National Tree Week: Why we all need the comfort of a tree

This week is National Tree Week, so holistic gardener Fiann Ó Nualláin has been looking at what varieties are best for you and your garden

I LOVE that our national sport is played with hunks of ash tree. My outdoor activity is gardening rather than sport, but I am a huge hurling fan — I love its aggression, skill and poetry. I love that definition of hurling as “a cross between hockey and murder”.

The late actor Joe Lynch (of Glenroe) was a hurling fan. He said that “I love Cork so much that if I caught one of their hurlers in bed with my missus, I’d tiptoe downstairs and make him a cup of tea”. I wouldn’t go that far, but whenever I get a chance I plant ash.

The mighty ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a towering, magnificent, straight-trunked, deciduous tree. Fast-growing on any soil but peat, it can reach 40 metres in height, with canopies 20 metres wide. Its twigs are notable for their yellow tip and black winter buds. Its foliage is an uplifting green.

It is a symbol of strength and longevity, a habitat for wildlife and one of our most-loved native trees. It is one for the woodland rather than the patio, but should be top of the list for community and school gardens.

If you want a smaller specimen to fit any garden, opt for the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) or an apple (Malus spp). Both have edible fruits (but poison pips) that are high in pectin, so make great jams and improve the functioning of the digestive tract, reduce cholesterol, promote stable glucose levels and regulate blood pressure. Hawthorn is also a brilliant cardiotonic.

But, best of all, a paste of apple flesh or hawthorn berries can make décolletage look five years younger and faces more radiant. The pectin and phytochemicals in both are a gentle chemical peel for the skin, instantly soothing redness and blemishes and encouraging the production of fresh collagen. Just wear it for 20 minutes, three times a week, for two weeks. Save the money you’d spend on anti-ageing creams and buy a tree or two.

Also, a property with a healthy and proportioned tree that has aesthetic ‘kerbside appeal’ and that provides shade, wind-shelter etc, is more valued than a property without. Both real estate agents and home buyers assign monetary value to the presence of trees; mature-garden trees can add 10- 25% percent to the value of a residence.

Because of the shade and shelter, you won’t have to refresh the paint on your house as often and the house will be cooler in summer and the heating bills lower in winter. Beyond your castle, trees are of benefit to the locality. People are known to linger and shop longer along tree-lined streets.

For businesses leasing office spaces in developments planted with trees, that kerbside appeal woos new clients and they have higher occupancy rates than treeless ‘industrial parks’. Trees have a proven psychological impact on human motivation and sense of well-being.

Part of that connection is a simple response to nature, but some of it resonates in our cultural approbation of trees.

In the lore of our folk, trees are everywhere. Cúchullain was made by the ash and willow — its Irish name, saille, means a sudden outburst of action, expression or emotion.

The carrying of a willow leaf was once regarded as a charm to protect against jealousy, folklore perhaps traceable back to Cúchullain and his wife, Emer. She was the inspiration for ‘The Only Jealousy of Emer’, a story by Augusta Gregory and later a play by WB Yeats. ‘Fionn MacCumhaill’, or MacColl or MacCool, or whatever way you spell it, means the son of the hazel. We know him through the tale of the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, but that story begins: “Over Connla’s well there hung the nine hazels of poetic arts, their nuts shed to feed the salmon swimming in the pool below…”. It was the nuts that held the wisdom.

Trees can be selected for their beauty or for their function, but remember their significance, too. Planting a tree for a loved-one or for a departed-one is such a special thing to do.

National Tree Week is this week. It’s a celebration of trees and a call to plant more trees. I will plant an alder — it is the tree that represents the month of March in the old Irish calendar, the ogham tree calendar. You too could chose a tree from the ogham calendar and plant it to represent the birthday of someone you love.


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