22 March 2016

Tree surgery

Northcote Road is lined with plane trees that are kept under control by regular pollarding. London's plane trees have amazing bark that continually flakes off leaving new pale patches, so it gets rid of the London pollution easily. Couple that with regular cutting and re-growth and you have an unusual cycle of renewal. It's a sight that I've come to associate with Walthamstow - patchwork tree trunks with twigless bare branches, the cut ends swollen from constant trimming, contrasting with the fine lines of radiating telephone wires overhead.

I first saw mature trees pollarded in my home town of Ingleton, in Yorkshire. There was an ancient farmhouse next to the primary school, with a courtyard and an avenue of huge lime trees. Then one day, the trees had all been cut back to ugly stumps, just the trunk and stubby little branches left. I was horrified at such vandalism, not realising the trees wouldn't die. They don't though. Little twigs soon push their way out, not from the cut ends but all round them. After a year, each of the thick old branches ends in a spray of slender twigs that will continue to grow into branches. It changes the shape of the tree so it becomes more compact, which makes sense in a narrow residential street. Leave them to grow and they will eventually develop big branches again. You can see fully grown plane trees all over London, in Euston Road for example, that would dwarf the two-storey houses in Walthamstow. Somehow the council manages to find the funds to cut back regularly, street by street, to keep the trees from getting out of hand.