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Tree Donation

Written by John James, posted on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Back in 2015, Christ Church was offered a very generous donation by Dr Javed Siddiqi, an American  alumnus, to plant “a single, beautifully symmetric, tree that he (the Head Gardener) has his eye on, and which would fit into the beauty of his landscaping”, in memory of his late parents.

The Pin Oak in it's final positionThe decision was made that Dr Siddiqi’s donation tree should be planted as part of the landscaping of the new visitor centre and that the chosen tree would be a Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), which is native to  the eastern and central United States and which is known for its fast growth, pollution tolerance and its ease of transplanting. The tree tends to have a pyramidal form, attractive leaves that colour well in the autumn and tolerates damp conditions (the specific epithet palustris means “of the swamps”). The tree when mature should reach a height of around 20 metres or more.

The name Pin Oak is possibly due to the many small, slender twigs, but may also be from the historical use of the hard wood for pins in wooden building construction.

Due to its excellent characteristics and ease of cultivation, this species has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Having chosen the variety of tree, the next decision was where to source such a special tree. We have previously had a lot of success obtaining trees from Deepdale Nurseries in Bedfordshire who specialise in UK grown, large trees, and they have previously supplied us with trees for New Walk and Rose Lane. The fact that the trees are UK grown removes potential risks of importing pests and diseases. Deepdale grow all their trees in airpots, which are special plastic pots that encourage masses of healthy fibrous roots that maximise the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients and water, resulting in a healthy, fast growing plant. The pots are made of recycled plastic and can be reused several times, thus reducing any adverse environmental impacts.

In September 2018, I visited Deepdale Nurseries and selected the actual tree from a small number that Deepdale had available, with a view to planting the tree in the autumn/winter of 2018. However, having had delays in the visitor centre construction programme caused by the collapse of the original contractor it was decided to delay the planting until mid to late 2019.

Because of the size of the tree, the rootball being 2m across and with a weight in excess of 5 tonnes, planting the tree was something that could not be completed by the Garden Department team and so several specialist contractors were contacted to quote to plant the tree for us. After some discussion and some site visits, the contractor – Civic Trees, was chosen. In order to get the tree off the delivery lorry and into the planting pit a very large (22 tonne) excavator was required, this being the only practical and most cost effective way to move the tree. The next plan was to plant in the summer as soon as the visitor centre was completed and before the area around it was sown to grass, as this would avoid damaging the newly established grass areas. However, this was not to be, as a single Oak Processionary Moth caterpillar was discovered at Deepdale’s site, and as such, DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) quarantined all oak trees on the nursery for three months. Oak Processionary Moth is a serious and very unpleasant pest recently introduced to the UK, that can be found on several oak species (but luckily not Quercus palustris), and which is not only destructive to oak trees but is highly irritant to humans.

Following the all clear by DEFRA, no further specimens having been found, planting of the tree was rescheduled for November. Unfortunately, this meant that our newly establishing grass was going to be driven on and ripped up. On the plus side, this is actually a much better time of year to plant the tree, as the tree has lost its leaves for the winter, and with the soil being still warm and nice and damp, the tree’s roots will begin to establish nicely over the winter.