Looking out at the trio of Wellingtonias that dwarf the boundary of my property in leafy Surrey, I’ve come to the belated but gratifying realisation that I do, after all, have something money can’t buy: limitless investment can modify a property beyond recognition before a buyer moves in, but you can’t always deliver a garden peppered with handsome trees.
Buying agent Nick Ashe of Property Vision believes that a mature landscape accounts for 10% of the asking price, and can also break a deal. ‘Whether a house is grand, a new-build, big or small, if it sits like a pimple with no trees, then it’s a poorer site,’ he says. ‘It depends on how it enhances the view, but at the top end of the market, an avenue of beech as you crunch up the drive really does it for buyers. Some will drive past and not be interested if the grounds lack trees.’
If you’re stuck with a ‘pimple’, however, there is some hope. Modern demand for instant everything has seen a 500% growth in nurseries specializing in semi-mature trees over the past 20 years. For about £600, you can have a 30ft tulip tree delivered to your lawn tomorrow, although it will look somewhat spindly-it takes 200 years for a trunk to assume the girth of a majestic lime or copper beech.
Although transplanting semi mature trees once had a 35% failure rate-tolerable if you’ve planted an entire wood, less so if three judiciously sited new trees are key to privacy or a parkland vista-techniques have changed for the better. Royal Warrant holder Barcham of Ely – Britain’s largest supplier of semi-mature trees-employs special white containers that encourage tree roots to grow downwards, rather than in the unnatural sphere of conventional tub-grown trees. ‘Our trees have effectively started in “intensive care”, and because of the way we grow the root ball, they’re well set up to cope with the lag while they re-establish their roots,’ explains Barcham’s Ellen Carvey.
It may also be cost-effective to relocate trees within a site- a popular option when a house is demolished, replaced and the grounds re-landscaped. Karl Stuckey of Nature First in Gloucester says six 30ft trees can be replanted in a day for £1,000. Almost anything is possible: Mr Stuckey recently crane-lifted a 40-footer over the roof of a Cheltenham hotel. However, not all tree species are made equal, so it’s important to choose the appropriate one for your needs and location.
Broadleaf trees are considered more efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide than most evergreens, but evergreens can be better at screening noise and securing privacy, simply because they keep their leaves all year round. Alder, river birch, scarlet willow and swamp cypress are suitable for wet soil; honey locust, Pride of India and olive trees are good for dry soil; and sycamore, aspen and holm oak are perfect for coastal or exposed sites.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, oak, hornbeam, beech, yew and trees with edible fruit and nuts are ideal for traditional English grounds. Ornamental trees are the 21st-century vogue, although aspiring arboriculturists should rein in extreme personal taste if a future property sale beckons. Manna ash and Juneberry (white flowers), sweet gum (Worplesdon for crimson autumn colour) and Persian ironwood (purple and gold) are current big-sellers, as is anything with bark interest, such as Himalayan birch. Also popular (but not instantly achievable) are climbable trees.
‘People who’ve made money in the City are looking for blocks of woodland for shooting, but I’ve also detected interest in playground potential, for trees such as cedar, with wide-spreading branches,’ notes independent buying agent Colin Mackenzie. ‘Tree houses (subject to planning and listed consents) are much more a part of the country-house scene than 10 years ago.’ Whatever your reason for wanting trees, however, Mark Wheeler of Hamptons International stresses the need for expert advice on their location, soil type and climate change.
‘A well-maintained appearance is essential for safety,’ he advises. ‘Buyers must factor in year by- year tree surgery and, often, because it’s an involved job, it can’t be done all in one go.’ He adds: ‘The average person’s recognition and understanding of trees is quite basic. Most people would recognise an oak, if pushed.
They will pay for something someone else has already sorted out, but this doesn’t relieve you of responsibility for what your trees will look like in 50 years’ time.’
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