It took us entirely by surprise, but we walked into a house a couple of weeks ago and both thought ‘yes, this will be a very happy place to live’. We put in an offer to buy it within 24 hours. Not often known for our swift decision-making, we spent slightly less time looking at the house than I would usually spend choosing a jumper. Or a fridge. In fact, we once spent so long trying to chose a fridge, when first married, that we left the shop without one and, on explaining this to my mother, she let it be known that she worried for our future together. On the decision-making front, anyway.
On the drive home from the house viewing, it transpired that Zam had fallen for the trees. A mulberry, a walnut and a fig. In other respects, the house we’re now hoping to buy didn’t fulfill our wishlist, on which there was only one real criterion: water. A river or stream. Not for fishing, but for the feel, the light, the movement, all of which seem to me to have healing properties. There isn’t any-but we fell in love with the landscape (in a different county to the one we originally had in mind) and the feel. And, very specifically, the trees. I hadn’t realised that leaving the trees planted at the house we’d lived in for some years would be such a wrench. Now, with a new place and new trees in mind, I’m much happier about looking back and being honest about the failures as well as the successes.
One of the things that most worried us when making our previous garden was that we’d built a treehouse in the ancient walnut tree, which never looked healthy again. I still don’t know if we mortally wounded it or whether it was on the way out anyway a consultant muttered something about root-plate dieback-but we both feel guilty about it. We planted an avenue of limes (avenue may be grandiose) that thrived and some fastigiate oaks that took years to get going. We were given a beautiful amalanchier for Christmas seven years ago, which stood happily in a corner.
The late wedding present of crab apples was reliably cheerful. The circle of five birch trees never took off and the Jubilee oak didn’t make it to its second year, although, strangely, the oak tree planted by Will in nursery school, which survived four years in a pot on a roof terrace, turned into a gloriously vigorous if misshapen dwarf, growing in the dank and shady armpit of a giant, ugly sycamore. There was the pear tree under which we dug the ashes of Phoebe, our first dog, and the box hedge under which Rosie, the first guinea pig-having been wrapped in a tea towel lovingly placed in a basket by the children-was buried. A friend who was staying for this traumatic event wondered cheerfully if they were carrying a baguette towards lunch.
There were the trees from which Zam patiently cut through the ivy-these were on the road, nothing to do with our garden. And the three sweet chestnuts he planted on a grassy triangle near the house. The lollipop tree we could see on the horizon from our bedroom and which we vowed to walk to one day, but never did. I’m not sentimental enough to try to transplant any of these trees (unlike the bathroom door, which had our children’s heights pencilled on it and which we had to remove weeks after the new owners moved in).
I believe in cutting down a tree if it’s in the wrong place, but I was slightly shocked last night when a friend told me that she plans to chop down the mulberry tree currently blocking all light from her kitchen. Zam and I poured passionate remonstrations down the telephone line until she explained that she’d actually planted the tree 10 years ago (from a graft, she said dismissively), so she had no reservations about getting rid of it. Age, species, where, when and why they were planted: it’s the time of year when you tend to look back, but with a fig, a mulberry and walnut ahead, I’m beginning to look forward.
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