The Oak Trees: The Saga Continues

Many weeks ago, myself and my neighbour arranged for the trimming of the Oak trees on both properties. He has one at the front next to our one, and the large one in our garden at the back overlooks his house and garden. He is a very fair man, and always happy to evenly split the substantial cost of the work every five years. Not only that, he gets estimates, contacts the Tree Officer at the Council, and agrees on a contractor.

So the work started in March as arranged, on the two trees at the front. We moved all our cars off of the driveways, and over three days, the trees were trimmed back heavliy. A job well-done. However, he was unable to start work on the largest tree at the back, as his rope-climber was going to another job. He said he would come back the following week, using a different climber.

He did that, but after twenty minutes at work he told myself and my neighbour that it was too windy, so dangerous to continue. Then he added that he would be unable to complete the job, as he would not be able to get a climber to work for him for some time, and then he had other committments. During a heated debate with myself, Julie, and our next-door neighbour, the contractor was told that if he walked off the job, he would get no pay for the work already done, and would likely be sued for breach of contract. Additionally, his reputation would be ruined on the Facebook forums where he gets most of his recommendations.

Following that acrimonious exchange, he eventually agreed to employ a different climber, and return at the end of April. They are here today and tomorrow, but so far have cut very little off the large Oak at the back. I am left hoping they will just get the job done and we will not have to suffer another stress-inducing argument later today.

The Acorns Are Falling

This year is a very ‘bad’ year for acorns, depending on your point of view. The hot summer has produced a bumper crop on the large oaks at the front and back of the house, so we are now suffering something of an ‘acorn avalanche’. This old post gives some idea what that is like, and not many of you have seen it before.


A sure sign that the season is changing, the sound of falling acorns is upon us in Beetley.

I should give some background, to make this all easier to picture. I could just post a lot of photos, but that would be far too easy. When we first viewed this house, one of the things we most liked about it, was the presence of two large oak trees. One is at the front of the property, and the other in the back garden. On a Google Earth viewing, they can easily be seen, dominating the comparatively small plot. As it is a bungalow, they do not intrude on the roof, and provide valuable shade, as well as an attractive ‘canopy’ over most of the property. They are both very old, perhaps over three hundred years or more, with the larger one in the garden, though the one at the front…

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Autum Arrives early

As the heatwave here continus unabated, and we get a Summer we didn’t expect, it is hard to imagine Autumn, with its fresher days, and chilly mornings.

But I was woken up many times during the night by a familiar sound that I hadn’t heard since late last September.

The acorns were falling from the oak trees. Dozens of them. They clattered onto the garden furniture, and bounced off the flat roof of the kitchen extension. Some even bounced high enough to strike the bedroom windows. The sound is not unlike distant rifle fire, and the random nature of it makes it hard to get back to sleep once you start to notice it.

Once I was thus disturbed, I could also hear the metallic clang as acorns from the other large oak at the front began to cascade down onto our two parked cars.

I had to take Ollie out much earlier today, due to the afternoon heat building up at his normal time. As we walked around Hoe Rough, small leaves were fluttering down around us like green butterflies. Looking up at the small and large trees, I could see much of the new growth was already falling, leaving bare twigs behind that poked up at the sky like skeletal fingers.

I had never seen Autumn in a heatwave before.

But I have now.

Acorn attack!

At the end of August 2013, I wrote a post about acorns. I gave it the title ‘The Acorns are falling’, and described the sheer volume of these hard seeds that drop from the two oaks at the front and back of our house. In 2015, I wrote another post, ‘The Acorn season’, about how we had not seen any large falls of acorns for two years. I was beginning to wonder if that would be my last ever post about acorns.

But it was not to be.

Perhaps the unusually wet and humid weather is to blame, but whatever the reason, this year looks to be a bumper year for oak trees to produce acorns. Fairly recently, we noticed how the branches were full of large nuts, and thought about just how much work they would provide for us this coming autumn. For anyone who has not read the previous posts, or knows nothing about acorns, two large trees such as ours can produce an incredible amount of the large nut-like seeds. And when I say an incredible amount, I really do mean it. They can carpet the ground everywhere, and cover the lawn until you can’t see the grass beneath.

Clearing them up is easy enough on pathways or the patio. When they get into soft ground, that’s another matter entirely. They have to be raked, then brushed, then finally the most stubborn have to be dealt with individually. Leave some behind, and you soon have burgeoning young saplings, threatening to undermine everything around them. But that job is probably going to happen in a couple of months. In the meantime, we have to endure the attack of the early acorns.

Both trees are very large, and are between 250-300 years old. The tallest branches tower above the house, and offer a long drop to the highest seeds. This enables them to accelerate fast enough to hit anything with the force of a falling marble. But because they are nut-like, they also bounce. We have three flat roofs around the property. There is the garage, the shed behind it, and the kitchen extension. All of these flat surfaces provide great targets for the falling acorns, and the rubber coverings give them trampoline-like bounce for their onward progress too. Then there are the two cars, offering a nice noisy surface which to bounce from as well. Throw in three plastic wheelie bins, plus the wooden garden table and seats, and the opportunities for our acorns are many and varied.

If you can imagine some naughty schoolboys armed with catapults, supplied with a limitless amount of hard objects, and secreted a long way above your house, you might get the idea. The sound of this assault is something similar to being in the middle of urban warfare, as they ping and clatter about, like stray bullets that are missing their target. And trees do not go to sleep when it’s dark, so the sound continues all night. Very talented acorns can fall from the tree, hit one of the cars, bounce onto a rubber-covered roof, then ricochet onto a table, or patio slab. We get treated to the sound of three direct hits, instead of just the one.

Not only do we have to endure this attack, but so does Ollie the dog. He is constantly barking at the falling acorns, believing them to be a sign of an intruder, or perhaps a burglar around the back of the house. He woke Julie up at 4 am recently, barking at the sound of them hitting the roof. She couldn’t really scold him. After all, he was only doing his job. We are going to have to endure this for some time yet. The slightest breeze sends a whole regiment cascading down, and any rain will force others to fall too.

So the next time you admire some grand old oak trees, don’t forget the poor owners.

A visit from Aeolus

The God of The Winds seems to have decided to visit Beetley. Since late last night, we have been buffeted by winds that would probably be enough to stop a ferry sailing, close a bridge, or ground light aircraft. Julie woke me this morning, to tell me that a branch had blown off of the large oak tree at the front. It had buried itself in the beech hedge, leaving a large forked section protruding into the pathway, hazardous to anyone walking by. I got up and went out to extricate it from the hedge, surprised at how heavy it was. I thought that we had been very lucky that it had not fallen into the roof of the house, or onto one of our cars parked underneath. It could have done some unwanted damage, that’s for sure. After checking out the swaying branches to see if any others looked about to snap, I dragged it through to the back, and stored it along the back of the shed. I will cut it up later, and add it to the woodpile for next year. Living under two large oaks, we always have to consider the possibility that we might suffer some damage from them. Despite my constant complaints, there has not actually been a great deal of constant rain, so no doubt the interior of both of these old trees is very dry.

They are about three hundred years old, so would have been saplings in 1715. By the time of the American War of Independence, they would have been a considerable size, sturdy and proud. Spared cutting for shipbuilding, they sat silently through the news from Waterloo in 1815, and a hundred years after that, shaded soldiers home on leave from the Western Front. They remained unnoticed through another world war, and were oblivious to moon landings, pop music, and the winter of discontent. Not until 1979 were their slumbers disturbed, when this house was built between them. I hope that they will remain long after I am gone, looking down on future occupants, ignoring the trivial events that matter so much to the humans who seek their shade, and admire their canopies. To be allowed to share history with them is a small price to pay for having to collect the leaves and acorns that they discard annually.

Out with Ollie on the meadow, the wind had blown away the clouds, leaving blue skies and sunshine. But it remained to make life difficult for us, hitting me with the force of an unseen prize-fighter, boxing my ears. Clothing blown tight against the body, twigs falling like confetti, and even the tiny river whipped into a rushing frenzy. After ninety minutes, I gave up. Ollie felt a little hard done-by, but I had had enough of feeling like I was walking through treacle. I returned home, to listen to the howling outside, and keep an eye on those branches. Feel free to leave anytime, Aeolus.

The Reluctant Gardener

For the last twelve years that I lived in London, I was in a small flat, on the third floor of an old block. I always yearned for a garden. Not the extensive ornamental kind, with lawns trimmed neater than crew-cuts; just somewhere to sit outside, during those few balmy evenings that we English laughingly refer to as The Summer. Our garden in Beetley seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Like Goldilocks’s porridge, it was neither one thing, nor the other, but just right. Shaded by large oaks, with the benefit of a sunken patio large enough to accommodate a table and chairs, it is mainly, as Estate Agents say, ‘laid to lawn’. On two sides, tall leylandii hedges offer privacy from view, and on the third, a good fence and some smaller shrubs complete the square. From the back of the house to the limits of the grass is less than sixty feet, and it is the width of the plot. So not a big a challenge, even for an unskilled, and somewhat reluctant gardener. Raised flower beds either side of the steps up to the lawn, and a feature bed at the far end, made from old railway sleepers, complete the picture. At the front of the property, there is a similar raised bed under the front oak, and a small strip of grass, screened by beech hedges. In front of, and beside the garage, there is enough room to park three cars, and most of this off-road area is covered in gravel, to avoid churning up the soil with car tyres.

Unfortunately, the previous owner did not spend wisely, and chose the cheapest materials for almost everything. The lawn is not premium turf, but lumpy meadow-clumps, made up of different types of grass. The bricks used for the raised beds do not weather, and once soaked with the rains, they crumble in the frost. The leylandii has been attacked by a virus (as have others nearby) and is dying off in places, leaving unsightly brown patches. At the front, the ground was not really prepared before the gravel was laid, so the stones have driven into the soil, pressed flat by the cars, and the passage of time. This allows weeds and grass to sprout through the stones, and if left, they give the place an unkempt appearance. The flower beds around the shrubs were never delineated correctly, and were not weeded before any planting. The consequence is a constant battle against weeds, creepers, ivy, and other nuisances. Even a fresh cut of the lawn is unsatisfying. Years of garden play equipment, and a large paddling pool left on the lawn, have resulted in areas of struggling grass in patches, and uneven growth all over. The patio slabs have weeds growing in the cracks, and they require constant attention to keep them even and neat. The sheer volume of leaves dumped by the two oaks, has to be seen to be believed. And they all have to be raked  up, swept into piles, and disposed of. The twigs and acorns accompanying the leaves manage to become embedded in the lawn, and have to be hand-plucked for removal.

The solutions could be simple. Have the lawn removed, and re-laid with new turf. Knock down the brick beds, and rebuild with better materials. Scrape up the gravel driveway, apply weed-killer, a plastic membrane, and a thick layer of fresh stones. Have the diseased leylandii replaced with beech hedges, or ornamental birch. Cut a nice border, remove all weeds, and replace the soil with healthy new compost. Cover all this with bark, or a similar inhibitor, and hope that solves the problem. Perhaps we should have the whole area attractively landscaped, with a path laid to the rotary washing-line, and much of the grass removed. After all, we don’t lie on it, we sit in chairs or loungers, on those increasingly rare pleasant days. If you say all this quickly, it seems feasible. But it all costs a ridiculous amount of money. Removing the hedges and planting a replacement, would on its own, cost over three thousand pounds. I got one estimate for a small landscaping of the back, from a company that is not too expensive, and that came to almost six thousand pounds. That’s not going to happen then.

We are left with the last resort. An untalented and unskilled gardener. A man of little experience, rare enthusiasm, and no artistic flair for such a project. Someone who gets tired easily after three or four hours working ‘the land’, and wakes up the following day, stiff and aching. A man lacking finesse, who manages to break the simplest garden implements, from lack of expertise, or poor application. A person for whom the prospect of shovelling a small mountain of earth and gravel to create a new drive, seems like one of the labours of Hercules. A city-dweller in an unfamiliar environment, who prefers to sit and view, rather than to toil and create.

That will be me then.

The Acorns are falling

A sure sign that the season is changing, the sound of falling acorns is upon us in Beetley.

I should give some background, to make this all easier to picture. I could just post a lot of photos, but that would be far too easy. When we first viewed this house, one of the things we most liked about it, was the presence of two large oak trees. One is at the front of the property, and the other in the back garden. On a Google Earth viewing, they can easily be seen, dominating the comparatively small plot. As it is a bungalow, they do not intrude on the roof, and provide valuable shade, as well as an attractive ‘canopy’ over most of the property. They are both very old, perhaps over three hundred years or more, with the larger one in the garden, though the one at the front is a little higher. They also overhang three neighbouring houses, though they were not there when this bungalow was built, in 1979.

We were informed by the previous owner, that they are subject to a preservation order. They cannot be felled, or deliberately damaged, and any work carried out on them must be done by an approved arborist. This can be expensive, but only has to be done every five years or so, to keep the classic shape of the oak tree. The nearby houses also have to contribute to this, as the parts of the tree that overhang their properties are deemed to be their responsibility. The previous owner had lived here since 1987, and had undertaken extensive renovations, and improvements to the original bungalow. These included an extension at the rear, to enlarge the former kitchen into a comfortable kitchen/diner, and the building of a shed extension, immediately connected to the rear of the detached garage. This left us inheriting three flat roofs, the garage, shed, and kitchen. That was fine, as there was still plenty of space in the garden, as well as a good-sized patio. We bought the house in 2011, and though we could not move in at the time, we would come up for weekends and holidays.

Staying here for two weeks in September 2011, we first noticed the sound of the falling acorns. They are quite large things, and are naturally hard, the inner nut the size of a bullet, contained in a durable outer casing. The trees are around 40-50 feet to the top branches, so the farthest acorns can build up speed, as they plummet to the ground. Unfortunately, most do not make it to the softer grass, or surrounding borders. Instead, they hit the flat roofs, like a constant barrage of gunfire. Bird activity in the trees, or strong winds, can provoke an attack by hundreds of small hard projectiles within moments. If you happen to be outside, you will be showered by those missing the roofs, and others will be bouncing around, like ricocheting missiles. At night, the drumming of these things constantly falling can make it hard to sleep. Even if there is a lull, there will still be the occasional thud, as one strikes. I don’t know which is worse, the continuous pattering, or the intermittent thwacks.

After a good scattering, the lawn and outside areas have to be seen to be believed. Acorns, twigs, and bits of leaf can lay up to two inches deep everywhere. As you start to sweep them, the sheer size of the problem becomes apparent. A whole wheelie bin is filled in minutes, followed by bag after bag of nuts and shucks, which naturally, are still falling, even as you try to clear the first load. The amount of these things is incredible, and they just keep coming. The gutters are filled, and have to be cleared out every couple of days. The flower beds are inundated, and they have to be cleared as well, or we will end up with hundreds of small oak trees. The flat roofs have a crunchy topping of fresh acorn, but it is hardly worth trying to shift them, as they will eventually dry out, and do no harm up there. It is a necessary but time-consuming job, that becomes boring, very quickly. When they are not hitting the flat roofs, they are striking the main sloping roof, bouncing down the tiles like the ball in a pinball machine. They didn’t tell us about the acorns. Oh no.

Some suggest that it would be a good idea to ‘import’ squirrels, in the hope that they would eat them all. Despite being portrayed clutching acorns, it seems that squirrels do not actually eat them. In fact, the only animal that can eat, and digest, these hard kernels, is a pig. Pigs naturally forage in woodland, and have developed a taste for acorns over the centuries. However, despite the presence nearby of hundreds of farmed pigs, they are not allowed to eat our acorns. EU rules are strict, when it comes to the diet of animals for human consumption, so I am not able to drive my bags of nuts over to the pig farm, and tip them into the food hoppers. They go for composting, (hopefully) removed in Council vehicles, or by me in the car, to the local dump. The carbon footprint of the humble acorn is greater than my own.

It will be the leaves next. Just read this post, substitute ‘leaves’ for ‘acorns’, and you will get the idea.