Congratulations to The Survivor tree of the Carrifran Valley in the Borders, which has been voted as Scotland’s Tree of the Year, writes Brian Cunningham.
This is a competition run annually by the Woodland Trust where individuals and communities nominate a tree that means something special to them, before a panel of judges have the difficult task of reducing the number to five finalists. Fifty trees were put up for contention this year, I was privileged to be one of the team required to the sieve them down. It definitely wasn’t easy.
The competition was tough. Among the finalists for 2020 were The Lord President’s Oak growing in the Culloden Forest near Inverness and a Hawthorn said to have been planted by Mary, Queen of Scots in the grounds of the University of St Andrews.
This year’s winner – and the story behind it – couldn’t be any more a symbol of hope for us all during the tough and challenging times we currently find ourselves in.
At the start of the millennium, the Borders Forest Trust set out on a mission to restore a bare valley into a native woodland. At that time it was home only to a lone rowan which came to be known as The Survivor.
Twenty years on, this tree stands alone no more and will eventually disappear from view as the many native trees newly planted around it mature. It will always be a testament to what can be achieved when ambitious and passionate people get together with a single goal in mind.
As well as the proud accolade of being our country’s favourite tree, the winner of this competition also wins a care package which can either be spent maintaining the tree’s health or for public signage so others can celebrate in it too for many more years to come.
There’s a couple of trees already in my thoughts to put up for contention next year…
I always look forward to this competition when it comes around. It just seems a nice way to finish off the growing season the winner being announced just as the trees are looking their best, showing off their colourful autumn display.
This is only a small part of the great work done by the Woodland Trust. Recognising the true value of trees and woods, they work hard caring for existing woods and creating new in order to make havens for wildlife and help combat climate change.
To help carry out their work they are supported by an army of volunteers – who are the lifeblood of all our green spaces, these days. On my own doorstep is Kinclaven Wood and the highlight of this wood is in springtime, when a visit is a must to see one of the most amazing displays of bluebells there is. It feels as though there are bluebells stretching as far as the eye can see.
I also look forward to the day restrictions are lifted and I can make a visit back up to Abriachan Wood on the shores of Loch Ness to check on the progress of trees that were purchased and dedicated for mark mum and dad’s golden wedding anniversary.
If you are a school or community with thoughts of a new project, then every year the Woodland Trust also gives away thousands of new trees with the aim of providing everyone with the opportunity to plant a tree.
I accept I’m a bit of a dreamer but I’ll always believe there’s a garden for everyone and room in there for a tree, whether it be a dwarf conifer, ornamental or a fruit tree. Just like the trees in this year’s final, the story of who planted it – or who it was planted for – will be around for many years, long after we have gone.
Trees in containers can be planted at any time of the year as long as the soil is open and workable. In simple terms this means it is not frozen and needing a pick-axe to break through it, or so wet and muddy you can’t stand up long enough to plant it.
At this time of year through to mid-March, trees can also be sourced and planted as bare rooted, which I’m sure you have worked out means they have no container. Once a tree has shed its leaves it is effectively sleeping over the winter months, before the sap starts flowing, wakening it in late winter and early spring. During this dormant stage trees that have been growing in the ground of the nursery can be carefully dug up and sold before being planted in a new home.
For us tight Scots this has the great advantage of saving us a few quid – the cost of growing the plant in the ground far cheaper than if it had to be constantly potted on, fed and watered when raised in a pot.
A job for the weekend
Newly planted trees will need support for the first few years by the aid of a stake and tie. One of my favourite jobs at this time of year is checking these ties are on tight enough to hold the tree in place, but not so tight to strangle and harm it.
- Brian Cunningham is a presenter on the BBC’s Beechgrove Garden. Follow him on Twitter @gingergairdner