yours is Juglans regia?

  4. Beatrix Everett

    Beautiful pictures and romantic description. I miss our huge ancient walnut tree we had in OM. – you probably know that the green outer shell was/is used as a dye.
    Looking forward to your future endeavours… Beatrix

    1. Cathy Post author

      Oh Beatrix – how welcome you are here! I have wonderful memories of your walnut too. One of the reasons I am thinking so hard about ours. Take care and hope to see you soon.

  5. Lucy Corrander

    I’d not heard the term ‘Mother Tree’ till I read this. (Is it traditional or did you invent it?) And the post itself is like the beginning of a complicated detective story. A plot with lots of suspects. (Pleased you liked the Weymouth pictures.)

    1. Cathy Post author

      Invented by me Lucy! I am imagining we have seedlings in the garden, but could be wrong. Enjoyed Weymouth so much! Looking forward to your March post.

  6. islandthreads

    Cathy I found following your thoughts and explanations on walnut trees interesting, I would not bother too much that ‘experts’ say the trees prefer dry soils when yours is growing in damp soil, the one thing I have come to realise is that the ‘experts’ are frequently wrong, you show some lovely photos and I can see why sipping wine by the river on summer evenings is appealing, your furry friend looks nice and cuddly, your comments about ivy are interesting to me as I tried to get some to grow up one of my pines and it refuses I gave up, the pine was/is young so I am now wondering if that has something to do with the ivy not growing up it, Frances

    1. Cathy Post author

      I think you are very probably right about the experts, Frances. In fact when Nick (husband) came back he explained to me his theory about the walnuts and it was the reverse of mine. We will see what is what. I’d say that if your ivy sat there long enough, it would grow up the pine! As with many things, time will tell!


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