Tag Archives: dangerous trees

A Week in the Garden of Jury

Persimmons framed against the autumn blue sky

Our autumn days are not always like this. We have had a week of dreary, grey and cold weather interspersed with rain every day. It can be very dispiriting. But it is more common for us to have days like today’s glorious morning when the persimmons make a colourful sight. The intensity of light and colour we get all year round here is something we take for granted, in the main. It is not until I travel overseas that I realise this is not common in many other climates.

The persimmons are the old fashioned, astringent variety which need to be very soft and ripe to eat. I have a couple of trays ripening. This year I want to try mashing the flesh and semi-drying it as fruit leather to use in baking. Persimmons make a reasonable substitute for dried apricots. The birds are enjoying the majority of the crop which is still on the tree.

A barrow full of bangalow seed

I have written before about the invasive habits of the bangalow palm, Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, and why we think it should be on the banned list for commercial sale. Because ours are handsome plants, Mark has been loathe to get the chainsaw out to drop them but he does get the extension ladder out to cut off the seed. Behold a barrow full of seed, though Mark observes that many more fell off and are lying at the bottom of the trunk. The problem with the seed is that the birds spread it and it can out-compete our native nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida). I do wonder at what point Mark may reach for the chainsaw rather than the extension ladder, because allowing such prolific seed-set on plants we know are invasive is unacceptable in our personal gardening philosophy.

Bulding an extension to the banana frame, using giant bamboo

Protecting one of several bunches. We are currently eating our own, homegrown bananas

The extension ladder was also required for the covering of the bananas for winter. “I had to build an extension to the frame,” Mark said and that was no small task. The bananas are the one and only plant we cover for winter and with the best ever crop of ripening bananas, this was even more important this year. Being 5km from the coast as the crow flies, we are not quite frost free here. Most tender plants can cope with the occasional minor frost as long as we place them carefully, but the bananas are marginal at best and warrant the special attention if we want the crop.

As our maunga – or Mount Taranaki to non-NZ residents – has put her full winter raiment on this week, it was a close-run race between the covering of the bananas and the first cold snap of winter. Not that we have had a frost yet.

The ladybirds have moved inside to hibernate. They creep into the crevices of the upstairs wooden joinery which can make opening and shutting the windows challenging. I was fine with this annual event until a social media friend suggested that they looked to be the pest Harlequin ladybird which is a far grubbier and less desirable version of the charming, common ladybird. I suspect she is right, though the first reported incidence of the Harlequin ladybirds was up north in 2016 and we have had these hibernating critters for longer than that. So either they have been in the country longer than has been reported, or we have some other form of this beetle. I see there are 6000 different types of ladybirds so unravelling the different ones is beyond me. They are a bit messy, so I may flick them back out the windows with the duster.

Propping up the Ficus antiarus

I see it was April 11 when we had the last major treemageddon incident.  Our Lloyd – our incredibly obliging and handy man here – did a fantastic job to get the clean-up to this stage. The poor Ficus antiarus is but a shadow of its former self after being completely uprooted. It remains to be seen how tough it is in longer term survival. The 140 years of straight Pinus radiata trunk may be destined for firewood after all. We have been unable to find anybody with a chainsaw mill who could mill it on site for us. The poor stripped remnant of a plant to the left of the trunk in the second photo is, or maybe was, a fruiting macadamia tree.

Mark is now looking in askance at the splendid specimen of Abies procera ‘Glauca’, a magnificent tree that he is worrying may be a ticking time bomb here. We are usually philosophical about large trees that fall but that is because their location means they will fall without damaging power lines, drainage pipes or buildings. The abies, alas, is more likely to fall on our house and cause major damage. He is wondering if it is time for us to make the hard call and fell it in a safe direction. Every time he mentions this, he expresses regret that his father planted it so close to the house. But that is so often the story with big trees – most people never factor in their potential size as they reach maturity.

The Theatre of the Banana, as I describe the protection of the only plant we wrap for winter

Rather too much winter firewood has arrived

Over the decades, the angle of lean increased past the point of balance. After 80 years, these two pines fell.

Over the decades, the angle of lean increased past the point of balance. After 80 years, these two pines fell.

There I was mentally prepared to write on an entirely different topic this week when yet another tree fell here yesterday. One large old tree falling is bothersome and relatively major. Four in under four months is unprecedented here. While we possibly have more very large trees in our garden than most, thanks to Mark’s forbears, my conversations on the social medium of Twitter last night made me realise that there are a fair number of other people who are worried about large specimens at their places.

First to go here were two 80 year old Pinus radiata last October. They had been on a lean for decades but one Saturday I suggested to Mark that the lean had increased. He scoffed but on the Sunday, he conceded I might be right. On Monday he thought maybe we should be barricading off the area because our garden was still open to the public but they fell by lunchtime. We did the immediate clean up but the large trunks are still blocking one path and need some attention.

At least when the gum tree fell over, it ripped its roots out. A brave clump of clivias is unscathed.

At least when the gum tree fell over, it ripped its roots out. A brave clump of clivias is unscathed.

Ten days ago I heard a crash in the night but no whump at the end (falling trees crack, crash and then whump when they hit the ground) so I thought it must be a large branch. Mark heard nothing and was sure I had imagined it until we found the fallen gum tree the next morning. It had been planted by his great grandfather around the late 1870s so it was quite large but it fell down the hill, mostly out of harm’s way, although another path is now blocked.

Yesterday I heard the ominous sound of cracking and looked up to see one of our largest pines coming down. These are about 50 metres tall and 140 years old. That is a lot of pine. It is a bit more problematic to clean up because it has not uprooted but instead snapped without fully detaching, maybe 6 metres up where Mark’s grandfather had topped the pines back around 1900.

The latest pine to fall, failed to snap off cleanly, maybe 6 metres up.

The latest pine to fall, failed to snap off cleanly, maybe 6 metres up.

Even I am surprised at the philosophical and matter of fact approach adopted by the two menfolk in my life (the one I am married to and the one we pay wages to). The cleanup has started. We will have sufficient pine cones to last us several winters and there is no fear of running out of firewood here despite the fact we burn prodigious amounts.

 We have pine cones for eternity here. Or at least several years.

We have pine cones for eternity here. Or at least several years.

We have so many big trees, we let them fall in situ. Mind you, we have had discussions as to what to do should one start to go beside us. Run to the trunk, is my as yet unproven theory, and jump left or right at the last minute. I say this because the trunk is the narrowest part. I am hoping we never have to test this theory.

In a smaller garden, the damage from a falling tree will probably be much larger than here and the damage from the clean up may well be greater still. We avoid this by doing a reduced clean up. We do not try and remove the trunks. We remove the side branches and the litter and tidy up any plants damaged in the fall. Paths need to be cleared but, once stripped, the main trunk remains where it fell and we garden around it. It is part of nature’s cycle. Trunkeries, I have decided to call these areas – a variation on the idea of stumperies. They give height to otherwise flat areas of the garden.

It is a different matter entirely when large trees threaten either buildings or power lines. The lines companies would, of course, like all trees over the height of about 3 metres felled immediately. While it can’t be fun being a linesman called out in atrocious conditions to restore power cut by falling trees, I recoil from the thought that overhead power lines be allowed to dominate our landscape. Our lines company will do the first trim at their cost to trees that are threatening their lines but after that it becomes the landowner’s responsibility, even when they don’t have a legal easement to have their lines crossing private property. We know quite a bit about this because we have problematic power lines taking a short cut across our place and have sought legal opinion. I don’t know if this is standard policy with other lines companies.

Sadly, unless you are highly skilled with chainsaws and tree felling, if you are in the position of an at-risk tree endangering your house or power lines, you are going to have to pay someone to deal with it and it is likely to be very expensive. In this case, get some good advice first on the stability and health of the tree and get it from a tree person, not a chainsaw operator. There are truly terrible stories about amateurs with chainsaws so make sure you employ a reputable operator to do potentially dangerous tree work. The consequences of getting it wrong can be extremely expensive or even fatal in worst case scenarios.

For all their problems, we would not be without our big trees. They give shelter and add stature to the landscape. Some are magnificent specimens in their own right. I do not want to live in an environment where nothing is allowed to grow more than 2 or 3 metres high.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.