Tree Nursery Blog

Insights from our Community Tree Nursery Officer

Blog Entry - November 2021

Autumn has arrived, put the kettle on and sit down by the fire! The reds, yellows, pinks and golds of the season are upon us, with each and every tree showing a different colour over the past couple weeks. This extends into the Community Tree Nursery, with many of our saplings taking on similar shades to their parent trees.

Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) leaves become a distinctive red colour this time of year, drooping downwards before they drop to the ground. Once fallen, they reveal the fantastic red stems that give some varieties of this plant its spectacular name “Midwinter Fire”, as they are only displayed during the winter months. Quite a contrast to their green colours in summer!

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) is another transformative plant during autumn and early winter, both with its leaves and fruit. The leaves take on differing shades of pink but the fruit really steals the show. The almost fluorescent pink fruit cases hide the bright orange seeds, both becoming abundant as the seasons change and providing a fantastic larder for many bird species, like Robins and Song Thrushes. Do be aware though, as the fruit and seeds are toxic to people.

Autumn is also some of the best times to collect food from the environment, although as the above Spindle forewarns, make sure you know what you are collecting. A variety of food is available, including; sloe berries, apples, pears, blackberries, raspberries and chequers. You can even collect rose hips and attempt to make your own rose hip syrup if you’re brave enough, the berries can be quite hard to open and need thorough straining to remove the internal hairs.

Be sure to tend to your trees this time of year and start considering where you would like to prune any branches. Pruning in winter is the least detrimental time to prune a tree, due to the tree’s dormant state and reduced movement of the internal sap.

 

Blog Entry - August 2021

August has seen some slow and steady changes in the Community Tree Nursery, as we have developed our infrastructure in preparation for the months ahead. Our amazing volunteers have finished construction on a linking path between the older and newer tree nursery areas, with only the gate at one end left to make. The concrete slabs used were saved from a project many years ago, showing that nothing goes to waste!

Now is also the time when the trees surrounding the nursery begin to fruit, displaying wonderful colours. This also indicates we should start collecting the seeds for the future, which we have already done with cherry, one of the earliest to be ripe. Hazelnuts will be ready soon as well, although beating the squirrels to the prize is trickier than it seems!

Weeding and watering have been the predominate tasks recently, with the classic British summer meaning that one week we need to water every other day, and the next week we are hoping for some dry weather! Luckily the six water butts we have set up see us through, even with nearly 2,800 saplings to take care of! Fingers crossed for some more consistent weather.

 

Blog Entry - July 2021

July is a fantastic month in the Community Tree Nursery, with every plant in leaf and often looking their absolute best, although I am partial to the autumnal reds and yellows we’ll be seeing all too soon. Poppies have just finished flowering and the seed heads are now coming through. We’re keen to collect some seeds to grow next year, perhaps bordering the raised beds rather than in them! If enough seeds take, we may even be able to sell some wonderful poppies outside the Forest Centre next spring. 

Summer is also a great time of year to work on your compost and we have spent several weeks doing just that. After hosting a composting workshop in the Community Tree Nursery, we have been rearranging our compost using what we have learnt, adding a good mix of green and brown material, as well as watering the compost during dry periods. Watering your compost is also a great way to get rid of any ants, which eat worm eggs and slow down the process of decomposition, we learn something new every day!

Lastly, we’ve been working hard to have a variety of plants for sale at the Forest Centre. The Tomato Plants we have for sale are even starting to produce tomatoes, they’ve done so well. And after receiving some Spotted Laurels from a kind volunteer, they’re now looking their best as well. Although you should hurry, we only have a few so get them while stocks last!

Blog Entry - June 2021

Although June spells the end of the flowering season for many plants, others are just getting started, with many months of colourful growth ahead of them. The dog rose (Rosa canina), shown here with white flowers, is one such plant and has a typical flowering season of May to August. This helps support a great variety of insect life through summer, especially pollinators. Come September, the fruit (known as rosehips) begins to ripen, providing a food source for birds and insects that is high in vitamin C.

Poppies also tend to flower around this time, from June to September. Although not something we grow for sale, we do allow wild seeded poppies in some areas of the tree nursery, as they look stunning and are great for pollinators. Poppies provide high levels of pollen per flower, making them a great food source for bees especially.

June is also when the tree nursery starts looking its fullest, with the raised beds teaming with greenery. Bed 6 is full of hazel, a common, native tree that produces plentiful leaves, creating a wonderful dappled effect through coppiced hazel woodlands at this time of year. In our tree nursery, we try and grow as much hazel as we can, due to their sought after use in creating such woodlands and for planting for various dormice projects.

Blog Entry - May 2021

May is the final month for sapling movement in the Community Tree Nursery, with roots and shoots undergoing extensive growth from now until winter. This also results in flowers and catkins coming out, creating wonderful patches of white hawthorn and yellow willow throughout some of the older trees, surrounding the nursery. Insect numbers also increase, especially from the nearby bee hives, which are now warming up much earlier in the day and can be seen for longer periods of time.

  

We have also started welcoming Youth Groups back into the Community Tree Nursery. Two local Beaver groups have attended evening sessions so far in May, making wooden faces, miniature bug hotels and helping out with weeding in the tree nursery. Making activities fun and educational can be a challenge, but with the support and hard work of volunteers and staff, we can confidently say the sessions were enjoyed by all, even the leaders!

 

 

Blog Entry – April 2021

March and April are the final months of the tree planting season, which creates a last minute rush for saplings from the Community Tree Nursery. Accordingly, sapling movement around the tree nursery is our priority at this time of year. This includes preparing tree orders for our partners and moving saplings into their summer locations, as once the roots stop being dormant the risk of damage when moving is much greater.

The largest order recently has been to support the Trees for Climate project, specifically for over 900 saplings to go for planting in Thurrock. This was a fantastic achievement for Thames Chase Trust and the Community Tree Nursery, with our thanks to all partners and parties who were involved. This order also created a large amount of space in the Community Tree Nursery, enabling us to move some saplings around, ready for summer.

But we can always do with more room, and some visitors to Thames Chase Forest Centre may have noticed two new raised beds appear, close to the Forest Centre Play Area. Extra storage for a couple hundred more saplings was required and with help from both the Conservation Volunteers and the Community Tree Nursery Volunteers, the task was completed quickly. Thank you again to all our volunteers here at Thames Chase!

This will be the last Community Tree Nursery blog for now, with a new blog that better encompasses the work of the Conservation Project team starting next month.

 

Blog Entry - March 2021

March is a bit of an in-between month for outside work. You can have snow and you can have a mini-heat wave all in the same week, which makes planning tasks in the Community Tree Nursery rather challenging on occasion! We strive on though and have been mainly preparing over the past several weeks.

Preparing for what we hear you ask. Several items as a matter of fact. Firstly, March is about the latest you should plant trees so we are eager to send as many to our partners and other organisations as we can. We’re hopeful that by mid-April, all tree sales for winter 2020/21 will be completed and we can find our saplings their homes for the summer months, when the root systems are more active. Secondly, we are hoping to have a temporary expansion to the Community Tree Nursery, with two raised beds to start with and more hopefully to come later in the year! And lastly, we have been preparing our compost, which should be ready in another couple of months. The leaf mould we made at the end of autumn is smelling great and we have moved it to a nice sunny spot for the spring months.

If you are interested, why not come down to Thames Chase Forest Centre and have a look in the Community Tree Nursery? It’s a great reason to go for a walk and distress. We hope to see you soon.

 

Blog Entry - February 2021

2021 started at a slow pace in the Community Tree Nursery. In the firm grip of winter, the saplings have remained dormant and quiet, ensuring that our volunteers have time to continue with the other tasks in the Community Tree Nursery, rather than direct sapling care. The first large sapling orders of the year are once such task, which they took to with gusto.

Two main orders have been completed so far this year. Essex Wildlife Trust contacted us and asked for 110 saplings to fill out an area near one of their visitor centres. We happily obliged, providing a mix of species including; Alder, Walnut, Beech and Elder. Belhus Woods Country Park also got in touch, asking for species to help support their dormouse project and shrub-land work. Here we focussed on Hazel, a wonderfully productive tree and a firm favourite of many woodland species.

The snow in early February has not helped speed up processes either, but does give a good opportunity to clean and sharpen out tools. If you have gardening equipment yourself, I would recommend giving it a go during this less active period, you’ll be thankful you did when the busy spring season comes around. And what better to test your handy work on than cutting up some branches from winter pruning, so they will decompose faster over the next 18 months.

Winter is also when we collecting cuttings from trees, which are harder to grow from seed. This year, for the first time, we have collected cuttings from White Willow, Crack Willow and Aspen. We’re hopeful these will grow well this year, so watch this space!

If you’re undertaking your own planting project, why not contact us. The Community Tree Nursery has over 300 native, locally grown saplings for sale this year which should be planted by early April at the latest. Whether you need some for a small back garden hedgerow, a larger wooded area or just that right tree for the right spot, contact us to find out how we can help. Either visit us at the Forest Centre, or email alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk for more information.

 

Blog Entry – November 2020

It is no lie to say that autumn did not end suddenly at Thames Chase, rather it continued on for as long as it could. The temperature fluctuations have confused the saplings in the Community Tree Nursery no end, at the time of writing many still have all their leaves and look rather autumnal rather than wintery. However, weather-wise, November felt like we properly arrived into winter 2020/21, which is a strange relief for most of us.

The start of winter means the start of pruning. Winter is the best time to prune saplings (and trees for that matter) as they will have entered a state of dormancy, both in their roots and their shoots. For us in the tree nursery, this means pruning those saplings that have gotten too big for their own good, as well as root pruning saplings that are being moved into larger pots. Moving of saplings also takes place for the same dormancy reason. Many of our seedlings from previous years were able to be moved into plug trays. These specialised pots train the roots to grown downwards, improving nutrient uptake and stability in the saplings early life.

November is also the month to start tree planting. The Community Tree Nursery has over 300 native, locally grown saplings for sale this year which should be planted by early April at the latest. Whether you need some for a small back garden hedgerow, a larger wooded area or just that right tree for the right spot, contact us to find out how we can help. Either visit us at the Forest Centre, or email alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk for more information.

 

Blog Entry – October 2020

October is often seen as an in-between month in the world of sapling care. Most seed collection has been completed by this point, with very few species yet to bear fruit for the harvest. Winter has not yet fully set in, so pruning and transplanting of saplings cannot take place in full-force either. Despite this, the Community Tree Nursery Volunteers have managed to remain busy, by focusing on what we can do, rather than what we can’t.

As leaves fall from the trees, this is the perfect time to prepare some leaf mould for next year. Gathering and composting the leaves around the Forest Centre not only provides us with an excellent source of nutrients for our saplings, but keeps crucial pathways clear of this potential slip hazard. Although we are not going to try and “tidy up nature”, areas outside of toilets for example should be free of such hazards. October is about the latest in the year that we are adding to our compost as well. The dropping temperatures mean that decomposition takes place far slower than in summer, so we need to ensure that our compost bays are keeping as much heat in as they can. Luckily, they are positioned in a particularly sunny spot in the Community Tree Nursery, which will help keep them slightly warmer than the surround area.

We have also been sprucing up the Bug Hotel this month, to ensure we have a fine over-wintering home for our beneficial insect species. By adding some extra bamboo canes, broken pottery pieces and chunks of split wood, the number of cracks and crevices that our insect friends can hide away in has been multiplied greatly, which also improves our chances of finding one on a winter bug hunt!

Thanks again to all our amazing volunteers. If you would like to volunteer in the Community Tree Nursery at Thames Chase Forest Centre, then please contact Alex at alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk.

 

Blog Entry: September 2020

Seed collecting season has been in full swing this month, with over 100 pots of seeds now gathered and organised in the Community Tree Nursery. The fantastic work of our volunteers means we have a wide variety of species for the next few years’ stock, including getting several pots of midland hawthorn. This variety of hawthorn can be quite tricky to distinguish from common hawthorn, so finding several fruiting specimens that we could positively identify was a great bonus! We also collected our more usual species, such as oak, beech and dogwood. We even managed to find some hazelnuts that the squirrels had missed.

The first Sunday meeting of the Community Tree Nursery Volunteers was a success as well. These monthly sessions aim to be more open to families, providing interesting outdoor activities and a fun learning experience for children. We can’t wait for the next one, in early October.

Last but certainly not least, a new footpath leading to the Community Tree Nursery has been constructed by Hugh Pearls Ltd. This development makes the Community Tree Nursery more accessible from the north side of the Forest Centre, whilst also providing a new route to the adaptive bathroom. Thumbs up all round.

Be sure to check out the Thames Chase seed collection and planting guides, so you too can grow some saplings for next year. You’ve got a couple more weeks before the fruit will have gone, so get picking! Click the link here for links to downloads.

 

Blog Entry: August 2020

As summer took full hold in the tree nursery, we were excited to have a few cooler weeks at the end of August. The hot, dry spell was rather unpleasant for our plants here at the Community Tree Nursery, with many of them starting to look a little worse for wear. But with a vigilant watering scheme, as well as the lower temperatures, we soon got back on top of things. Now all the saplings are growing quite happily, which leaves us with more time to get stuck into this season's main activity. Seed collecting.

 August and September are when many of our native shrubs and trees bear fruit. And given that some species, such as Hawthorn, can take 18 months to germinate from seed, we aren’t just collecting for next year’s saplings, we are collecting for many years in the future. This forward planning is crucial but so is a little bit of luck and perseverance. Hazel is a great hedging tree but can be difficult to gather nuts from, as the squirrels around Thames Chase love to collect them before they are viable for us to plant!

After we have managed to get our hands on some seeds, the next step is planting them in pots and carefully labelling them. You don’t want to forget what you planted where next spring. September will be a busy seed collecting month as well, and we are looking forward to every minute of it.

Be sure to check out the Thames Chase seed collection and planting guides, so you too can grow some saplings for next year. Go to http://www.thameschase.org.uk/home-activities/childrens-activities for links to downloads.

 

Blog Entry: July 2020

Well, what a difference a couple of weeks can have! The rapid Spring growth has been overtaken by a steady Summer growth, with the saplings and surrounding trees in full leaf. The nearby damson trees are even starting to bear fruit, hopefully someone knows a good damson pie recipe!

In the tree nursery itself, our volunteers have been very hard at work over the past several weeks. Most of the construction or repair jobs have now been completed by our team, finishing off the work from earlier this year. All the edging has been finished around our new paths, wooden covers have been made for our manholes and the top layer of three raised beds has been attached and secured as well. The potting shed planter has been given some supports, with annual flowers planted to give a bit of colour and contrast the new coat of paint. Most importantly the roof has been re-felted, hopefully it won’t leak come the Autumn!

As some of you may have seen on our social media, we had some rabbit visitors in the tree nursery over the Spring. We let them leave on their own accord but have since then been working hard to rabbit proof the gates, fencing and large compost bay, with robust solutions now in place. The weeding, watering and moving of plants has been a monumental task in of itself, without all the construction work on top! It’s been worth it though, with all our saplings now better protected and many getting to sizes ready for planting in the Community Forest, or sale in our Forest Centre. 

Thanks again to all our amazing volunteers. If you would like to volunteer in the Community Tree Nursery at Thames Chase Forest Centre, then please contact me at alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk.

 

Blog Entry: June 2020

Spring has well and truly arrived at Thames Chase Trust and in the Community Tree Nursery, with sunshine, pollen and fresh green growth sweeping through and blowing off the cobwebs of winter. There has been an obvious touch of sadness this spring however, with the Visitor Centre empty and most of our amazing volunteer groups unable to meet up (quite sensibly though!).

That doesn’t mean that spring has stopped in the Community Tree Nursery, there is still plenty of work to be getting on with. I have been lucky enough to still come into work these past few months, as I am able to isolate in the tree nursery and maintain social distancing with members of the public. As well as the general weeding and watering that the tree nursery requires, there have been some more interesting developments of late as well. As you may have seen on our social media, we’ve had a new footpath installed throughout the Community Tree Nursery! Hugh Pearls (Land Drainage) Ltd have been working hard to remove the layer of top soil, install the new footpath and create the base layer of three new raised beds as well! Thank you so much to Peter and Pete, who carefully socially distanced whilst working in a relatively confined space.

For the immediate future I am now working on tidying up the tree nursery, utilising some of the new found space we have. The top layer of the new raised beds has also been constructed, so we can get ready to plant in autumn and winter this year. It’s hard work, but the sunshine and birdsong certainly raises my spirits to the task. And I know that at some point this lockdown will end, we have already started having some volunteers meet back in the tree nursery, but more on that next time.

The Community Tree Nursery project is in partnership with the Land of the Fanns Partnership Scheme which has been part funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

If in the future you would like to get involved in the Community Tree Nursery regeneration, located at Thames Chase Forest Centre, then we would love to have you! For more information please contact me at alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk

 

Blog Entry: February 2020

Starting a new job can be a daunting prospect, an event mixed with excitement and apprehension for many people every day. At the time of writing, I have been the Community Tree Nursery and Engagement Officer for a few months, so I have had a real chance to spread my roots and branch out into the role (excuse the puns!).

My role is to lead the regeneration of the Thames Chase Trust Community Tree Nursery and ensure that the local community is involved in the process of woodland regeneration right from seed. This is a partnership project between Thames Chase Trust and Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme and has been funded by multiple partners including Thames Chase Trust, Mayor of London's Greener City Fund and National Lottery Heritage Fund (through Land of the Fanns Partnership Scheme). My time has been focused on; planning future developments for the tree nursery, forming a weekly volunteering group, deciding how best we can utilise the space we have and planning some half term activity days (fun inbound!). 

That isn’t to say I haven’t gotten my hands dirty! With a few hours work each day, tidying up the nursery has been a keen goal of mine as well. Further to that, I have taken part in the yearly collection of Black Poplar cuttings, with our long running Black Poplar project helping to conserve this rare native tree in our landscapes. Our volunteers do an amazing job in all the tasks they undertake, but being dedicated to the tree nursery and being a new face has given me a fresh perspective on what needs to be done. In time, we can get this long lasting and important part of the Community Forest, back up and running again, engaging with local people and drawing from local environments.

If you would like to get involved in the Community Tree Nursery regeneration, located at Thames Chase Forest Centre, then we would love to have you! The new volunteering group has plenty of spaces, meeting weekly during the week and monthly at weekends. Please contact me at alex.hewitt@thameschase.org.uk


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