A Garden in Umbria

Design - I talk to the trees…  but they don’t listen to me**

Perhaps that’s because the trees are too busy talking to each other. Recent research tells us that trees talk and share resources right under our feet, using a fungal network nicknamed the Wood Wide Web. But what do they find to talk about? This BBC clip explains.

So it all comes down to fungi.

Which reinforces the value of adding Mycorrhizal fungi (Rootgrow) when planting trees, but also shrubs and roses.

I can’t help wondering what happens if a single tree is planted too far away from other trees: does it get lonely in its ‘solitary confinement’ and how does it cope? Perhaps we ought to give more thought to planting trees in friendly groups.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  (Chinese Proverb)

Now is indeed the right time. Which trees will you choose?

My guess is that your first thought is of those slender, tall cypresses, so characteristic of Tuscany. Garden designers like to tell us that they provide “Much needed up-accents” in the garden. Be that as it may, I myself have no time for this sort of pompous design-speak: I want the right tree in the right place. There are many other trees which are well suited to our local Umbrian landscape, and we should perhaps wean ourselves off conifers.

Conifers at the end of the garden

Regione Umbria has a register of trees which are ‘native’ to Umbria - download it here. They list about two dozen, mostly deciduous, no conifers, and these are the trees that give “Umbria Verde” its green heart. Right now, our deciduous forests are turning to gold.

Autumn in Umbria

The range of these ‘native’ trees is fascinating: from acers (maples) with glorious autumn colour to lime (Tilia playphyllos) with very fragrant flowers in early summer to rowan with bright orange berries and wild forms of apple and pear. There is also mulberry (Morus nigra).

Native oak trees in the bosco next to the pond

The local variety of oak tree (Quercus pubescens) known here as Roverella or simply quercia, is more resistant to dry summer conditions than the English oak (Quercus robur) as well as being able to withstand cold winters. Last summer, when we had the terrible drought, many oaks went in summer dormancy or estivation and their leaves turned brown like in autumn, but most came back in spring. This type of oak is also host to truffles. What’s not to like?

Oaks in estivation during the hot dry summer of 2017

So do have a think about how you might create a tree talking-shop. Prince Charles says that planting trees is the only thing he thinks about nowadays. Surely he also thinks about becoming King? But maybe he feels 20 years ago was the best time for that too.

A notice seen on a tree in Cape Town, South Africa

**The title of a charming song first performed in 1951 in the musical ‘Paint Your Wagon’. Listen to Clint Eastwood singing it here.

This article was first published in Castiglione del Lago Newsletter in November 2018

The photo at the top of this page shows the trees lining the entrance track to the garden - the umbrella pines (Pinus pinea) were planted around 50 years ago
and suffer badly from north winds and the weight of snow on their branches in winter: they are better suited to Rome

Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley

All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise

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