I love the idea of small-scale tree planting. Individuals, families, community groups pushing a seed into the earth and watching their trees grow.
A couple of years ago I was suddenly consumed with the idea of planting trees. As a response to the climate crisis, it seemed to me the most important thing to do. I had done almost everything else I could think of – switched to a green energy provider, signed all the petitions, reduced my plastic use, even given up the car! What else could I do that would have a direct impact on climate change and nature regeneration? Plant trees of course!
I was already signed up to Ecosia as my search engine, so I knew that I was helping in some small way to fund tree-planting projects world-wide, but that was abstract and removed from my everyday reality. As someone who adores the natural environment and has lived a life very connected to nature, I needed to actually get my hands in the earth and grow some trees myself. So, using my ethical search engine, I began to look around for some local tree-planting projects to join, and did find several, but their volunteer days did not fit with my schedule, so I decided I would just go ahead and plant some in my back garden.
Now, something you should know about my back garden; it’s tiny and almost entirely concrete. I wasn’t about to establish a forest there, but knew it was sufficient get things started. So, I collected a few conkers and acorns from churchyards in my local area, and Stuart Davies gave me a bag of acorns and I set about getting them into the earth. Now, as I said, earth is something in short supply in my garden and I had a lot of acorns! I just had to get them started though so I shoved them in anywhere – at the edge of other plant’s pots, in yoghurt pots and plastic strawberry punnets and the few empty pots I did have were filled up with compost and crammed with as many as I thought I could get away with. One had ten in one pot! If they grew, I could separate them out later.
And grow they did. Slowly, silently, they sat through that first winter and come the spring they cracked open and sent forth their first green shoots. The conkers had all risen to the top of their little pots and were visibly split asunder to allow that sturdy little stalk and leaf to push forth and the unseen root to delve deep (or as deep as their inadequate little pots would allow.). The acorn shoots looked so tiny it was almost impossible to imagine they may one day be mighty oak trees. That spring I found more pots and my neighbour kindly hauled a bag of compost over the fence and I separated out the seedling trees, already recognisably oaks and horse chestnuts from their familiar leaf shapes. The pale, curvy oak leaves, popping up everywhere in between my hydrangea and cyclamen pots, filled me with joy and a sense of purpose during that first lockdown spring. My little garden might never be a forest, but here was the beginnings of one in miniature.
I spent one enjoyable, lazy afternoon in the garden watching a little bee buzzing around some of the baby oak trees. It was very focussed and determinedly flying around the edges of all the leaves, sniffing out the precise perimeter of each leaf. It eventually decided on one plant and carefully munched out a section of the leaf about the size of my fingernail and flew off with it dangling beneath her. Quite a task, as the stolen leaf section was almost as big as the bee! It returned and repeated the process many times over the course of the afternoon. I had seen my first “leaf-cutter bee” and on reading up on it discovered that it would use the cut-out leaf sections to line a tunnel in a hollow stem or tree trunk or wall and separate off cells in which to lay individual eggs each with a store of pollen to sustain the larvae which would then pupate and hibernate in the tunnel and emerge the following spring – just about now in fact!
I was worried for the little trees that the leaf-cutter bee had utilised, but they all survived. In fact, all the trees that I propagated seem to have made it through their first winter, losing their first set of leaves in the autumn and standing as bare sticks through the cold months to begin swelling with life and little buds this spring. 56 tiny oak trees and 6 horse chestnuts. Maybe that does count as growing a forest in my concrete back garden.