Tag: oak tree

Talking Trees With The Autistic Gardener!

‘I’m a tree nut! Plain and simple.’ Says award winning Alan Gardner, better known through his successful television career in garden design as the Autistic Gardener on Channel 4.

Alan, a seasoned celebrity garden designer from Sutton Coldfield, has an encyclopaedic knowledge and enthusiasm for trees which is wonderful. Waxing lyrical about trees with Alan over a cup of tea on the phone is no better way for BTfL to spend a soggy Monday morning.

Alan, is married to Mandy and a dad of three grown up children, Deanna 20, Reiss 25 and Hayden,28. Alan has Asperger’s Syndrome. His love of horticulture started as a young boy when he began to understand the joy of growing plants, especially cacti. Understanding that there were thousands of plants to learn about, to grow and to nurture started an obsession with horticulture which, excuse the pun grew and grew.

Alan, just starting his career in horticulture

Determined to carve out a career in horticulture Alan began working at Birmingham Parks Department in the late 1970’s aged 16 where he began to perfect his craft. In 1986  he left the parks department to design gardens.

His career has seen Alan create 40 Royal Horticultural Society gardens and won numerous awards at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park. The last award Alan won was a silver medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015. His TV career began when he was approached by Channel 4 to present a garden design show in 2015.

In the show Alan re-designs gardens for neuro-typical clients with his five-strong team of trainees; all amateur gardening enthusiasts and all on the autistic spectrum with the programme emphasis on gardens, design and valuing individual differences and achievements.

‘Being autistic means I need to know everything about everything I’m interested in – there are no short measures.’ Alan explains.

‘I don’t call what I do a job, in fact I’ve never had a real job, I get paid for being me, getting to fly all over the world, design gardens, talk about gardens and autism is an absolute joy.’

A publicity shot for the Channel 4 series, The Autistic Gardener

But despite his high-flying career Alan’ feet are firmly on the ground and he enjoys supporting his local area and local community in their endevours to keep improving and maintaining their local environment to make it more biodiverse, beautiful, people friendly and community based.

Alan say: ‘I help a local community group in North Birmingham with John Porter of the parks department in Birmingham to plant in their local area to improve it, make it more diverse, wildlife friendly and more beautiful.

‘It makes the area look good and gives the local community a sense of pride in their environment and I am very much in support of them. It allows people ownership of something quite special.

‘When I started in Birmingham’s Parks department it was because horticulture and plants were of a very special interest to me.

‘Birmingham is one of the greenest cities in the country and I was propagator in charge of Birmingham’s tree nursery in Perry Barr. I’m glad I was a part of our city being so green.

‘There, we grew 12,500 trees, 123 different varieties to be planted in streets and parks in Birmingham.

‘Now years later I can go out for a walk and see an avenue of huge beautiful trees I grew them – it’s a lovely feeling.

‘Being autistic and having Asperger’s Syndrome means certain things draw my attention and I’ve always like things that are bigger than me including, cranes, electric pylon and trees.

‘The oak tree for example is a huge tree and has been here for a considerable amount of time. I’m fascinated by trees, how they got here, why some survive and some don’t.

‘Why some have so much colour and others show as short burst for a month and then are hardly noticeable for the rest of the year. An oak tree supports 200 types of insects while a Japanese Cherry will support virtually none.

‘Certain trees like cherries when in flower are beautiful breath-taking blossom trees, but any other time of the year you may walk past it and hardly notice them much at all.

‘Autumn colour are trees vying for attention, and they are so beautiful if we just take the time to look up and take note. I don’t believe we take enough notice of trees.

‘For me a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is an absolute joy. There are so many amazing trees to wonder at.

‘My favourite tree is Copper Beach which is over 200-yrs old in sits majestically in the Rose Garden. It is a beautiful specimen and the peacocks roost in it.

‘Redwoods too, I love to give Redwoods a hug. It’s like touching fibre glass and it’s a very cuddly tree. The Red Wood has a brilliant defence mechanism, that is the bark is fireproof – amazing trees!

‘Most of them planted in this country were planted at the same time as there was a bit of a craze for them.

‘Just like Monkey Puzzle Tree, you may notice them in the front gardens of Victorian house as people of that time were fascinated by them.

These are trees that were around at the same time as Dinosaurs – trees are quite amazing.  The semi-precious black coloured shiny stone Jet is the fossilized Monkey Puzzle Tree.

‘Trees are part of the glue that holds nature and our world together and as things feel like they are falling apart right now – we need more glue.

‘Planting and growing trees is a legacy that is very important and we must embrace them. I love trees and I was happy to come out with BTfL three years ago planting trees at Jones Wood in Sutton Coldfield.  It was a great morning, doing what I love to do, planting and soaking up the enthusiasm from the local community groups and schools that were also planting that day.

Alan with BtfL at Jones Wood

We need to plant the right trees, so people fall in love with then and stay in love with them. Street trees are wonderful, soften the hard edges. Developers need to plant the right tree and not just plant trees as a token gesture, clumping the wrong trees together without any thought.

In Cannock Chase there are lots of spruce and pine trees, they are good for the environment, but they aren’t great for wildlife and the ground is becoming sterile. But mixed woodland like Beech, Oak and Birch are great for the environment and biodiversity too. Planting these trees along with a good mix of native hedgerows is what we need more of and I understand BTfL is doing this year on year.

Alan working with school children at BTfL tree planting at Jones Wood

I’m happy to see a slow but very strong shift in interest in environment. I see it on a local level with more friends groups and friends of parks groups being organised and growing. There is a Friends Groups in Jones Wood that has emerged and is caring for the local environment encouraging wildlife, other plants and tree species and people.

The area was overrun by brambles and was killing off the beautiful bluebells. So the friends group got together, cleared the area of bramble and now it is a beautiful place to – just be!

You change things by giving it a sense of purpose like the wild area being looked after by locals at Jones Wood. Now people flock to it to enjoy everything this naturally beautiful place has to offer.

Our natural surroundings are so important and people are so preoccupied by just getting through life, not enough appreciating nature around them, although I think lockdown over the last few months has changed this. The slower pace of life has allowed everyone to appreciate their natural surroundings a lot more, so we are all connecting with nature on a deeper level, which makes us more like to invest in it.

I’ve travelled all over the world, New York, Texas, Los Angeles and have seen one side of America to the other. But in this country we have the finest trees in the world.

And for that we should feel very lucky!

Don’t Be a Tree Mugger – Be A Tree Hugger!

Space – it’s at a premium and lots of us want more if it. Whether it’s extending our homes, our gardens, our driveways, or wanting a better view – sometimes trees get in the way! I’m sure we’ve all heard the reasons for chopping down that one beautiful tree, ‘I need more space, it’s getting in the way of my drive, I hate cleaning up the leaves, that sap on my car is so annoying, those roots are out of control, I want to landscape my garden, its spoiling my view….’

Now just imagine we all chopped down one tree in our garden, ‘the flooding here is ridiculous, the air quality on my street is so poor, I’ve lost thousands off the value of my home, I’d love more shade in my garden, I feel so stressed out, where have all the birds gone, I live in a concrete jungle, my child’s asthma is getting worse….

It’s just one tree you say – what if 65.5 million other people said that too! That’s the population of the UK. It’s, ‘just one tree.’ Well that one tree cuts air pollution, absorbs carbon dioxide, provides oxygen, reduces flooding, absorbs toxins and bad smalls, provides a habitat and food source to wildlife, improves physical health, aids emotional wellbeing, provides shading, screening and cooling, acts as a windbreaker, increases the price of your home, aids local productivity and gives us something beautiful to enjoy.

Across the UK there were 27.2 million households in 2017 of these 22.7 million households have a garden. If every one of these households planted two trees each, it would total more than 45 million. This is about 3% of the total number of trees the Woodland Trust estimates the UK needs to plant by 2050 to reach net zero emissions – 1.5 billion. What an amazing statistic to be part of!

There are 7.7 billion people on the planet and three trillion trees, 30 percent of the planet is covered in trees, but half of the trees on the planet have already been cut down. And today, like every day, trees across the globe are being cut down at a rate of 500 a second – please don’t make it 501 and be part of such a terrifying statistic!

A single mature oak tree can absorb 50-gallons of water a day, a mature leafy tree can produce as much oxygen as 10 people need to breathe in just one season. A mature tree can absorb up to 48 lbs of carbon dioxide a year. Spending just a few hours under a tree or around trees can improve physical and mental health for up to three months. Being outside connecting with nature is a must for our health.

We need to be a good ancestors and nurture nature for future generations. Thinking long term is the key. Not our long term, but your children’s and their children’s long term future on a planet which needs millions more trees to be planted to ensure it is healthy and humankind has a future. So if you cut down that one tree in your back garden you are reducing your children’s, your grandchildren’s your friends, your neighbours and your own air supply – do you want that burden on your shoulders?

So, we say – just leave that tree and learn to love that tree. It’s not a burden it’ a blessing, only giving and never taking away. Furthermore, plant a tree because you will be doing everyone in the world a very big favour and what could feel better than that? We know what could be better – planting another tree!

Please, please, leave the tree in your back garden to carry on giving us all a better quality of life. The tree you want to cut down has most likely been there way before you arrived and will be there years after you have left. You don’t have to plant an oak tree, if you have a smaller space to work with why not plant any number of smaller beautiful trees.

Crab Apple– Add spring flair to your landscape, a wide array available that bears flowers in shades of white, pink, and red and produces orange, gold, red, or burgundy fruits. Many varieties offer exceptional Autumn colour and great disease resistance.

Japanese Maple– There are lots of small, slow-growing Japanese Maples to grow that won’t overcrowd your garden in a hurry. The foliage provides blazing autumn colour and grows in an attractive shape. Grow them in a sheltered spot, out of direct sun, or try them in a large tub.

Cercis– Commonly known as redbuds, these trees are grown for their spring and summer blossom, with some cultivars having dramatic bronze or purple foliage, too and will grow to 8m.

Ornamental Cherries– are perfect trees for small gardens. Their spring blossom is breath-taking and will benefit pollinators as well as being a feast for the eyes and is a lovely choice for a small garden, ultimately reaching 8m in height.

Hawthorn – is a wonderful choice for a small garden and one of the most wildlife-friendly trees you can grow. Native to the UK, it’s a caterpillar food plant for moths, bees visit the flowers in spring and birds love the calorie-rich berries in autumn. The species can reach 6-8m in height and there are plenty of cultivars to choose from.

Japanese Dogwoodis a lovely small tree native to Japan and Korea. In early summer, it bears masses of tiny flowers that are surrounded by conspicuous white bracts. When autumn arrives, the foliage turns a vibrant shade of crimson along with strawberry-like pink fruits.

Don’t be a trees mugger – be a tree hugger, plant a tree and wait and see, we guarantee you will never be disappointed.

And remember – a world without trees is a world without lungs and a world without lungs is a world with no future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (NB, We would only ever advocate cutting down a tree if it a diseased or dangerous always check with your local council before felling any tree in your garden)

 

Return to Nature – We Certainly Did!

The BTfL team arrived at Holders Lane Wood in Moseley on the morning of September the 14th to join Forward Arts in celebrating the Return to Nature Festival. The sun light dappled through the beautiful canopy of trees that were overhead and it was beautifully serene.

As likeminded, groups, charities and individuals set up their stalls around in a large circle amongst the woods we had a feeling it was going to be a great day – and we were right!

There was a whole range of eco-themed activities, entertainment for the whole family to enjoy and participate in. Environmental arts, music, writing, craft, nature trails, story-telling, inspiring talks, delicious food and a wonderfully progressive community atmosphere.

The day was full of joy, laughter, and a wonderful sense of community. Hundreds of people visited the festival for the same simple thing – to enjoy everything nature had to offer.

A perfect setting with the last sunshine of summer shining down on us all day long. At BTfL we enjoyed collaborating with children and adults alike about the thrill and the importance of tree planting. How we should celebrate trees and enjoy everything they had to offer.

It didn’t take long before we had countless children and grown-ups making small plant pots made from recycled newspaper donning our stall, each with an individual acorn planted. Some people wrote a small message on the pot of their newly planted acorn, such as, ‘Happy Birthday Acorn!’

While most people who planted, an acorn were eager to take it home and grow it themselves, others who lived in flats and apartments or had very small gardens left their pots in our capable hands. BTfL has promised to nurture these newly planted trees and nurture them we will.

We also brought an array of fruit and vegetables to show where seeds came from, what kind of seeds there were, including coffee, peppers, apricots strawberries and of course chocolate! Unsurprisingly the chocolate got a lot of interest!

Our seed collecting walk with Simon Needle, Principal Arboriculturist/Principal Ecologist was a brilliant way of learning lots of weird and wonderful facts about trees too. We were all captivated with one of our audience saying the talk, ‘blew his mind!’

Then we were back to our stall to help people celebrate their ideas and memories about trees with, Mandy Ross, a Community Arts Practitioner, poet and children’s author based in Birmingham who loves that we live in such a beautifully green city. Mandy inspired each person to share their personal tree memory with us. To celebrate each tree story, we encouraged each of our new poets to peg their poetry on our own BTfL tree.

Mandy then built a wonderfully rhythmic poem, funny, heart-warming and poignant with many of our mini poets’ memories and personal stories about trees – to celebrate trees with a Poe-Tree! The Poe-Tree was then performed in front of an audience who from the cheers and the claps at the end reading really enjoyed it.

We would like to say a huge thank you to @ForwardArts for organising a wonderful festival celebrating the natural world. We would be there again next year in a heartbeat!  If there is a festival next year, fingers crossed!