If you’ve visited my garden you’ll remember the beautiful Coral Bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) that has delighted us for 25 years. I loved the way the red tips of the stems lit up in the winter sunshine and then the spring bud burst and warm Autumn colours were equally beautiful. I was very attached to that tree.
So I was devastated when it became apparent that my tree was sick. Autumn colour began arriving earlier each year and by last summer there was substantial dieback of some branches. The tree surgeon confirmed my worst fears. The tree had a fungal infection and was dying. It seems 25 years isn’t too bad a lifespan for such a highly selected ornamental tree.
My first thought was that we’d have to move house! How could we continue without the focal point of the garden? That tree felt so important.
But then after a while other thoughts crept in. Losing the maple might open other possibilities for the garden, away from the manicured and the exotic. These days I allow plants to self seed and I encourage anything that is good for wildlife. My garden aesthetic is less Chelsea Flower Show and more Wimbledon Common. More native plants and less control on my part; more collaboration with nature and a gentle editing of what it provides.
A plan emerged. The maple for all its beauty rarely had a bird in its branches. This exotic did not provide a home for the invertebrates that birds feed on, whereas the gnarled old crab apple nearby is constantly teeming with birds even including a pair of tiny goldcrests. So I decided to replace the maple with a native species. I chose multi stemmed silver birch, locally very common, full of wildlife, and very beautiful.
So it has happened. The maple has gone. We will have photographs to remember it and possibly some wooden spoons that my husband may whittle from the trunk. In its place is a small grove of silver birches under-planted with foxgloves. Later I will add bluebells and cowslips and there it will be, a little woodland glade leading to the meadow beyond. It’s been hard work but it already looks good to us. We’re very much looking forward to bud break this Spring!
The lesson I keep learning in the garden is that everything changes, nothing can stay the same. We can mourn the losses but then we can turn towards new opportunities and maybe something that’s even better. It’s a lesson for life but a garden is a good place to practice.
I very much hope you will come to visit the garden in the Spring to welcome the new arrivals. I’ll be sending out the timetable of my Contemplative Garden openings at the beginning of March.