11th February 2019
It's Valentine's Day this week - a time where traditionally we profess our love to our sweethearts, sometimes in secret. Well, it's no secret that we love trees and everything they do for us. So consider this blog post a love letter to trees, from us.
The perfect gift
Traditionally, people buy roses for Valentine's Day, which symbolise love. However, we think trees are an even better gift for a loved one, and they last far longer than a bunch of flowers.
The American Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy') is a beautiful gift for someone you love. With its purple heart-shaped leaves and stunning autumn colour, it's a brilliant small tree for a residential garden.
Lime trees (Tilias) also have heart-shaped green leaves and the young leaves are also edible, so can be used in salads or for pesto. All lime tree species can grow fairly large, so if you're buying one for someone we recommend that they are coppiced or pollarded regularly to keep the size manageable.
Lastly, we adore the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonica) which unusually smells like burnt caramel or candyfloss in the autumn when the heart-shaped leaves turn yellow. This tree can work well in a medium to large sized garden but can reach 12m after about 20 years, so make sure it can fit the space before you plant it.
So what do trees do for us, and why do we love them so much?
1. They provide us with food
Fruit, nuts, maple syrup - there's a long list of food that we can get from trees. Native trees like beech and hazel trees provide us with nuts, while apples, pears, cherry and plums all grow prolifically in our UK climate.
Birds are also partial to berries on trees, so even if you're not interested in growing a tree for your own belly, consider choosing a hawthorne, crab apple, elder or rowan, which are all small(ish) trees for gardens and are hugely popular with small birds over the autumn and winter as a choice dining venue.
2. They provide homes for wildlife
A common hawthorne tree can support more than 300 insects, as well as multitudes of small animals and birds. Its leaves are eaten by a number of moth caterpillars, the flowers are eaten by dormice and also provide nectar for bees and other pollinators. The haws (berries) are eaten by redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.
The haws can be used to make a hedgerow jelly or jam, and although not commonly eaten, the young leaves, flowers buds and flowers are all edible.
All trees are a brilliant choice for wildlife, but a hawthorne tree is a fantastic choice if you want to create a wildlife garden.
3. They promote calm
We always knew that taking a walk in a woodland surrounded by ancient towering trees was undoubtedly a good way to reduce stress and take a break from every-day busy life. As we mentioned in our January blog post, Forest Bathing is a concept studied by scientists in Japan. The Japanese Government conducted scientific research that found spending time in a forest could lower blood pressure, lower stress levels and improve memory and concentration.
We're very lucky in the Greater Manchester city region to be surrounded by parks and woodland, even very close to the city centre. So no excuses, get out there and suggest a romantic woodland stroll for Valentine's Day.
4. Prevent flooding
Trees look stunning from the ground upwards, but underground their complex root system does wonderful things as well. Large root systems can help prevent flooding by both binding the soil together and slowing the flow of water by providing drainage channels. The tree canopy itself can also slow the flow of water before it hits the ground.
Just last year, the Guardian reported that farmers in Cumbria had planted willow trees on their land to be used as woodchip biofuel. However an unexpected bonus turned out to be that the mass planting of young Salix trees prevented flooding, saving livestock and land damage, when the River Derwent broke its banks during storms.
5. Sustainable building materials
Trees provide us with timber which is a beautiful material for furniture, flooring and structural building. Timber creates that wonderful smell and texture when used in the home, compared to man-made materials.
We can only recommend using timber and products that have been created from certified sustainable Forestry schemes, such as the Forest Stewardship Council Certification.
6. You can play in them
Everyone has fond memories of climbing trees as a child, or playing on rope swings. Somehow a rope swing from a tree is far more exciting than a standard swing on a frame. And the fun doesn't really end when you grow up - most adults can delight in finding a rope swing, preferably over a huge drop, when out tromping through the woods on a long walk. It's important as adults to still find the time to play and have fun.
So you can see why we love trees and why our mission is to plant a tree for every man, woman and child across Greater Manchester within one generation.
By Carolyn Hughes