Shy Oaks

Example of Crown Shyness in Oaks
Crown Shyness

Well lovelies, it’s been rather some time since we last got together on the blog, how the devil are you all?

Like a good swathe of the country we have been enjoying a splendid snowfall. I say enjoying, I know it makes travel, work and school difficult, but from an aesthetic point of view it has brightened a dark and gloomy run up to Solstice. I still have a child like delight when it comes to snow and this year, unlike others, it came on a Sunday which was most considerate. No panic about the commute or how to get the children to, or from school, and, as I can work from home (plus said children are now at Uni) even a snowy Monday could be enjoyed rather than endured.

Originally I had thought this post would be wordless in a Wednesday kind of way, however when I was looking through the numerous pictures I’d taken over the last few days this one perhaps deserved a little explanation.

On the one hand, it’s just a group of oak trees, lightly dusted with snow against an almost azure blue sky, clinging precariously to the ridge of a hill. Nothing much needed by way of an explanation there, on the other, it’s an example of Crown Shyness*. Not the finest example you’ll ever see (to actually get directly beneath them I would have had to be a mountain goat with crampons) but an example none the less.

When we talk about Crown Shyness, it has absolutely nothing to do with a suited and booted actresses meeting her future in laws for the first time, but, a phenomenon occurring when tree crowns avoid touching or overlapping their neighbours.

Nobody seems to know why it happens, although there have been various theories in the last 100 years, from self pruning where branches rub together, the effects of differing light levels within the canopy and evolved self preservation to prevent the spread of parasites and diseases travelling from crown to crown. The only things I concluded from looking at this particular group of Oaks is that they seemed to be the same age, rather beautiful and probably just do what they do with no regard to the inquiring minds of humans.

Oaks in the snow Ankerdine
Gratuitous Oak in the snow picture

*also described as Canopy Disengagement, Canopy Shyness, or Intercrown Spacing.

The Tale of Three Trees – The Sequel


Trio of Newton Wonders
Trio of Newton Wonders

Last year I wrote about our Apple Trees in –  Season of Misty Mellow Fruitfulness or A Tale of Three Trees and as October has rolled round again with seemingly indecent haste I thought it time for an update on my Unidentified Tree Number Three.

Not long after writing my last post apples from Unidentified Tree Number Three were taken on a day trip to one of our local Applefests, where it was duly identified as Newton Wonder by the knowledgable folk who specialise in all things appley.

According to the RHS it is said to be a cross between Blenheim Orange and Dumelow’s Seedling and described as “A vigorous tree cropping well, with a larger crop every other year”. Although I’m not sure my tree can read as the sum total this year’s crop is a whole three apples*. Still I suppose that’s three more than in any of the other years with the notable exception of 2013.

Now you might think that with a name like Newton Wonder it might share some ancestry with that famous gravitational cultivar growing in Sir Isaac’s garden, if you did you would be wrong. The story is, I think, a much better one.

The tree was discovered by a Mr Samual Taylor of King’s Newton in Darbyshire. Not, as many apples are, discovered growing by the roadside. No, this one, according to folklore was found growing in the roof gutter of Hardinge Arms where Mr Taylor was the Landlord. I like to think he took pity on this little seedling growing against the odds and decided it deserved a second chance, planting it in the garden of the pub. It must have impressed as Messers Pearson & Co cultivated it and in 1887 it was awarded an RHS First Class Certificate. Not bad for an apple who started life in a gutter. 



*Happily for us we have a recipe that requires precisely three apples:

Bapple Cake
Bapple Cake


Bapple Cake

3 eggs

3 Newton Wonder – Apples

3oz Soft Light Brown Sugar

3oz Golden Caster Sugar

6oz Butter

6oz Self-Raising Flour

Mixed Spice


Demerara Sugar for a final sprinkle


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 180°C,

Grate the apples into a bowl. Cream together the butter and sugar. Gradually add in the eggs. Fold in the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon Fold in the grated apples. Bake at 180 until done (30-40 mins depending on the size of your tin)

Sprinkle with Demerara Sugar if required and eat while still warm.



Symmetry, what could possibly go wrong?

We all learn in lots of different ways, some of us learn by rote, observation or books. Sometimes we even learn from our mistakes but far less painful is to learn from the perceived mistakes of others.

A case in point is the East Parterre at Witley Court in Worcestershire, part of the gardens commissioned by The Earl of Dudley and completed around 1860.

Now there are a myriad of garden design terms bandied about with an airy waft of the hand, especially during the ‘Show Season’. Symmetry, asymmetry, focal point, rhythm, balance, scale, proportion and unity are just some of them.

In your own garden you might not name the principles of design that are present, but, as Ms Capulet so eloquently said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet.” The world of design is dominated by these principles, they are, I suppose the ‘Rules of Design’ and sometimes, like all rules, they get broken. After all, they’re not Laws of Design, merely Guidelines.

Personally, I think the two most important principles are Unity and Balance. Design principles shouldn’t be confused with a design style, they do not go in and out of fashion, they are an enduring element of any successful design. Without them you can find yourself with a jarring design that simply falls short of the mark, sometimes its easy to spot, other times less so. 

Areal view of East Parterre
Areal view of East Parterre


On the face of it this French parterre de broderie should work, its perfectly symmetrical, all the elements balance with each other and the scale is perfect given the size of the mansion. However, as you walk around you are left with a real feeling of discomfort.

Could it be that the vandalized fountain of Flora, the Goddess of Spring has been reduced to four Tritons drinking imaginary yards of ale and seemingly worshipping a foot? Possible but actually that whimsy is one of the best parts of this area. 

Make mine a yard of ale
Make mine a yard of ale                            

The English Heritage blurb would have you believe that this Parterre was designed to be, “looked down on from the most important rooms of the house or from the raised balustraded areas”.

You might therefore think that given the grandeur of the ballroom, with its many windows looking over the East Parterre and out to the countryside beyond, its majestic steps, sweeping down to this easterly section of garden, that this would be one of the ‘most important rooms’ of which English Heritage are referring to.


You might also think that given the alignment of the fountain of Perseus and Andromeda, directly with the steps from the South Portico, that symmetry would be replicated here with the fountain of Flora and her Tritons being the focal point of the Ballroom.

Well gentle reader you would be wrong to assume any such thing. It would seem that William Andrews Nesfield (the landscape architect) and The Earl of Dudley considered the servants passageway running between the Dining Room and Sitting Room to be of the utmost importance, as it is the windows of this room that aligns perfectly with the focal point of the fountain. Which although very nice for the servants does result in this section of the gardens being discomfortingly out of balance with the architecture of the house. 

Annoyingly out of kilter
Annoyingly out of kilter


As I say, its always nice to learn from others, and should I ever be commissioned to design such a garden, I think I’ll stick to a design that unifies House and Garden with a sense balance. Sometimes its better to bend, rather than break, the rules.

Here There Be Dragons

Primula bulleyana or Candelabra Primula
Primula bulleyana or Candelabra Primula




The map tells sailors where to sail 

The decorations sun and whale, 

The warning spelled in letters pale 


But north-northwest there is a gap 

Should cause the sailors no mishap, 

But north-northwest there is a gap. 





The continents are not drawn true, 

The ocean waves outlined in blue, 

Sea serpentine provides the clue





Yet year by year the ships have passed 

Through oceans wide and oceans vast,

And sailors stared atop the mast 




No scales of blue and jaws of green 

Are by these modern sailors seen 

Do you think that this might mean





I’d like to hope,

I’d like to pray

The dragons have just gone away

And will return some other day