The mighty Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) tree that has its home at the end of our garden, where it has probably lived for well over a century and maybe two hundred years, is making its presence felt in a big way.
Legend has it that the term “Horse Chestnut” comes from the scar that’s left when a leaf parts company with a branch. It resembles an inverted horse’s hoof, complete with nail holes. In days of yore, Horse Chestnut fruits – conkers, to you and me – were ground up and fed to horses as a medicine when they had colds. In our garden, the main customer is the notoriously forgetful squirrel, who digs small holes in the lawn and buries them, for future consumption (or not, as is more often the case).
Dealing with the hundreds of large, palmate leaves that are falling every day can be time-consuming. The obvious ways to clear them are to rake them all together and carry them in a trug to a suitable refuse bin; or maybe collect them in a pile in a safe place and burn them. I prefer faster methods. Although mowing the lawn at this time of year is ill-advised if there are frequent frosts, whilst the ground is still frost-free any injury to grass stalks is likely to heal and damage to the grass plants is likely to be minimal. An even better method is to use a garden vac, which shreds the leaves just as finely as a mower but has the advantage of being able to be used in and around flower borders, too.
Leaf shreddings are very valuable if stored somewhere dry – under the very same tree is a good place – in a black plastic bag for six to twelve months. The resulting compost can be added to garden soil as a soil enricher or used as a mulch to inhibit weed growth.
Many horse chestnut trees grow by the side of roads, of course, and are still, even in these days of video games, Pokemon and VR a source of great seasonal fun for schoolchildren wanting to collect conkers.
It amazes me that the traditional game of conkers continues to thrive, with the 2016 edition of the annual World Conker Championships in Northampton earlier this month having attracted significant national media coverage. The secret of success in the sport is to find the best way to harden one’s conker and there’s a whole mythology about how to create a really hard conker.
In other news …
Firethorn – Pyracantha (berries very popular with the blackbirds)
Viburnum – Viburnum Tinus – fragrant plant just coming into bloom – should flower till June
Virginia creeper – night-time shot to highlight colour variations
Maple – young tree, showing off spectacular golds and yellows
Strawberries – baby plants (aww …), propagated via runners.
Tomatoes – still lots of small ones left; the Black Cherry variety is really (really!) tasty
Crime scene … Oh dear, no escaping the dreaded Sparrowhawk.