Today seemed liked a good day to combine lunch at the Botanical Gardens with another look at my oak tree, to see whether anything has changed in the last couple of weeks. We went armed with a piece of string and tape measure to see if we could work out how old the tree is. The standard way of doing this is to measure the girth of the tree at about 1.5 m from the ground – nose height, in my case! Usefully, for those of us who are mathematically-challenged, this turned out to be spot on 3m. The Woodland Trust provide a handy ready reckoner for estimating the age of oak trees as part of their citizen science project identifying ancient trees (http://bit.ly/1lCsMW6). According to this, my oak is around 135 years old, so would have started life around 1880, in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign – its seen a lot of change!
We were visiting soon after the morning’s rain stopped and, looking at the tree’s trunk, there was a clear demarcation into a ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ half – surprisingly, the south facing side looked much wetter than the north facing side but this may be because the south facing side is exposed to open ground whereas the south facing side is sheltered by other trees.
Wet and dry sides of the tree – the wet side faces south
Although it is less than a fortnight since our last visit, and we’ve had our first wintry weather in the meantime, there are increasing signs of spring life on and aroud the tree. Buds are filling out and the hairs on the edges of the bud scales, presumably to deter hungry insects, are more visible. The small axillary buds beneath the main bud are also swelling noticeably.
Swelling buds with hair-fringed scales
Other signs of life are apparent in the understorey which is still getting plenty of light through the bare branches.
The bluebells are growing rapidly and some are obviously providing sustenance for local herbivores – rabbits perhaps?
There are other signs of life too; no sign of birds nesting in the box on a nearby tree yet but we find a rather soggy looking mass of fur on a piece of dead wood which looks like a regurgitated owl pellet.
Bits of glass and squashed cans around the base of the tree are less welcome signs of visitors but one find proves interesting. I picked up a heavy turquoise glass bottle labelled ‘Plews & Sons, Darlington’. The local brewers apparently had a brewhouse in Durham from 1875 but ceased trading in 1925 so this bottle, too is nearly 100 years old.
As my other passion is glass, I’m keen to see what this rather beautifully-coloured bottle will look like without its moss and algal filling.