The Old Boundary
by John Blunt
I pruned five trees today, two field maples, two sycamores and a cherry. They had been planted nearly twenty years ago on the boundary of deep excavations for opencast coal and still had their stakes and plastic ties and guards firmly attached to them. With the aid of saw and penknife I took these off as well. Carrying my tools and plastic guards back to the car I studied the site where they were growing.
The trees were set at long intervals behind a post and rail fence that had marked the limit of the workings. Four paces behind this fence was another, of high chain link on concrete posts, which continues all the way round the railhead where, over a dozen years, four million tonnes of coal was stored and screened and loaded onto railway wagons. All finished now, another 'brownfield site' waiting to find a different use. Between the two fences, untouched by the depredations on either side, lies an old earth bank, maybe three hundred yards long.
This bank is the stuff of poetry. With a shallow ditch either side it is honeycombed with rabbit holes and old workings, littered with tree roots and bushes and fallen logs. It exudes a sense of age and eventful history. Was it a wood bank or a park pale? Cole Orton Hall lies less than a mile away and the only remains I knew of the medieval bank to the old park ran through nearby Springwood until the bulldozers arrived. That bank was overtopped by other trees and had few of its own; this one is crowded with every kind of tree and shrub.
There are stunted, branchy oaks, wind-battered on this exposed ridge. And ash, though not many, and a couple of elms. Blackthorn, with sloes a-plenty this autumn, and hawthorn, and hazel clumps. A pyramid of holly covers the bank half way along, and elder springs up everywhere a space appears. So dense this growth that I contented myself to stay in the field, though part of me wanted to climb the fence and be in amongst this fragment of primeval landscape. When summer comes again here will I take my picnic.
And what of my five trees growing away vigorously in the lee of this old hedge. Why plant such alien trees where none had grown before? Why plant more trees here at all? Some landscape designer sitting in his office, charged with screening the new site, plucked an arbitrary selection from his approval list and sprinkled them liberally along every boundary. I had spent an hour pruning them out of a sense of tidiness and with thought of benefiting some furniture maker yet unborn, but in my heart I should have taken the chainsaw to them at the base.