Ring of blossom

In the Spring of 2022 The National Trust announced a campaign to plant 20 million trees by 2030 in order to help combat climate change. Part of this campaign would involve planting blossom trees, beginning at the new London Blossom Garden. From there it would expand to towns and cities across the country and here, in Birmingham, it arose as an idea to plant a ring of blossom trees around the city’s outer circle bus route. The general idea was based on the Japanese custom of hanami and the hope that a similar appreciation could take root here.

Anyone who knows Birmingham knows about the Number 11 bus and the 27 mile route it follows around the suburbs. The National Trust put out invitations for people and groups to apply for blossom trees that they could plant within a short distance of the 11 route. One of our group, Ellie, saw the invitation and got us interested and she was quickly off the mark with an application in the summer.

Kings Heath Park is right on the 11 route but that alone wasn’t enough for the go ahead to get trees and have them planted. Whilst the application was being made the horticultural staff had to be consulted. Dave, Graham, Kevin and Rob work in the park and do a sterling job of keeping it looking great and up to green flag status but would it be OK to land them with 10 or more trees to plant and would they have a place for them to fit in? Well with a quiet word from My wife, Gilly, the idea was taken on board and 10 trees could be comfortably accommodated so that information was added to the application and off it went. Soon we were told the trees would be arriving in the New Year and should be planted the week beginning 16th January.

That brings us to where we are now (apart from more interventions from Gilly to get the trees delivered to the park – but all was sorted in the end) So the word went out that we had trees to plant, courtesy of Clare, Christine and Ellie. There was much enthusiasm. Unfortunately the day of planting was a work day for many people as we had to organise the planting for when the horticultural staff were available as they would be doing the main work – bringing the trees and the tools out, deciding where the trees go and so on. There were four volunteers and three staff on the day. It had been a frosty night and the cold may very well have put some other people off. The ground had frozen in parts of the park but the longer grass, where we were planting, had given some protection and although not frozen it was hard to dig because of the stony ground. (I only managed one tree before I was knackered)

On the day of planting the park staff included Dave, Kevin and Graham, the volunteers were Gilly, Christine, myself and Elizabeth who had travelled from West Heath to be with us. We met up around 10:30 and were stuck into the digging shortly after. By that, I mean I was cutting labels off whilst everyone else was digging. No need to say who were the experts in digging holes! It’s fair to say, though, that the advice given was properly explained as to the why not just the what to do. Holes were dug the right size, soil broken up, fertiliser added, and soil heeled back in with the trees at the proper level. Then we were shown how to do the tree ties, allowing enough movement to encourage the trees to develop good anchoring roots.

There are lots of areas in the park that we could have planted these trees, some of them right alongside the 11 route. Unfortunately, that is not the only consideration and the lads were careful to explain some of their thinking for the choice of planting site. It was a spot where all ten trees would go together easily and so put on a good show together. But mostly it was out of the way enough for the small, vulnerable trees to hopefully go unnoticed and untouched. To plant them in a space at the front of the park or any other busy thoroughfare would make them more likely to be damaged and at the moment they are stick thin and so easily broken.

The actual planting of the trees was a simple, great experience. It was a pleasant morning’s work and left us with a good feeling that we’d accomplished something good and there was pleasure yet to come in seeing the trees blossom. It more than compensated for all the juggling that had to be done to get things to happen. And the reasons the Friends group make things happen even though its not always straightforward are several. Firstly the National Trust were offering free trees and it was their initiative to combat climate change. Secondly we liked the idea of blossom trees around the 11 route and we are right on the 11 route and did I mention the trees were free? Thirdly, this year alone I know of four trees that have disappeared from the park. One large Silver birch fell down in February, a Rowan tree was removed in early Spring that had been dead for some time, and on the day we planted the new trees a Silver birch was cut down at the bottom end of the park as it had blown over and was leaning against another tree. The fourth one hasn’t really disappeared but it has died and remains standing by the path near the huge horse chestnut tree, between the car parks. There has been a man in the park over the past few weeks surveying the trees and as a result of this I believe at least one large Beech is earmarked for removal and another for reduction. This is due to fungal disease weakening the trees to the point they become a significant risk. Unfortunately, our trees do not last forever. So as well as fitting the National Trust’s criteria we have some nice trees that make up for the losses within the park and it’s another event that we can invite the public to take part in. It was just a shame we had to do this on a workday so not everyone, who wanted to, could come along.

The trees we had been given were Prunus serrula (x5) and Prunus rufa (x5).

 Prunus serrula is known as the Tibetan cherry or the paperbark cherry or birchbark cherry. Like many cherries it has horizontal lenticles on its bark which is a copper red. It should produce pink flowers in groups of one to three followed by a small, bright red fruit (a drupe). One particular cultivar of P. serrula, Kanzan, produces glorious double flowers – it would be nice if it tuned out that these are the cultivars we have, but the information with them simply said Prunus serrula.

Prunus rufa is known as the Himalayan cherry. Its shiny bark is a similar copper red as the Tibetan cherry. The bark is exfoliating – it peels away. It will produce pink flowers hanging solitarily or in pairs followed by a dark red oval fruit.

It would be nice to see a good show of blossom this Spring, but the trees are only small, no more than 5 foot high at the most, so it may be a few years before they are at their best.

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