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From little acorns; Clive Edwards tells us all about the English oak tree.


THE English oak has always been seen as the national tree of England and its great height, age and strength has made it the king of the English forest and a symbol of endurance.

The oak has been recorded in British history since the interglacial period around 300,000 years ago.

It was the most common tree in our forests about 5,000 years ago and still is today. It is probably the best known native tree and although found in mixed woodland throughout the UK and on many British lowlands, it is most common in the south and east.

It is an important feature of the English landscape, renowned for its longevity and noted for its distinctive leaves and acorns.

Traditionally there have been four main uses of oak. The most prominent is as a timber tree. Oak was particularly used in ship building in the days of wooden ships.

Its timber is also used in buildings and for furniture while the bark was historically used for tanning leather, the acorns for fattening pigs as they are a rich food source and like many other trees, the smaller branches and twigs were used for firewood or charcoal making.

Because of our long history with oak trees, they are often used in ceremonial or commemorative plantings, for example, every school in Lincolnshire was given an oak tree to plant to celebrate the Queen Mother's 80th birthday.

The oak tree has a long history of folklore throughout Europe. It was sacred to many people, including the ancient Greeks, the Norse and the Celts. It was often associated with the gods of thunder as oak was often split by lightning. This is probably because oaks are often the tallest tree in any area.

More recently oak was the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid summer sacrifice. In fact, the word "druid" means "oak man".

In modern history, tradition has it that Charles II hid in an oak tree at Boscobel when pursued by the Roundheads. Since then, children wear oak leaves on May 29 to commemorate Royal Oak Day.

The mature English oak tree supports a larger number of different life forms than any other British tree. This includes up to 280 species of insect. Its deep grooves, are ideal for all sorts of insects to hide in.

The vast array of insect life found in the oak tree means that of all British trees, it supplies the most food for birds such as tits and tree creepers.

AFTER the first frosts the foliage of your dahlias and canna lilies will turn soft, brown and limp indicating that the growing season is over and that the tubers need to be dug up ready for storage.

Drying the tubers thoroughly before wrapping them in newspaper is essential to minimise any carry over of storage rots.

The simplest regime is to cut off the stem about 15cm (6in) above the tuber and to remove any soil from between the roots by hand.

After being placed upside-down in a cardboard box for three or four days the tubers should then be ready for packing away.

I label each plant carefully so that next spring I can identify appropriate colours and wrap each tuber individually in a couple of sheets of broadsheet newspaper before storage in a large cardboard box.

My integral garage is frost-free in most winters and if the boxes are stored well away from the door, they are cool but well protected.

This location I find better than my shed or unheated greenhouse, which get too cold, or anywhere indoors, which is too warm and dry.

It's up to you to find the best place in your home that is frost-free and below 10degC (50degF).

Topical tips | Dig up gladioli corms and remove the withered plate from the bottom of the new corm. If you spot small bulbils at the joint pull these off and plant up in pots of all purpose compost. Store in a cold frame where they can grow during next year.

Sow broad beans Aquadulce in October to provide a very early crop next spring. Garlic cloves can also be planted now so that they are fully ripe for mid summer.

Continue to pick apples as they ripen and finish picking the last of the autumn raspberries from this year's canes. Instead of taking out these fruited canes completely, just cut them down to half their length so that they produce an early summer picking next year.

If you haven't fed your lawn in the past few months, treat now to green up the grass and kill off any moss patches now that the weather has turned much wetter.

Complete the planting of spring bulbs.

Oaks through history | The tree has featured on British coinage, including the sixpence and shilling. It also has medicinal properties, as an antiseptic, used as an aid to haemorrhaging and diarrhoea. | Thousand-year-old oak logs have been removed from peat bogs, as solid as the day they were lost there. | The River Severn has oak breakwaters still in use today, believed to have been created by the Romans.

Ask Clive Q Would camellias be happy in large pots kept inside a conservatory for the winter? A Certainly. This is the best way to prevent frost and icy winds from damaging their delicate spring blooms. Move the pots inside in October and return them to the garden in May when the risk of severe frosts is over. The conservatory needn't be heated, but a temperature around 7-10degC will make them flower a couple of weeks earlier. Keep the roots moist, preferably with rain water, because camellias dislike the calcium often contained in tap water.

Did you know? Hawthorns used to be called "bread and cheese" because country people often added the young leaves to sandwiches. The young early spring leaves of the beech tree and those of the lime tree make excellent salads.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 27, 2012
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