8 Feb 2019

Re-imagining the Whitebeam Grove: Part 2

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

The weather has really been against us this past week-and-a-bit. After the trees were dug up, we had only enough time to wrap their roots in warm felt blankets and stack them in a huddle (with our arboriculturist Tom comparing them to emperor penguins) before the frost and snow of last week hit. It’s been a little painful to think of those precious trees sitting and waiting to be planted, however Sorbus are found in some of the most demanding places in the country. They’re going to be fine.

Tough trees need tough conditions

Most Sorbus species thrive best on exposed rock, their roots having to hang on tight as they teeter precipitously over the edge of cliffs. The newest Sorbus coming to our collection is the Menai Strait whitebeam, Sorbus arvonensis, which we are growing from seed this year. This whitebeam is only found along a narrow strip of the Menai Strait, and in some places it roots directly into the shingle where it is bathed in salt water at high tide. Even whitebeams growing far from the coast love a rocky site, and this is the main reason that we embarked on this replanting project.

This week, I finally snared a few precious dry days to plant about half of the trees. We’re planting them on mounds to better imitate their natural rocky habitat, made from a mix of base-rich rock and topsoil gathered from on site. For any other tree-planting project this would be a terrible mix. It’s stony, there’s few nutrients and the trees are going to receive far less moisture sitting on their little hills. For whitebeams however, it should be perfect.

You can’t fight the Welsh weather

I’m at the halfway point now in this project, and the grove is really taking shape. On Tuesday I was only able to plant three trees by myself before the rain fell. It was a morning of expletives and impatience, as I foolishly decided to plant the two biggest trees by myself under the looming threat of being rained off. I learnt my lesson though, and yesterday had a much calmer and more productive day with apprentices Molly and Jen. We managed to get 8 trees into the ground before the rain came, and I learnt a valuable lesson in asking for help. I should only need a few more dry days to finish, however as I type I’m looking out at horizontal rain and wind that defies even the sturdiest of umbrellas. Those dry days are going to be so welcome when they come… if they come.