It’s Plane that this is a very special Norfolk tree
PUBLISHED: 09:51 07 December 2017 | UPDATED: 09:51 07 December 2017
Nature: Rex Hancy reflects on how a magnificent Oriental plane tree at Blickling reflects the National Trust itself.
For many years I have admired an unusual tree standing atop a raised bank where it overlooks the lake at Blickling Hall. The large, deeply palmate leaves are supremely ornamental and literally last year’s if collected in autumn when they have fallen and dried. The insects, including some galling species, have taken my attention and then of course the rounded ornamental seed cases add winter long attraction. Then, during one of my occasional visits this autumn, I was admiring the tree from a distance and was struck as if by a revelation. I saw this particular Oriental plane as much more than a tree. To me it is symbolic of the National Trust itself, connecting in its trunk and branches the history of the past, the glories of the present and finally, hopes and aspirations for the future.
A casual visitor could easily concentrate on the centuries-old main trunk which still insists on demonstrating life still exists but is essentially a hulk, the remnant of a once-stately stem. The so-evident hollows and holes are playgrounds, roosts or dens for squirrels and quite large birds. Don’t be surprised to see a head peeping out! A wealth of invertebrate life must find home and shelter there and round the feet of the ancient one a range of wild flowers, some rare, can employ the skills of the botanist for much of the season. What for too many would be potential firewood is in fact an invaluable asset.
Part of my last visit was spent in the company of Paul Underwood, the head gardener and his deputy, Steven Hagon. They see the tree every day of their working lives and familiarity has not dimmed their respect for this iconic feature. They too look to the good thing to come if the tree continues to receive the attention it deserves. Trees come and go, some after decades others after centuries. The Oriental plane has the ability to reshape itself in new, vigorous form. Low-slung branches can root themselves at their tips and throw new stems. This awe-inspiring process is well in evidence at Blickling. Such leap-frogging habits could well become an embarrassment if uncontrolled. We have no fear of that in such a well-ordered garden.