Today, I have been thinking back over the most beautiful autumn, here in Suffolk, this year. Our little cottage garden is a haven of nature. It is a place of sanctuary and escape for us and, we hope, a haven for wildlife.
Back in October, one afternoon, I decided to spend an hour looking after a beautiful little oak tree that our lovely Aunty Ann had given to us last year. In fact, Ann had given us two little oaks but, sadly, one didn’t survive the snow and ice of winter earlier in the year.
I recall a funny little verse from way back when I was at school:
“If you feel
Your Life’s a joke
And your successes, few
The mighty oak
Was one a nut
Ann is a wonderful gardener. Her cottage garden is always filled with the most beautiful display of flowers and, at the front of her cottage, there is always a very pretty burst of colour in the flower bed outside her front door. The rich burst of colour is a testament to the work she puts in.
The surviving oak had produced a good foliage throughout the year but I could see that it was starting to grow more in the way that one would expect a shrub to grow. This suggested that the pot, within which the oak was developing, was too small. Oaks need to grow their roots wide and deep. In fact, where oaks are concerned, what grows above the surface of the earth is matched by the same broad, and deep, spread of roots below the surface. When an oak is being cultivated in a pot, it is important to ensure that the pot offers the required space for the roots to grow, or you will risk the oak becoming pot bound. This could render the oak into becoming stunted and shrub-like. It can also cause damage to the oak and potentially this could lead to the oak becoming diseased. In the worst case, you may lose the oak altogether.
It is usually not recommended that you try to grow an oak in a pot. Here, however, we have to be protective. The land around our cottage is rich in wildlife and that includes deer. Muntjac Deer are a delightful little deer who originate in Asia. They roam wild here in Suffolk and they love to come to the edge of our garden, from through the woodland. I love this. That said, the dear little deer also love nibbling at the vegetation and they would happily munch on our little oak if they had the opportunity. That is why we are aiming to help the oak grow to a size where it will be better able to survive if a nibbling creature happens upon it one day.
At the foot of the little oak, in the pot, I had cultivated a rich mat of moss. This moss helps to cover the surface of the pot; helpful for preventing the soil from drying out. I may be right in thinking that moss is actually endangered. Whether that is the case, or not, moss provides a beautiful, lush carpet that almost lights up the surface of the pot. Moss also serves as a good habitat for tiny insects, which the wrens who nest in our hedgerow seem to enjoy picking at.
In our garage, I found a pot that was suitable for transferring the oak into. I had actually not had time to get out to buy the size of pot that I really wanted but, being October, I settled for knowing that the pot we already had would see the oak through winter and into mid-late spring, next year. At that time, I can then re-pot the oak into something more suited to the next couple of years of growth. I also did not have time to get out to research the ideal soil for the oak and so I simply made use of regular potting compost that we had left over from summer. Again, I am happy that this compost will serve well until spring.
I gently transferred the little oak, with the surrounding carpet of moss, to its new pot and gently ensured that the leaves were spread deep and wide, well covered with compost and then watered. I’d left an inch or so of space at the top of the pot, in order to allow room for the moss to continue growing. I found the moss so beautiful to touch and it was fragile. There were tiny red fronds growing out from the moss. I need to read up on moss to discover whether these are part of the moss or whether they are another plant that is growing within the moss. The crimson red of the fronds offered a vibrant contrast, against the almost luminous green of the rich moss. The scene was reminiscent of a miniature woodland.
Another point of note, to follow up on, is that the oak leaves appeared to have a white powdery coating. I was unsure whether this was a natural state for the leaves and part of the process of the leaves changing, ready to fall, or whether this may be some form of fungal growth or virus. Over winter, it seems that I have much reading up to do on the subject of oak cultivation.
Our cottage is on the land of a private country estate. Directly behind our cottage is a small woodland. Our landlord has now asked that we do not ever make changes or do anything to the woodland without his consent, for the woodland is, like much of the estate, part of a conservation project. I had thought it might be nice to encourage woodland flowers in but this will not be possible, for we have to conserve what is in place, as it is.
We have been given permission to run a small strimmed path through the nettles, enabling us to walk our dogs into the estate land and so we maintain that pathway in the dry seasons and we let it grow back during the wetter seasons. Our neighbours have a pathway around the edge of the woodland and so they also have the access to the land, for walking.
I am hoping that our little oak will do well for the next few years, in our care, and that we will then be able to ask our landlord whether we may plant the oak into a suitable place on the 120 acre estate. We feel keen to do this for we benefit, thanks to so many beautiful trees here, from seeing barn owls and tawny owls and a considerable range of birds who live and nest in the trees.
With so much destruction of the natural world, by humans, we are doing everything we can to help restore and increase the natural wildlife habitat. It would also be nice to know that, when we are long gone, someone else will enjoy the owls and be thankful for our little oak tree.
Our little oak tree may one day become a tall and mighty oak, standing majestically over the beautiful Suffolk landscape.
The owls will never know that, once upon a time, our lovely Aunty Ann (pictured here with Uncle Ted) made the kind gesture of giving us a tiny little oak in a pot!