The Orange Tip

details in the dirt

Category: wood

Working in the Wood

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Back in the woods again. The paths have held quite well, edged with the fallen or cut branches from last year’s tree work. Although the boundaried areas of copse have subsequently been afforded uninhibited (and un-trampled) freedom of growth, it is now necessary to clear back the bramble before it has a chance to take over.

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

Splitting our little wood up into five sections, I’ve been slowly digging up the thorny blanket by the roots and amassing them at the centre of the copse, ready for a bonfire next week.

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Bramble pile for burning

Bramble pile for burning

As with the work last winter, I’ve loved spending a solid block of time devoted to this section of the garden; probably my favourite place to be at this time of year. The birds in the canopy are a hive of constant activity, preparing new nests and scoping out material with which to construct them. On the copse floor, flowers of snowdrop and winter aconite are now in full flower, lighting up the ground as beacons for awakening bumble bees.

Snowdrops in flower (

Snowdrops in flower (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Arum leaves under large English oak

Arum leaves under large English oak

One plant I’ve always ensured gets a good footing in the wood is burdock. Around four years ago I found a small clump, having presumably made its way over the park wall via wind or wing (or more likely, attached to a squirrel), in full spread beside one of our ash trees. Ever fond of its shrub-like form and broad, rhubarb-esque leaves, I’ve made sure each year to gather and redistribute the seed, collecting directly from the dried heads that remain at the top of dead stems over winter. Taking note of the plant’s edible qualities from the wildflower bible that is Richard Mabey’s, Flora Britannica, I even once dug up some of the burdock’s roots and had a go at stir frying them. Nothing special..I’m not going to lie. Flora Britannica is very much a book worth having to prop up anyone’s interest in the history of our British wild flowers though.

Burdock seed heads (Arctium sp.)

Burdock seed heads (Arctium minus)

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Burdock seeds released

Burdock seeds released from capsule

'Flora Britannica', by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Flora Britannica by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

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New Life in Dead Wood

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This is a picture of the stag beetle I found sitting on my desk two years ago. When I came in from the garden he was upside down, clawing the air with his hooked legs; an enormous insect there on my notebook. It was a bizarre occurrence, not least because of how scarce a sighting of one of these beetles has become; I actually jumped a little at the sight of it, wondering if it might even be a children’s toy.

The truth is that I should have expected to see one, sooner or later. Since I arrived at the garden I’ve been very deliberately leaving piles of stacked wood in tucked away corners in the hope of attracting the various creatures which favour such a habitat. A couple years on I’d already begun to see evidence of field mice, over-wintering hornets, solitary bees, toads, slow worms and even grass snakes. With Richmond park so close by too (with it’s contingent of largely woodland areas), stag beetles were always a possibility.

These impressive, majestic and slightly ridiculous-looking beetles depend fully on the existence of dead and decaying wood. Before the days when woodland floor clearance and tidying was deemed good practice (and more recently thrown out following the development of ecological study and the realisation of the detriment this management strategy had caused), stag beetles were a common sight in the UK. The beetles actually have a surprisingly long life, with only a short amount of it – a few weeks – spent in their completed beetle form. Development rom egg-hatch to winged insect can take between 4-6 years; nearly all of it therefore spent buried inside rotting wood or underground as larvae. This is why it is so crucial that any nesting site must be left completely undisturbed for such a long period. In a natural ecology of time gone by, fallen trees slowly decaying on the wood floor allowed for exactly this environment, and the beetles flourished.

Going back to the garden then – there’s a very small collection of two or three logs that I’ve left alone and surrounded by lawn for about four years. It’s a tiny wooden island in a sea of grass. Accidentally knocking one of the stumps over while mowing last week I was amazed to find that the inside had completely rotted away AND it contained three little stag beetle larvae. They appeared to be at differing stages of development (known as ‘instar’s), with the largest at least a year away from pupation. It’s such a good sign of the changing times therefore, that even a very small collection of wood left alone can potentially provide a home for growing stag beetles – small enough to be included in any garden no matter what the size.

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I few years ago I wrote a post on the provision of habitat in a garden here.

Laburnam Cut

Laburnam

Part of the work I did in the wood this Winter involved felling three mature trunks of a Laburnam tree. The tree had begun to fall under it’s own weight, having rooted in loose soil and so I decided to coppice it before it had a chance to topple. I’ve been away from the garden for a few weeks but my fingers are crossed in the hope of seeing a few new shoots on my return..

Traditionally Laburnam wood has been used for turning and as embellishment on fine furniture. The dark coloration of the heart wood makes it an ideal (and cheaper) alternative to ebony. Despite having little plans for the wood as yet, I saved as much as I could from the fell, storing it in the shed and log-store. Pictured above is a small cross section with a little linseed to bring out the colour. It really is a beautiful wood.

Beech Wood

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Last winter a large limb dropped off our stunning yet very elderly copper beech. It took about a day to cut away the brash-wood and smaller diameter branches. Knowing that in a few months the floor beneath the tree canopy would be a wash with spanish bluebells,  I cut the remaining limb  into lengths and piled them below. Beech wood and blue bells just look so at home together.

Being cut Log

Time In The Wood

LogsNine trees came down during the fierce winds of the last couple of months. All but one of them were robinia; a north American woodland tree of which we have a great number at the garden. The pros of robinia are that it’s a great, grand tree; stunning blossom in early summer, fantastic for wildlife (I’m forever stopping to watch nuthatches and woodpeckers scour their fissures for insects) and they grow very quickly. The problem with them however, as so many now frustrated London borough councils are experiencing, is that they are shallow rooted, weigh a great deal and are prone to snapping.

Having finally finished the never ending autumn and early winter jobs around the garden (mostly involving aggravating but useful machines like pressure washers and hedge trimmers) I’ve been at last able to get stuck into the woodland and begin returning it to form.

In early summer the fairly open canopy means lots of wildflowers; alkanet, cow parsley, greater celandine, campian etc all flourish to form a dense and beautiful lower story of up to 1.5 meters. With this in mind I’m aiming to create new paths that weave among them, clean and chop the trees that have come down, fell any leaning with intent to fall and then process the wood into lengths, habitat and firewood for next year.

Wood summer

Pathway summerAll brash wood I’m leaving in large piles to rot down and provide shelter for wildlife (also a much simpler option than shifting it all.. which there really isn’t any need for anyway). There isn’t yet a purpose in mind for the log lengths, however I didn’t want to convert all the good material into firewood and so they’ll remain in the wood until purpose arrives.

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Log Store