Posts Tagged ‘barn’

Trees at the barn in the Berry

October 30, 2009

Back in Autumn of 2000 we bought our barn in the Berry,  in la France profonde – which loosely translates as ‘deepest, darkest France’ or perhaps as ‘the back of beyond’.  At first we thought of it as a wonderful place where the whole family would gather for holidays, which would perhaps develop a kind of mythic quality for our kids and (in the fullness of time) their kids.  Grandchildren would come to play on swings hanging from the fruit trees; hammocks and wine would charm their parents.  At that stage our grandchildren added up to just one tiny infant in Australia, unlikely ever to see it, and our variously-parented English children ranged in age from thirty down to twelve.  The old barn, its fields and crumbling outbuildings were saturated with rural peace and calm; vast white Charolais and chunky caramel-coloured Limousin cattle were our neighbours and the nearest shop was seven kilometres away.  How could they fail to love it?  The answer is: easily.  Our twelve-year-old loved socialising at home; our urbanite twenty-somethings knew how to holiday in style at Italian villas – and had the incomes to support that habit; and our older kids soon started to be immersed in immoveable babies and toddlers – far too precious to risk at a location perceived as primitive and potentially unhygienic.  (This view was fostered by our richly narrated tales of life at the barn without electricity, heating or water.  The tales were true at the time, but I suppose they were so vivid that any updated version, showing greater comfort, didn’t stand much chance.)

The field behind the barn is completely flat and had been grazed by cattle for years.  It is about a hectare, or two acres.  We began the tree-planting with some fruit trees – apples and a cherry – fairly close together, like a little orchard.  In the middle distance we put a cluster of silver birches and a larch; and right at the back we set a little whippety beast: an infant Cedar of Lebanon.  These are the ones that have survived of those earliest plantings.  A roll-call of the dead would be substantial, as we had no choice but to neglect our trees over the winters, when cold and wet, or cold and drought, easily kill off young trees.  Deer will gnaw the bark of young saplings if theya re not protected, effectively ring-barking them.  All the trees suffered before Andrew developed his effective deer-proof cage for young trees.  The marks stay visible on the mature trees to this day.  Three (I think) magnolias went west – one of them painfully gradually.  Eucalyptus trees, too, died easily, even the ones I brought back from Australia, though I had carefully chosen varieties that can survive high altitudes and frost.  I can tell you that seedling oak trees – endemic as weeds in the Berry – die if you try to transplant them.

Flying in the face of these experiences, after a couple of years, we had the thought that it would be nice to plant trees in the field, each representing one of our kids.  We asked each of them what they would like to have as their tree.  The kids were charmed by the thought.  They told us what they wanted, and now, some years later we have almost completely forgotten what they said, apart from some obvious ones and some impossible.  (Will wanted exotics.  He may have named the Moreton Bay Fig – which I think will only grow in sub-tropical or warm temperate climates.  Josie, my Australian daughter, nominated a gum tree.  I recall Jonny saying the phrase ‘a mighty oak’ – but whether that was for him or for his little son Ben, I’m not sure.  Kate wanted a London plane tree.  Someone mentioned a weeping willow.  And that just leaves Mike and Nick – one or both of whom may have mentioned silver birches as a fallback choice.)  We didn’t in fact get around to planting many of their trees until this year, unless one wants to count previously-planted silver birches and self-seeded oaks – but that feels a little bit outside the intention of the project.)  Then when Morgan, the elderly greyhound, died at the barn (and that’s another story) we thought that a tree ‘in memoriam Morgan’ would be a good idea.  We planted a weeping willow for her this year (2009).  And I do feel a little uneasy about that, because – well – didn’t someone else want a weeping willow?

All of this is by way of decoration of, and explanation for, some pictures of the trees.  Animals and some people are included to give a bit of an idea of scale.

The London plane tree. (Kate)

Andrew and the plane tree - 2009

Andrew and the plane tree – 2009

Bandit sitting a bit unwillingly (good dog!) by the Quercus Rubra ( a red oak – and therefore almost exotic enough for Will).  Behind and slightly to the right, the flourishing plane tree.

Bandit with the Red Oak

Bandit with the Red Oak

The Weeping Willow – for Morgan

Bandit reluctantly models the willow tree

Bandit reluctantly models the willow tree

apples trees and a cherry in the mini-orchard; medlar doing well (almost out of shot)

in the orchard

in the orchard

Below, in a cluster: foreground, Red Oak again; l to r:  Rowan; Larch; (rear) Rowan; (front) something – I’m not sure what; (right) silver birches.  Josie’s eucalyptus (this one bred in France and doing fine) must be in this shot somewhere, but I can’t spot it.  (not including the big trees in the hedge in the middle distance, which have been here since long before us.)


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