In 2012 the magnificent old cherry tree in the garden, consumed by rot, blossomed for the last time, started dropping branches and died in the autumn. It was the biggest and most gnarled cherry tree I’ve ever seen, splendid and beautiful.
It was so sad to see it go, like losing a friend, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in missing it – small birds sheltered in the canopy, woodpeckers nested in a hole pecked out of the spongy wood and beetles and wasps bored holes in which to lay eggs. For me, I missed the ancient knobbly trunk, sunlight shining through the dark red foliage and seeing the falling petals drift down like confetti.
As luck would have it, in 2011 I had found two almost identical seedlings nearby and potted them up. I never found any others and attempts to propagate from seed were not successful, so these two little descendants were all that was left.
Winter passed and by the summer of 2013 the remains of the old stump were rotting away. The seedlings had come on nicely and were both some 30cm tall. What if we dug out the rotting wood and planted one of them in the hole? I didn’t see why not, so on the 2nd of July, 2013 we set to and dug it out. The hole was filled with new soil and the tree was planted, watered in and given some support.
Then we watched to see what would happen and the new cherry surpassed our expectations, easily doubling in height during the first year.
We carried out careful pruning and diligent watering and the tree continued to thrive and grow. By the end of 2015 it was a good deal taller than either of us. In 2016, it flowered for the first time. Not many flowers, perhaps a dozen, but they shone in the sun and I was glad to see them. Now that it’s leafing out, the morning light once again shines through the red leaves and we often admire it through the kitchen window.
The other sapling I planted out in a farm garden and it has fared very differently. It looks healthy enough, but it’s still under 1m tall rather than the 2m plus of its sibling. Why is there this striking difference in growth? I’ve thought about it a lot and have come up with a few ideas. It may simply be that this was the sturdier specimen, though both seemed very much the same. Perhaps it has better soil or is more protected than the other tree.
The explanation that pleases me the most, whether it’s the best one or not, is that between the time of the old tree coming down and the new one going in – some nine months – the old roots started to soften and break down. The roots of the new tree have found the underground ways of those roots and are following them, making use of the established network and the beneficial work of mycorrhizal fungi which is undoubtedly present below the unfed lawn where the old roots run. Whatever the truth of the matter, the tree is clearly thriving. I am reminded of a line from Tolkien’s ‘The Return of the King‘ about the Mallorn tree which Sam Gamgee plants when he returns to The Shire: ‘A beautiful young sapling leapt up‘. As I look at the beautiful young sapling here, that line goes through my mind often and I wonder how it will look in the years to come and whether it will ever be as resplendent as its ancestor became, giving shelter and sustenance to so many small creatures. I shall never know, but I hope that it does.