Tag Archives: falling trees

A lucky escape

There was a clue from the back doorsteps but neither of us noticed it immediately

Mark is an under-stated man who never gets carried away by the drama of a situation. As we sat down for our early evening conversation before dinner yesterday (a glass of wine may have been involved), he let me tell him about something that had distracted me during the afternoon before starting to tell his news. “I was wondering,” he said, “when I planted rimu trees to take over from the old pines, why I placed one so close to one of the younger pines which had good foliage.”

I didn’t even realise he had done this long-term sequential planning for replacement trees under the old pines. Some of these trees are now coming up to 150 years old. When he referred to a ‘newer’ one, he was referring to those planted by his very late Uncle Les when he still lived with his parents here, rather than those planted by his great grandfather – so ‘newer, younger’ in this context means maybe 100 years old.

Then came the kicker comment: “It seems I didn’t have to worry about that.” I have lived with Mark long enough to know what he meant – the pine tree had come down. This would not have been anything more than inconvenience and a big clean-up job were it not for the timing. When we had a tearing gale during the garden festival ten days ago, we closed off the Avenue Gardens as a safety measure and changed the route for visitors to walk up the very path the tree has fallen across and blocked entirely.

We closed off this path as being too risky during the gale force winds ten days ago …
… and redirected to this route
Now it looks like this. At least it didn’t happen during the recent garden festival

The mystery to us is when it fell because neither of us heard it. I walked up that path mid afternoon on Friday. Mark found the fallen tree late afternoon on Saturday. So there is a 25 hour time frame and in that period, there was rain but no wind. There would have been a loud crack, the sound of breaking branches and then a loud whoomp when it hit the ground. But we heard and felt nothing. Mark thinks it must have happened at night when we were both in deep sleep but I am sure we would have woken because it is not that far from the house. I think it must have happened when I was out shopping on Saturday morning and Mark was working in the shed with the radio on. He is adamant he would have heard it and felt the vibration. Maybe it thought nobody was here to hear it so it did not make a sound? (*Philosophy joke.)

Ah well. A whole lot of firewood has arrived, more than enough for us so we will be sharing it. And we have learned yet another lesson about the unpredictability of when and which way trees may fall when they come down.

It looks smaller in the photograph than it does in real life. I had neither person nor dog to pose for scale. It is about 100 years old.

Another one bites the dust

With an increasing number of what are called ‘extreme weather events’ in the face of climate change, we just have to accept that falling trees are a fact of life here. We have a garden created amongst large trees. But none are as vulnerable as our old man pines (Pinus radiata). Planted in the 1870s by Mark’s great grandfather, some tower as high as 45 or 50 metres. We just have to accept that they appear to be reaching the end of their life span. And as yet another one falls, the next trees in the row lose their shelter so may be weakened.

Totally uprooted, the Ficus antiarus which dates back to 1957

We usually say that it is amazing how cleanly big trees can fall, especially ones that don’t have a lot of big side branches or a great deal of foliage. But not the one that fell last night. It has clearly done substantial damage as it came down. The worst is the total uprooting of the rare Ficus antiarus which will require a major effort to get back upright and planted again. The macadamia nut tree is probably unable to be salvaged. Mark is a bit sorry that it only brought down part of the expendable Lombardy poplar and not all of it.

The tree tips, like a giant spider, descending on the new caterpillar garden area

And 50 metres of tree coming down as one long length extends… well, it extends 50 metres really. So this one lies through the avenue garden, across the intervening hedge, through part of Mark’s tropical palm border and the top landed in my recently planted perennial beds of what we call the caterpillar garden. I am not thrilled by this.

With Auckland being badly hit by falling trees in last night’s storm, I come back to my position on the chilly moral high ground. With these increasingly frequent events, it is not a sign that we should be felling all trees. Yes, it is important to keep a close eye on vulnerable trees and branches. But we need to match the felling or falling of trees with the planting of more trees in places where they have a reasonable chance of growing to maturity without causing problems to life and property. Which usually means on public reserves when it comes to cities. A dendrologist friend said that it should not be a one-for-one replacement but a five-for-one ratio to allow for those trees that die or are killed before they reach maturity. And that is just to maintain the status quo. We need to think about these issues because the planet needs more trees and city folks should not be consigned to living in concrete and tarmac environments where nothing is allowed to grow over two metres tall. The problems lie not with the trees themselves but with where they are planted, how they are maintained and which varieties are being grown.

I wryly suggested to Mark that maybe we should be renaming our Avenue Gardens the Pine Log Gardens and he quipped that our stumpery is growing. We will follow our practice of clearing paths, removing all the side branches and cleaning up the collateral damage but leaving the body of the trunk where it fell and gardening around it. As more huge trees fall, we  have a stumpery by chance, not design.



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.