Trees – a cut above the rest, by Tony Kirkham

In March Grayshott Gardeners were lucky enough to welcome Tony Kirkham to give our Keynote Lecture.  Tony, Former Head of Arboretum at Kew Gardens, was fascinated by trees from a young age.  His interest can be traced back to a love of conkers – originally ones that dangled from shoe laces and could be used in combat! He was also a proud nature table monitor and pursued this interest as a career – and although he trained in all aspects of Horticulture, it was trees that remained his first love. 

Tony gave us an insight into the intelligence of trees.  Some have developed an ability to communicate with insects, changing the colour of their flowers once they have been pollinated to let insects know that they need not visit – maximising efficiency of both nectar gathering for the insects and pollination for the tree.  Others have developed adaptations that allow them to grow taller – by collecting moisture from their tips and taller branch joints, thereby overcoming the challenges of getting water from roots in the ground to a crown that is over 100 meters tall.

He has spent many family holidays in a quest to find the largest, oldest or tallest tree. He has also had many adventures around the world, sleeping in rough accommodation, braving hostile mosquitos and fording raging rivers in order to find rare tree specimens growing in their native habitat. 

Tony gave us some practical lessons too.  Plant trees in a square hole, at the right depth (never too deep), with a clear mulched circle round the trunk for a few years, and your trees will thrive.  They might even get too big, in which case Tony showed us the best way to cut branches, so that their branch bark ridge and their branch collar will naturally heal and callous over.

It was a fascinating evening, and Tony’s enthusiasm for trees was infectious.  Many of us bought copies of his books at the end of the lecture so that we could learn a bit more.