Thursday, 13 October 2011

Free Range Gardening

Vast swathes of Scotland are planted with man-made forests.  Line after line of fir trees standing in neat rows . They give a uniform look to the hills and glens . The mist clings to them , deer shelter in them , birds nest in them , but they can look very boring ! I fully understand the need for these sustainable forests , I also ungerstand the huge profit that can be made by uber-rich individuals with enough money to invest in such a long term venture .
Aberdeenshire has many of these forests , the rich soil of the region is ideal for growing a variety of plants and trees .
When we first moved to Aberdeenshire we lived on a brand new esate beside the River Don . The gardens were just squares or rectangles of grass with no flowers , trees or distinguishing features whatsoever . My next door neighbour , Esther and I worked hard to make our gardens reflect our unique individuality, but the local  Garden Centre had nothing in the way of saplings and so our designs lacked height .
We were very alike and both disliked the uniform look of the man-made forests that stretched for miles all around our village . But most of all we hated the devastation that accompanied the logging operations when it was time for the trees to be  'harvested' .
Over the years , while the forests were growing , other trees had crept around the edges . Seeded by wind or animals , pretty  Rowan trees dripping with orange berries and slender  Silver  Birch , with its tactile bark , had mingled with the ubiquitous fir trees . Unwanted by the timber merchants , these trees were indiginous to the area , they had a right to be there .
However,  we had both seen what happened to these gorgeous trees . When the lumberjacks arrived with their heavy lorries and caterpillar tractors , chainsaws and cranes , the tender trees were destroyed . Crushed underfoot , ground into the soil by wheels , in the quest to reach the main prize ; the firs .
We often passed these logging areas and saw the poor broken branches , squashed saplings and bare roots lying dicarded beside the piles of neatly cut timber .
Now  Esther and I were always involved in some madcap scheme . ( see my blog entry  "The Roup" )  Our husbands both worked away from home most of the time and so we had plenty of opportunities to be as silly as we liked with no  'grown-ups' to supervise us !!  So when we found out , through the grapevine , that part of a forest very close to the village was  due to be cut down , we resolved to do something to save some of the little trees .  In retrospect , I'm sure this was all totally illegal but we didn't think about that !!

Well , bright and early the next morning , after my son and Esthers daughter had been bundled off to school , we grabbed our gardening gloves and my 3yr old daughter  Louisa  and set off for the forest .  We took  Esthers estate car as it would be a lot more suitable than my silly little MGB roadster , we had plans !!
It was a sweltering hot late Spring morning and we were already far too warm in our sweatshirts and jeans , but we were on a mission and there would be midges where we were going .
We pulled into the forest road and followed the bumpy track for a few yards and then stopped in a little clearing . The air was still and heavy with the heat and the only sound was that of  birds singing and the occasional flap of wings as we disturbed a wood pigeon perched on a nearby branch .
And then we set to our task , carefully uprooting the little  Birch saplings and  Rowan trees that were growing around the edges of the main forest . The ground was rich and peaty and so it was fairly easy to just pull and pull until the roots slowly slipped from the soil . And of course, we were very determined !  We walked further into the forest , Louisa trailing behind , attempting to  'help' by pulling up sticks and grass . We carefully carried the trees back to the car each time and deposited them in a neat pile . A pile which was growing larger !
By now sweat was running down our backs , I am only 5ft 2ins and weighed 7st , soaking wet . Esther was about the same , so we were exhausted . Leaves and twigs in our hair , faces pink with the heat and the famous  Scottish midges biting any exposed bit of skin , we must have looked like  Worzel Gummidge !!
On and on we worked , always going for  " Just one more " until we eventually turned and surveyed our pile of trees . It was enormous ! Oh dear, our enthusiasm always did run away with us . How on earth were we going to get everything into the car ?
We were all tired and completely parched , this was back in the days before everyone went round with a bottle of  Evian permanently attached to their person . But we had to save the trees , so we popped poor Louisa into the back seat and then began threading trees around her . We piled them into the back of the car , through the tailgate . We poked them out of the windows on the passenger side . We stuck them up through the sunroof , there were trees everywhere . We used the belt off my jeans  to secure the tailgate as tree branches trailed out of the car , almost touching the ground . Then I squeezed into the passenger seat and  Esther placed the remaining saplings all around me . Then we set off !
We had about 3 miles to travel home and Louisa and I were completely covered in trees . Even Esther had limited vision through the windscreen , it was going to be an interesting journey.  We were fine as long as Esther drove in the middle of the road , but it got a bit hairy when oncoming vehicles appeared , With so many branches sticking out , we couldnt really pull over to the left very easily . I dont think we stopped laughing the whole 3 miles . What a sight we must have been , trees poking out of every window and growing out of the sunroof , like some mobile woodland .
As we approached the village we noticed some people strolling along the pavement . They had to dodge out of the way to avoid being hit by stray branches , protruding from my window . I tried to avoid their stares , thinking they would be annoyed and shout abuse . But , instead they just smiled indulgently as though to say ,
" Oh its those two again . the mad English women "

We finally reached home , desperate for a cool drink, but first we had to unload so that we could retrieve poor  Louisa , who had been so quiet during the journey that we feared the worse !  However , there she was , like a  'Babe in the Wood' , fast asleep in a nest of branches ! 
Well, dear reader , we began counting the saplings as we unloaded ........ we stopped counting after we got to 80 !!!    Good heavens , 80 trees to plant ........ we had forgotten about that part .
We worked for the rest of the day and well into the night , digging and planting and watering .  Children foraged for their own suppers , pots were left unwashed , until at last the final tree was in its new home .
Esther and I had the prettiest , most wooded gardens in the area .

Perhaps I will tell you all about the  'Rockery' sometime  !!

Well, now that I have told you this story , I suppose I should expect a visit from the  Forestry Commission and the  NSPCC .


  1. OMG I love it, I was laughing out loud at the picture of the journey home!!

  2. 80!!! oh noooo this made me LOL :)) Paula xx

  3. that's such a wonderful story, would love to know what Louisa remembers of it! Howling at the vision of the car with 80 trees poking out everywhere, so ..... just where did you manage to plant them all?? or can't you say? ;D

  4. I hope this doesn't give other people ideas! We have a small forestry, yes, boring sitka spruce, but EU regulations dictate that around the margins we have to plant 20% diversity: indigenous trees: Silver birch and alder mostly! Potential tree-robbers take note: these aren't up for grabs! Hahahahaha!! Lovely blog @Tearose68, and absolutely no need of accompanying photographs because you write so beautifully we can *see* it all! :) xxxxx