Friday, 3 May 2013

The Pros and Cons of Cherry Trees

 Mending Fences

Prunus 'Kanzan' at Fletcher Moss
      Putting up a fence was a procedure which involved the learning of some useful lessons, the most pertinent of which was ‘don’t put up your own fence.’ It seemed a mammoth task to me, and so it proved: each of the rotted wooden posts of the old fence disappeared into the ground through small holes in the adjoining drives. These holes required enlarging considerably to enable the new concrete posts to be installed and this meant spending hours chiselling away at the drive surface. Although I was trying to keep the cost down, I’d eventually had to hire a pneumatic drill powerful enough to cause the bloke next door to fall out of bed. One stump was removed successfully and I  was well into the second when a slight snag occurred. The huge lump of concrete which had been positioned about a foot below the surface to support the old post had given me a lot of trouble. However, I'd finally managed to get it out and it now lay next to the hole like an extracted bad tooth. It appears that most people install a fence post on the basis that there is an imminent likelihood of the Q.E.2 being moored to it (in fact I often have this imaginary picture of a nuclear holocaust which destroys Britain. Everything has gone bar the fence posts. Millions of stark memorials standing in silent tribute to the thoroughness of the do-it-yourselfers). All that remained was to dig the hole slightly deeper and I was doing this when I heard the hissing noise. My first thought was that I had damaged the crust of the earth and gases were escaping, which wasn’t too far off the mark, because gas was escaping. It was coming from the earth alright, but by way of a one inch North Western gas pipe. The one my spade had gone through.

      The smell was terrible. Worms were emerging from the sides of the hole, immediately dropping to the bottom, and lying unconscious. One of the important rules in my life is 'if in doubt, panic', and I enthusiastically applied it here: how do you give a worm the kiss of life? I actually ran to the door twice in order to ring the gas people's emergency number. Each time I ran back because of the recurring vision of a smoker walking past the gate and sending himself and half our estate to the promised land. Thinking about it, this would give further emphasis to the ‘smoking kills’ message on the packets. Eventually my wife appeared in answer to my shouts, assured me that artificial respiration on worms is not practical and rang the gas people. Meanwhile I stood on lookout for suicidal smokers.

      The gas company arrived in various forms, the main one being the men who turn up in vans with flashing lights, look thoughtfully into the hole, inform you that yes, it definitely is a leak but they can’t do anything about it - ‘you’ll have to wait for the gang’. Apparently ‘the gang’ have specialised equipment and expertise which arms them for any contingency, and I was prepared to be impressed. When these heroes eventually arrived in a large van, they produced a roll of what looked like Elastoplast, put some of it round the damaged pipe, brewed up in the back of the van and went. The repair took three minutes and the brew half an hour.

      During this performance the next door neighbour came out and, with unnecessary relish, informed me that all this would cost me a fortune, confirming a worry that had been nagging me from the beginning. When I mentioned this  to one of ‘the gang’ (there were only two of them, making this expression a bit over the top in my opinion), he acknowledged that it would all ‘cost a packet’ and I would have to foot the bill. The stricken expression on my face must have touched a sympathy nerve, because he quickly added, “mind you, there may be a way round it. Just check whether the pilot light on your central ‘eatin’ has gone out.”

      Puzzled, I went in and was surprised to discover that, although the gas was still escaping at this stage, the pilot light was still strong.

      “’Ang on,” he said,  when I’d relayed this information, and he went and knocked on my neighbour’s door and asked him to check his pilot light., It had gone out.

      “Thought that may be the case,” he said, seemingly unaware of the constant hiss and smell of gas accompanying the worm genocide, “You’ve gone through ‘is pipe. It’s been laid just on your side of the fence, on your land.” He said this heavily, with emphasis on each ‘your’. I looked at him fascinated, waiting for the nudge and the wink. It never came. He was too much of a professional for that. “so if I wos you, which I ain’t ( a point which was rather obvious but which I took to convey the fact that the source of this advice was to be kept under my hat), “I’d agree to pay only on the basis that they move 'is pipe across onto ‘is land (indicating my neighbour). “Cost ‘em a bleedin’ sight more to do that,” he added with some satisfaction.

      At this point the smell of gas was getting fairly desperate, and a blackbird, who'd been eyeing the worm carnage with some interest, suddenly fell off his perch. 

      “How deep should the pipe be?” I asked, wondering whether this was another point to be used to my advantage.
      “Well,” he said, “I bury ‘em the distance between me knee an’ me foot.” After imparting this piece of technical information, he stepped ankle deep into dead worms, applied the Elastoplast, and went for a brew, leaving me hoping that not many midgets work for the gasboard.
      When the man came to inspect the work and present us with the bill, I employed the suggested strategy, telling him that payment would be made after the pipe was moved.
      “Well now,” he said, with a smile of satisfaction which made me wonder what wondrous management techniques the gas company had used to engender such loyalty, “in that case, I should think the company’ll pay.”
      And I never heard from any of them again.
      The fence went up fairly easily after that, the only other lesson coming from the exercise being that a piece of string is a useful tool in the putting up of fences. I didn’t use anything to line up the first couple of panels, with the result that, by comparison, next door’s dog has a straighter back leg.

Cherries underplanted with bulbs to prolong interest of area

      Coming back to the unfortunate blackbird: the tree it fell out of was a cherry, a tree currently at its floral best.   Although the flowers can be magnificent, its character bears a bit more consideration before you rush to the garden centre and fork out for one. In a large garden with room for other plants to give interest at different times, the cherry takes some beating. However, the period of interest is short, the flowering season coinciding with that of strong winds, hail and rain so that the flowers quickly become a carpet rather than a ceiling. In a small garden this means that a ten day show of beauty has to be contrasted with a boring display for the rest of the year, the cherry usually not being remarkable for attractive foliage or autumn colour. The tendency to have shallow roots which lurk in the grass awaiting the unsuspecting mower blade is another disadvantage.

      The ubiquitous Prunus 'Kanzan' takes some beating in the right setting and it is used very effectively in Fletcher Moss Gardens, a place I once worked: the brevity of its display was recognised by the head gardener and the period of interest considerably lengthened by underplanting with bulbs. Many early flowering bulbs grow naturally under deciduous trees and so need to go through the growing and flowering stage before leaves appear overhead, cutting out light and preventing growth. In this way, crocuses, snowdrops dwarf narcissi and various other subjects provide a breathtaking display succeeded, as they finish, by the equally impressive 'Kanzan'.

      The theme of continuing interest is an important tool of the good gardener and there are many ways of achieving it. Growing climbers like clematis or roses up decorative trees to augment their host's flowering period at a different time can be useful in this way, as is careful choice of plants for successional performance. Having this property in a single plant is also an important consideration: a tree like Amelanchier lamarkii rewards not only with attractive white flowers in spring but gives a follow-up of fiery orange autumn colour. In a similar way the Sorbuses (mountain ash) offer flowers, good autumn colour and top it with  an opulent fruit display. The fruit has a secondary advantage of attracting wildlife to the garden in the form of foraging birds. Sorbus vilmorinii is the one I'd recommend for the smaller garden, reaching about fifteen foot high and sporting fruit which age from bright red through pink to white.

Prunus serrula

Close up of  bark

 But returning to cherries, one which does have ongoing interest is Prunus serrula, with its attractive glossy brown bark. Its flowers are nothing to write home about but the bark is remarkable enough to merit the plant's inclusion in any garden.

      A final observation: if you are into growing a cherry for its fruit, make sure you choose one which is self-compatible pollination-wise (Stella fits this criterion). They are also available grafted onto root stocks which ensure they don't get bigger than your allotted space. 'Gisela' only gets to nine foot, for example. Finally, be prepared to enter battle with the pigeons. A friend of mine hung so many strips of silver paper and old c.d's in his cherry that  it looked like a particularly garish Christmas tree. Adding insult to injury, the pigeons saw the cherries as part of  the seasonal spirit and ate the lot. 

1 comment:

  1. John, you've got me laughing (too many parts to list), crying (the worm and bird parts), learning (the cherry part), all in one single post! Bravo! But you could've at least attempted artificial respiration on the bird.