Wednesday 11 May 2016

Task 15: Plant a copse of 6 trees to represent my family

Nothing matters more in life to me than my family. And even though my three offspring flew the nest a number of years ago, they - and now my daughter-in-law Liz too - are never far from my thoughts. So what nicer way to embellish our re-landscaped and extremely lawny garden than to plant a small copse of trees to represent each member of the Hunot family?  In truth I've been angling for this copse for at least 4 years, but have met with heavy duty resistance from Andrew ('Surely we've got enough trees in the garden already??') So including it on my sixtyat60 list was an absolute masterstroke, because then Andrew would have no choice but to support it. Thoroughly devious but fiendishly effective.  And here's my inspiration - a copse of trees that were planted in our garden about 75 years ago.

I should just emphasise that in order to be eligible for representation as a Hunot tree, the family member had to be human. Alfie, Mabel and Bobby (Jonathan and Liz's new puppy) pleaded with me to let them have a tree too (see photo - thank you Liz!)  But I stuck to my guns. As I said to them, where would it end? I mean, what about our lovely domestic ducks?  If  a tree was planted to represent each of them, including those who have had the recent misfortune to become Mr Fox's Sunday lunch, our garden would be transformed into a wood thicker than Sleeping Beauty's. No, the copse had to be limited to six human trees - despite those begging eyes.....

March is considered to be a good time to plant young trees. And so early that month I knuckled down to Task 15. I decided that the trees must meet the following three criteria:

a) be deciduous
b) be small to medium in size
c) be neither prunus nor malus in variety (a cherry tree and 3 crab-apple trees already play a special role in our garden). 

These criteria restricted my choice considerably. Added to which I had the tricky challenge of matching six trees to individual Hunot characteristics. I visited a large number of horticultural websites, studied the descriptions of various varieties of tree, made a preliminary list, and took it to English Woodlands near Heathfield. By the way, I must just alert you to the fabulousness of English Woodlands. The nursery is extremely well laid out, the trees all look the picture of health and Graham, who was the expert on hand to give me some sage advice, didn't bat an eyelid at my quirky list and daft questions. He gave the stamp of approval to the combination of trees I'd chosen and provided some guidance on how best to position them in a group.  One week later, the copse arrived at its new home in Maresfield.

Andrew took on the key role of Chief Tree Planter, assisted and at times impeded ('right a little....a bit, no, no, that's much too far....') by me, after which each family member was photographed by their tree. I realise I've made the process sound pretty speedy, but in fact it took nearly a month to complete (busy lives those young Hunots).

Let me now introduce you to my fantastic family and their tremendous trees.

Michael's tree is a golden alder (alnus incana aurea). It's hardy, resilient, grows well in damp conditions (such as Derby) and is a modest fellow - it only becomes apparent during the winter months that its bark is a wonderful golden-orange colour, and then it really stands out from the crowd (just wait until you get behind the wheel of that Caterham Michael).

Jonathan's tree is a cockspur hawthorn (crataegus prunifolia splendens). No keeping this tree from showing off its magnificence, especially in autumn! 'It draws the eye like a glowing beacon' said the Telegraph writer Ursula Buchan. It's a bold tree, a trifle thorny in places, with beautifully polished oval leaves. 

For LIz I chose a snowy mesipilus (amelanchier laevis snowflake). Described as a stunning dainty tree, it's covered in large single white flowers - just like snowflakes - in spring. How apt for someone who is both beautiful and an excellent skier. Note that Bobby has managed to sneak into the photo and is probably under the illusion that the mesipilis is now his tree.

For Lucy I chose a katsura tree (cercidiphyllum japonicum). It has fragrant heart-shaped foliage that turns a gorgeous smokey-pink in autumn and scents the air with a toffee apple aroma. Of course it would have been even better if the aroma had been chocolate-infused. Looks like Alfie is copying Bobby and staking his claim on Lucy's katsura by the way.

Andrew's tree is a rowan Olympic flame (sorbus commixta Olympic Flame). It's tough and hardy but doesn't like to get its feet wet. It may look a little spindly at the moment but it broadens with age (sorry Andrew). And it's clearly an aspiring sportsman. 


And own tree is a weeping willow leafed pear (pyrus salicifolia pendula). It's described as an elegant tree of weeping habit forming a dense mound. I can't vouch for the elegance but you can analyse the rest at your will. What I can say is that I've always had a special affection for willow trees, possibly linked to memories of rowing or punting up the Cam during my childhood and teens. So I do like the idea of having a tree with willow-like features.

And this is what the trees look like as a composite copse - the photo doesn't do it justice at all (you can see what I mean about our garden being very lawny), but the trees seem to wave at me every time I open the back door and look out across the garden, and that brings a smile to my face.  And  I can't wait to see all six trees go through their seasonal changes, just like a family, ever changing and evolving.....

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at


  1. What an amazing thought and entertaining read . . .

    1. What an amazing thought and a entertaining read . . .

    2. Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm glad to say the trees are all thriving, though some have needed quite a lot of nurturing. Just like my family really!