Tree Trials

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A mixture of tree species after ten years – aspen towards the back

I was obsessed with aspen for some time. I hoarded it, and tried to propagate the seeds. I lost my ability to see it as part of a wider list of trees, and for a while I worked on the assumption that aspen alone would cure all the ills I felt on the hill.

So in reclaiming a few patches of ground to plant a decade ago, I filled one with aspen saplings. These did well enough and made a good start, but now I begin to see the shortcomings of my initial enthusiasm. I was trying to make certain trees grow in conditions which did not suit them, and most of this was down to my own ignorance.

Almost all of my scots pine trees died because I planted them in soil that was too wet. Many of my hawthorns grew into short, tormented claws because the wind ran through them at a sprint and never gave them peace to expand. Rowan usually did well, but oak was a write-off. I got hung up on the spectrum of birches which lie between downy and silver. Most of my ground is too wet for silver birch to grow well and fast, and while downy birch is better suited to bog holes, it doesn’t grow well or fast even then. The greatest victor has been alder, which has done so well that I have begun to treat those catkins and the green, spoony leaves as the farm’s sigil; a cracked, droopy stem rising out of the water.

And in aspen, I have found only moderate success. A few of the first trees I planted are now more than fifteen feet tall, and some have begun to send up suckers. But it doesn’t infest the space like a healthy tree would. It’s standoffish and cool, and while I’m sure it will play a part in the future, I’m left wondering if I tried to press a round peg into a square hole.

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