The land on which we live and garden used to be a farm until our estate was built on it some 45 years ago. At least in part the layout seems to have been informed by the field boundaries and our garden is bounded on two sides by what is left of the Cornish hedge that bounded the field. Cornish hedges range from well constructed dry stone walls backfilled with soil to soil banks held up by a stone facing on either side. Ours would have been more soil bank than stone wall.
The “hedge” was topped by a hedge. That is to say, vegetation grew along the top of the bank, much of it woody, a mix of native trees plus brambles and wild roses. It was probably kept cut down to two or three feet above the soil bank, perhaps with a tree left to grow at intervals.
In one corner of our garden is an oak tree, growing in the “hedge”, probably part of the original hedge that grew away when the farm became housing. Exactly whose property the tree is on is not clear. The property boundaries as marked on the deeds show a line along the middle of the old “hedge”. But two of our neighbours, marked as 1 and 2 on the diagram, wanted rid of the soil bank and replaced it with a fence. In so doing, both have grabbed a bit of land from us, including the bit that included a quarter of the tree.
The hedge line is 30° west of North/South, so the tree casts its shadow along the fence line well before noon, even in summer.
Neighbour 3 has sheds, big ones, up to our shared boundary. The rest of his garden is paved. He is not a gardener. The tree barely shades his garden. I’ve never met Neighbour 3 and have no idea how they regard the tree.
Neighbour 2 gets shade in the morning, then a brief spell of sun before their house shades their garden for the rest of the day. She wants the tree removed. I know Neighbour 2 all too well, having had dealings with her regarding replacing the “hedge” with a fence. Neighbour 2 would be a hard person to please. She has a husband but his opinion in the matter is unknown.
Neighbour 1 is not shaded by the tree at all but it drops leaves and acorns on the top bit of his garden where he is laying a concrete slab and intends to put a shed and glasshouse. They are not gardeners either.
Most of the shade cast by the tree falls on our garden. The prevailing westerly winds mean that most of the leaves fall on our garden. I have bent with the wind and turned that corner into a shade garden, taking advantage of the conditions to grow a range of suitable plants. As the tree gets bigger, and it is in rude health and growing steadily, the shade we get spreads further, especially in winter when the sun is low, though equally, the tree is bare and nothing much is growing anyway. I speak of it as my one tree woodland.
About a year ago I contacted the council and enquired about the possibility of getting a tree preservation order applied to the tree. They sent someone out, who looked at it from various angles, agreed that it was a prominent landscape feature, took notes and measurements and left. We never heard back and I have just looked at the Cornwall County Council Interactive Map and it is not marked as having a TPO. I suppose it may have been designated but the map not updated, but I doubt it.
It may be for the best. At least if I change my mind and we all agree it has to go, we can get it done. I can crown lift it and crown reduce it without needing permission too.
Apart from the fact that I like it and that its detrimental features affect mostly me, it is much the biggest tree in this area of housing and one of the few of any size at all. I strongly believe that urban landscapes need to be broken up with natural features like trees, helping to provide for wildlife and generally improving the look and feel of large blocks of rather uniform housing. There is not a single tree in the whole village with a TPO on it, nor any areas designated as TPO order areas. Time and again trees get cut down around about because the landowners, usually farmers, are not constrained from doing so in any way.
To continue the rant briefly, I despair when I see so much effort going into planting trees and so little into preserving the ones we already have. In terms of carbon sequestration and every possible environmental consideration, that is insane.
The tree is a Common Oak, Quercus robur, one of our two native oaks and much the more common in the south and east of England. They are famously and largely wrongly, regarded as very long lived, based on a misapprehension about their rate of growth, which is nowhere near as slow as it is often thought to be.
Another oft repeated falsehood about oaks is that they are deep rooted. Like many plants, the root that emerges from an acorn goes straight down like a carrot. Even one year old seedlings a few inches tall are hard to pull out. However, in a very few years shallow lateral roots develop and the original root loses dominance and when a big tree blows down, the root plate is as shallow as a beech tree.
There is considerable debate about whether Common Oak is a woodland tree or would more naturally grow in a savannah type landscape. Our tree could have ended up as a farmland tree and might have enjoyed an undisturbed root run in pasture or had its roots trashed regularly by cultivations. Where it is now it has roots under sheds, under grass and under our mostly undug garden. The small sector that is to go under concrete shouldn’t bother it over much, I’d be more worried about the concrete getting lifted. I don’t dig in its root area other than to dig up and plant other things and I don’t encounter oak roots when I do. Most of the leaves that fall in that area are left to rot down; I clean the paths and take them off low plants that they would smother.
It seems like a happy tree. It has grown quite rapidly, it seems healthy and its structure seems sound and robust. It has two trunks from the base which is far from ideal but there isn’t a narrow and weak crotch between them (they may even be separate trees) so I see no cause for concern. Barring hostilities breaking out, it will outlast me. This year it produced a prodigious acorn crop, every one of which seems to have germinated, in most cases putting down a root but not putting up a shoot yet. I let one group of three or four grow about three years ago, thinning them down to one, at a short distance further in to our garden. If the big tree goes for whatever reason, I have a replacement under way.
If I’m still alive and here in 15-20 years time I will plant acorns all over the garden and just let them grow. It can be my legacy.