Beeches, in memoriam
My father-in-law was a great tree planter. When we first moved here to take over the running of the estate from him, we used to joke that he, like Nature, abhorred a vacuum: wherever there was a space, he had stuck in another tree. Many of the saplings he planted are now reaching maturity, such as the avenue of beeches which he planted to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. (It’s quite a thought that we are now in the position of being able to plant trees for the Diamond Jubilee this year.)
It is ancient conifers which predominate, however, in the policies (grounds) of this castle. These overgrown Christmas trees can be hard to tell apart and, as a young bride, I was keen to learn. My father-in-law was not the easiest teacher. When asked to identify a tree, he would inevitably give the botanically correct Latin binomial, rather than the name by which most people knew it.
‘What’s this one?’ I’d ask.
‘Well, that’s a Picea sitchensis, obviously,’ he’d reply, leaving me none the wiser. (It’s a Sitka spruce, I now know. At least, I think I do.)
Of all the trees he taught me, my favourite mouthful of arborial syllables has to be Metasequoia glyptostroboides. But it has taken years of patient reminders from my husband for me to learn that this name refers to those nice pointy Dawn redwoods beside the drive. My father-in-law’s knowledge of his beloved trees was immense, and we are enjoying following in his footsteps, scampering to catch up.
Conifers notwithstanding, it was beeches that were his favourite trees. Oak is the symbol of our clan and we have many fine old oak trees here, but you can’t beat the beauty of a beechwood. At this time of year, the fresh green of the young beech leaves filters sunlight through to the bluebells lapping at the feet of the smooth grey tree trunks. In the autumn, the beechwoods bring a blaze of red-gold to the darkening landscape. Beech have become my favourite trees too, and I am so grateful to my father-in-law for the trees that he has planted which we and our children now enjoy.
My father-in-law died peacefully last weekend. In the middle of the family’s ups and downs of grief, and all the business of arranging his funeral here in our family chapel this weekend, what a blessing it is to be able to walk in the woods every day, and to remember him with gratitude and love.