I probably love trees far too much. And this is what happens.
Back in the spring of 2007 we decided to liven up a rather boring (as in, privet hedge, lawn, nothing else) back garden with some fruit trees. So after a spot of research – what size? What type? Are there local varieties that do well in sunny, frosty Yorkshire..? – we chose two pear trees (Conference and Buerre Hardy) and the cherry tree (Stella). These were joined, two years later, by a plum – a present from my workmates in Leeds when I resigned the job there. Tsar – of course!
Round about that time, the cherry produced its first fruit.
To my shame I have no pictures of it in blossom, so here’s a neighbouring tree I spotted more recently when photographing some consequences of this year’s amazing dry, quiet spring.
Our tree grew rapidly, outpacing our ability to harvest anything from it – the birds always grabbed the lot first. Until this year.
Was this brought on by 2020’s uncanny, clear spring? Or simple maturity? Or, strange to wonder, the tree sensing its days were numbered – because we were beginning to talk about it as a problem?
Harvest (well, a tiny part of it)
This year we picked more than 500 cherries, each magnificent. As every year, I keep the stones (along with the dozens I find on the lawn where the birds have dropped them!), scattering them, throughout the autumn, in any place I think could do with a tree.
At this point we were still just thinking the tree could do with a drastic prune. We’d done this before – about three years ago – but that only made it grow faster! By the time I took this shot, it had grown taller than our garden is wide. The two little pear-trees on their modest rootstock were really struggling.
So. A tree-surgeon came and did the deed.
The red hue of the wood is painful to see. As if I’d murdered someone.
I shall miss our tree. This time of year, I miss the shapes I could see in its branches – and the shadows they made on the kitchen wall when I turned the lights out last thing.
But its giant roots had stalked under the lawn and reached the house, putting up new trees along their lines as they did so.
Our cherry tree was a victim of its own success.
It hasn’t gone – its roots are still alive. The new trees that grow from them, I know from having severed roots before, won’t die as a result of being cut off from their giant Source.
There’s been a mill on the site of Howsham Mill since before the Norman Conquest (and subsequent massacre of all things Northern) – it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book.
It’s taken me this long to get round to seeing it. We took a walk there, from Kirkham Priory. This is all that remains of the priory now. The grounds are peaceful, well-tended, and have picnic tables.
From there we headed up into the woods.
The keen-eyed among you might spot a rather cheekily-shaped mushroom at the foot of a tree to the right of the path. More mushrooms were growing on a tree nearby – not edible, as far as I know:
Leaving the wood took us out onto farmers’ land, then a quiet road. A tree had dropped hundreds of tiny apples onto the verge and the tarmac. Many of them have now found their way to places where they stand a better chance of growing. Not into trees with sweet, edible apples to be sure, but at least into trees. This country needs all the trees it can get, and this is just the time of year for-
I have never seen a pear-tree, at a random roadside, drop perfectly edible pears (we tested a few) onto the road like this. Pity to waste them…
We crossed a proper staffed level-crossing. Inside the office, we noticed, the windowsills were stacked with books. Perfect job for someone!
The present Gothic pile was built in 1755 as part of the Howsham Estate – apparently the gentlemen of the house wanted a bit of a conversation piece, visible from their stately home, as well as a useful source of income.
But bit by bit, over the next 200 years, grinding first flour, and then animal feed, became less and less profitable. The last miller left in 1947 and the building fell into such bad disrepair that some bright spark in the 1960s (of course) put in an application to demolish what was left of it.
Luckily, conservationists intervened.
In the early 2000s local enthusiasts formed the Renewable Heritage Trust with the aim of getting it rebuilt and running, both as a source of electricity and a venue for educational outreach and the like.
Our writers’ group had even booked a day there, but sadly it got Covid-ed.
The Mill now has two sources of renewable electricity: a classic mill-wheel that generates about 10 kW (about enough energy to fire the boiler to heat a small house), and an Archimedean Screw (a spiral rod that the water turns as it passes down a tube – particularly good for venues with a low height difference between the water arriving and leaving, as the Derwent has in this flat landscape) which, when we turned up, was generating about 45 kW.
It also has a picnic table – so we had lunch.
The volunteers who run it all appear to be retired engineers. I worry that, as the national retirement age is raised, life expectancy stops its historic 200-year upward trend, and the supply of rail and other mechanical experts dwindles, we’ll be short of the good types who keep this kind of project on the road, and who are willing and able to start up new ones.
It’s an alien growing out of a dead tree-stump. Not animal or plant. I spotted it on New Walk.
New walk has a strange history: it was constructed along the riverside, a mile or so outside town, with no obvious origin or destination. Its purpose was solely to enable grand, Regency types to promenade of a warm evening and show off their finery. So it was basically a glorified catwalk (or runway, if you’re from the USA.)
It was planted with stately horse-chestnut trees of which this, in the picture, was once one. Most of the rest are still thriving, and the path has since been extended all the way to Skeldergate Bridge to the north and beyond our allotments to the south. So it’s basically my walk into town – which is why bits of it feature on this blog so often.
This time of year and the next month or so are the best for spotting fungi of both the edible and inedible sort. Telling the former from the latter is a black art mostly lost to us Brits. But some of us are married to Central or Eastern Europeans, so we get to cheat a bit. We get our other half coming home from ‘a quick bike-ride’ with things like this little lot:
Peeled and stewed, Boletus Mushrooms are great with gently-fried onions and mashed spuds. They have, ounce-for-ounce, a protein content that’s not far shy of the best steak.
And our Unidentified Fungal Objects at the top of this post? Apparently they’re Dryad’s Saddle – at least, according to the first answer to my query to The Facebook Hive-Mind. And they’re edible, but not once they get as huge and tough as the one in the picture…
A quick count finds that we’ve now come to the end of those forty days. How did St Swithin’s prediction do? Well, on 15th July it rained for some of the day – and for the last forty days it has, indeed, rained on some of the days! A prediction like that can’t go wrong, really, can it?
But to the point.
Rain on St Swithin’s day is supposed to ‘christen the apples’ – though my bet is this particular piece of lore pre-dates Christianity by quite some time.
They don’t seem to have done too badly.
Neither do these:
Our pears don’t seem to want to be out-done, either. This is the same pear-tree which, all those years ago during ‘The Year-Long Lunch Break’ – my first ever blog – was the beneficiary of ‘the Sporting Chance School of Gardening‘, also known as my tendency not to bother digging up a plant and chucking it on the off-chance that it might come good. That was over ten years ago. This is now:
The tomato plants, from Lockdown times, are giving us our first toms ever. I think the secret is to have them near enough to the back door that you can water them in your slippers, and pick them as soon as they are ripe!
Finally here are some pretty calendulas. Just because.