Last Monday, here in Sussex, we experienced some pretty strong winds – certainly the strongest I can remember in the last ten years, or thereabouts. So, when I left for work on Tuesday morning, I wasn’t surprised to see the passage between the house and the garage festooned with leaves, mostly from our garden’s 60ft weeping willow tree, among others.
This magnificent willow is, at a rough estimate, 70-80 years old. There appear to be several others in the gardens extending to either side of us, causing me to postulate that they may have been planted either to border the orchard that once grew as part of the farm on which our houses were built, or perhaps simply as an architectural whim to adorn the gardens of the new plots set out for home-owners. Whichever, it has to be said that ours has probably been the least tended over the intervening years, being allowed to grow naturally to its current height and shape, shedding boughs when the mood has taken it and, usually, losing most of its leaves in the late Autumn, quite often in one night, when a strong wind blows through. By comparison, those I see from my upstairs windows in our neighbours’ gardens are shorter, neater, more regular and altogether better looked after. I love ours the most though. In the height of Summer the sight of it draping itself across the bottom half of our garden never fails to fill me with a kind of serenity, and a sense that everything could never be anything but alright all the while that nature makes stuff that looks that great. The picture below shows its bottom half. Including the borders, our garden measures approximately 50ft across. The willow’s spread is, I’d estimate, about 35ft.
I have occasionally wondered about the health of our specimen, given that it never quite manages the dark green leaves of those trees I see alongside waterways and in parks. Also it, perhaps unusually, seems to shed its first growth of leaves not long after sprouting them in the Spring. They turn yellow and carpet the newly mown lawn during April. I use it as my excuse to mow the lawn more often than necessary (a job I love), using the mower simply as a vacuum cleaner. I have been reassured though that it is in good condition by successive tree-surgeons.
Back to Tuesday morning. As I left the house for work and saw the leaves, in the semi-darkness of the dawn I took a quick glance to my right into the garden, up to the top branches of the tree, to confirm that it had indeed been stripped almost completely. But it must have been a very fleeting look because I was not prepared for the sight I found when I got home shortly after lunch. One of the three major boughs of the tree had fallen across the garden.
Strangely I can write what I said, as swearing seemed simply to elude me in my shock. “Oh. My. Word”, was all I could muster. It stopped me in my tracks. I put down my bag, placed my keys back in my pocket and walked properly into the garden to see the full damage. This photo, that I took on my phone is a little deceptive as some of the uppermost branches have disappeared into the burnt out sky, so more is left than is obvious here. Nonetheless, there is a pretty big hole in the tree. I spent the following hour or so looking at it and photographing it, before picking up the children from school and bringing them home to see the damage. My son’s reaction was to ask “Daddy, what have you done?” while my daughter simply cried. To be fair, lately, that seems to be her reaction to anything out of the ordinary (for example, last night she cried when she heard my name mentioned on a local radio station because it was ‘too embarrassing’) but nevertheless I thought it was rather sweet.
My estimate is that the bough weighs around 500kg. It has fallen onto, and thus damaged, a large variegated shrub that my wife has never particularly liked, it being rather spiky and too tall to easily prune. Several branches are stopping the main bough from reaching the ground in its entirety and have dug themselves who knows how far into our clay soil.
On Saturday, I began the task of cutting it apart. I don’t own a chainsaw, but I have a good friend who does. He and I will make logs of it next week, should we both not be too hungover after seasonal excesses. In the meantime, I took my trusy loppers and bowsaw to the thinner (relatively) branches, while my son helped remove my cuttings to the concrete behind the workshop at the top of the garden. My daughter helped by raking up leaves for a a short while, but soon got bored. My son, to his credit, worked like a hero for two non-stop hours.
We made good use of our garden trolley and, after a couple of hours of sawing, clipping, piling and raking we had reduced the mess to what you see below.
Eventually it got too dark to continue, but we congratulated ourselves on our hard work and achievements and resolved to continue the next day. By the end of yesterday, it looked like this:
In addition to the remains above, there were 3 steadily increasing piles of stuff around the garden. On the concrete up by the house we had most of the whippy ‘weeping’ ends, while on the grass were two piles – one of longer thicker branches ending in whippy/weepy stuff, and another of thicker, heavier sections, removed on the second day. Today, we moved everything into one pile on the concrete:
Next week, we’ll chainsaw the final large part into pieces. There looks to be around 200kg of it. The larger stuff will become firewood for next Winter, though I’ve been told that willow can be ‘a bit spitty’. The future for the tree seems safe. Because it is currently dormant, we can apparently cut off the damaged bough with no danger of damaging the tree. My biggest sadness is that it will now probably take until the children reach adulthood before the tree regains something approaching its previous splendour. The rest of their childhood will be without the benefit of its low hanging branches to hide in, to seek shade in, to chase in and out of. My son was philosophical however. He came up up with two advantages. No longer will I have to fight through it all while mowing the lawn and, seasonally influenced this one I think – Father Christmas will have more room to land.