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The art of parenting – an account of growing trees from seed

The Tree Council

June 18, 2020

The heartwarming account of Tree Warden Nick Cooper raising a brood of tree seedlings – perhaps it might inspire you to have a go at growing trees from seed!

The Dalai Lama once said “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day” and as I sit here in my garden, bathed in early morning sunlight with coffee in hand, happily admiring my newly emerged little green offspring, I couldn’t agree more.

I began in earnest last October, gathering seeds from notable Cornish trees; a pocket full of berries here, a hat full of acorns there, foraging under the watchful eyes of squirrels, blackbirds and the occasional curious dog-walker.

Then came the optimism, the building hope whilst preparing the seeds, mashing the berries, stratifying them to help break their inbuilt dormancy. With a rare dry and sunny late winter weekend came pleasant hours planting the seeds – finally utilising the army of old flower pots and trays that had accumulated behind the garden shed. Then the waiting began…

Days, weeks, months passed, and nothing grew. The acorns were stolen in the night by scavengers unknown, the beech seeds weren’t viable, the hazelnuts had gotten too dry and perished. I’d got it all wrong, I’d made mistakes, nothing will grow now.

By March, with the arrival of Spring, I’d all but abandoned hope: “Oh well, next year will be better”. Then, with the slow but steady lengthening of the days and the restorative warmth of the unusually sunny afternoons, life happened.

The first tiny shoots with their fragile little cotyledons began to push their way through the soil. Like an over-zealous mother hen, I aided them with their earthly emergence, helping them shed chunky bits of soil or stubbornly attached seed casings.

The parenting effort went into overdrive. Pots were moved around the garden trying to find the “perfect” amount of sunlight or shade. Plants were shrouded in makeshift mini poly-tunnels to create the “ideal” humid environment for early establishment. Watering regimes and pest prevention were the subject of fevered debate and excessive consideration. I just wanted to get it right.

Weeks passed, and my obsessive nurturing finally calmed to more sensible levels. It turned out that nature knew best and could quite happily take care of itself, thank you very much! Seeds are programmed genetically to grow, without fuss or human intervention, and grow they certainly did.

I am now the proud parent of around 400 seedling trees of 8 different species – it would have been 10 but the yew and hornbeam stubbornly remain dormant. Watering has settled to a twice weekly, weather dependent affair which, for now, is sufficient; they do only have half a dozen leaves or so at present, so their water demand is pretty limited.

Nick Cooper lying with his seedlings!

Credit: Nick Cooper

The trees have now been thinned out and given more space for their roots to establish by transplanting them into bigger pots. I had not realised how quickly the roots could grow and they rapidly filled the small cells on some of the recycled plant trays. If I can resist the urge to interfere, they’ll stay in these pots until this winter when they’ll be transplanted out into a suitable corner of the veg garden to grow on – the brassicas will just have to make room. By then, there will be more seeds needing preparing and planting, to start the whole process all over again.

Little did I realise when I began this journey the joy that could be had from the raising of these little trees and the positivity they would bring to my days.
It’ll be a while yet until I can picnic in the shade of these trees, but I can wait!

I’d like to spread this happiness across the County; it would be great to have Tree Wardens adding to their own seedling families. I will keep you all posted via the Tree Warden Cornwall newsletters and in the meantime, if any of you have been growing at home, please do send us some pictures for inspiration!

Written by Nick Cooper, Coordinator for the Cornwall Tree Warden Network. First published in the Cornwall Tree Wardens May/June Newsletter


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