GARDENING: Sense of well-being that trees can bring

When was the last time you hugged a tree? Or placed an ear against the trunk on a still, sunny day, and listened to the plumbing system within? And how often have you walked through a local arboretum, gazed skyward in awe of the towering giants in your midst, and tried to guess their height and age?

Trees are the largest plant organisms on the surface of our planet and the lifespan of some is mind-blowing. It's little wonder they have been linked so closely to the development of humankind over time. From furniture to fires, shelter to ships, their timber remains a valuable resource which thanks to organised forestry can be infinite.

However, the destruction of huge tracts of natural forest throughout the developing world poses a challenging environmental threat – the management of carbon. Put simply, Less trees, less CO2 absorption, less oxygen output. Apart from the control of carbon issue, trees stabilise the land preventing soil erosion and have a key role in the management of water.

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Important tangible benefits come from surrounding ourselves with trees. The sense of permanence their presence bestows. The element of clean air they bring to areas of traffic density, and the indication of seasonal changes we in the countryside take for granted but city dwellers would otherwise miss.

A single, well-chosen tree can support a substantial eco-system of vertebrate and invertebrate life., which in turn enhances any surroundings. So, as recent studies have shown, wherever trees go a feeling of wellbeing follows. Wish to do your bit? If you have a garden find out what the eventual height and spread of the tree you fancy will attain, including the root system, and act now.

Otherwise, join a local group involved in tree planting! Action to begin restoring the balance of UK trees lost in negative setbacks, began in 1973 as a response to Dutch Elm Disease, with the slogan “Plant a Tree in `73.” Now National Tree Week, it's an event that has grown in significance with continuing disease threats and the gradual demise of world-wide forested areas.

Country-wide tree-planting events involving a diversity of groups and organisations across the age demographic are at the heart of this activity, along with talks and demonstrations. I`ve worked with students and joined local organisations in educational and practical aspects of tree appreciation over the years and limited though this current week`s activities are, the crusade goes on. Let's hear it for the trees!

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There's still plenty of time to plant hardy perennials in your garden. The window of opportunity remains open until the point of spring but only in the absence of frost. If you opt for a tree, first research online `tree-planting distance from home` to ensure that the specimen chosen will be proportionate in size to your garden when mature. This is to avoid canopy or root damage to

the house or drainage system. Bare-rooted perennials, be they fruit trees or bushes, hedging plants, ornamental trees, shrubs, or roses, are less expensive than those that have been grown in containers. If they are chosen and arrive via mail order, it pays to plunge the roots into water before planting to ensure they`re fully charged and given the best possible start.

An ornamental tree choice might include something that offers attractions throughout the seasons; winter bark, fresh spring leaves and flowers followed by fruits and autumn leaf colour. Suggestions for a single plant in a small garden would include ornamental crab apple (malus), cherry (prunus), mountain ash (sorbus) or slow-growing conifer.

Look beyond the most common variety in each case for there are several to choose from e.g. winter-flowering cherry rather than the spring type. Or try Sorbus hupehensis with its white or pink-tinged fruits that last into winter, rather than the bright red autumn fruits of Sorbus aucuparia. The prickly Chilean pine or monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), occasionally seen planted in tiny front gardens, will reach 30 to 40 metres high when mature. Far better plant the white-barked birch (Betula Jacquemontii `Jermyns,`) prune annually to control it, and enjoy peeling strips of bark to reveal even whiter layers beneath. It is so therapeutic!

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