When I shook myself from my contemplations, I realised that planting trees was something worth doing and something I could do.
The cultivation of trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling of man – J Sterling Morton
My pockets were shallow so I paid a visit to my grandmother's horse chestnut, collected a couple of hundred easy-to-handle conkers and shoved them into a shallow bank at the bottom of the garden.
I had no idea how many would grow but, would you believe it, almost every one of them did. Of course, the sensible thing to have done at that point would have been to thin them out.
I didn't, however. I let them grow on and they grew up very tall, very fast, with some intertwining of roots.
I sowed more the following few years except to put them further apart and, Murphy's Law, only a fraction of them took. A couple of years later I transplanted some of them out but it was on a bank which already had other trees and, while they survived, they didn't exactly thrive.
So, while I love trees, it is unrequited. That's because I'm inconsistent. I am not a good gardener because I want to do all the work in the one day. My dear husband, who tends to be flattering, or at least benign in his attitude towards my other attributes, suggests that anything other than the digging is best left to someone else. Actually, make that anyone else.
Meanwhile, my brother Gerry has done a fantastic job in turning these now 20-year-old plus horse chestnuts into something worthwhile. He has transplanted them on to a more receptive environment, and they are now doing really well.
The perennial source of inspiration of poets and sages, trees reach out to people in different ways. I have a friend who likes to touch a particular oak as we regularly walk past. I am not a big 'hugger' myself but there are particular trees that I love to salute like old friends as I pass by on foot or by car.
He who plants a tree plants hope – Lucy Larcom
REPS has made a difference to tree-planting in Ireland. But for a lot of farmers, including ourselves, trees do not get a lot of thought. This is probably not out of laziness or financial cost but competition for the space, time and effort required in already busy lives.
Every spring I continue to sow some conkers. I know that native trees would be better but they require more effort and skill. However, last year I collected some ash seedlings. They don't look like much at the moment but I'm hopeful.
Occasionally we get a notion to do something more substantial and, last spring, I planted 40 native trees, including oak and downy birch. Unfortunately, the severe summer drought meant that, despite Robin's best efforts, quite a few failed. Hopefully we will get back in and replace them, sooner rather than later.
Ann Fitzgerald can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's get planting after storms
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now. (Anonymous)
An estimated 1pc of all Ireland's trees – numbering tens of thousands – fell in the recent storms. This is according to Éanna Ní Lamhna, president of the Tree Council of Ireland, in response to my question about the extent of the damage.
That figure is frightening. Especially in Ireland, where only 11pc of the country is afforested compared to a European average of almost 40pc. There can't be many farms which didn't lose a tree and perhaps this will be a salient kick up the backside to us all to get planting.
While a lot of trees went when field boundaries were removed and many of those in remaining hedges are trimmed back every year, Éanna says that it is never too late to let some of the deciduous trees which are still alive in those hedges to grow on.
Every time they have been cut, they will have thrown up another apical bud. So while they may not ever make a perfect specimen, they still have the potential to make a perfectly functional tree.
For anyone looking at planting anew, a corner of a field is ideal and Éanna advocates using native species, including the likes of holly, mountain ash, hawthorn, spindle, birch, oak, hazel, crab apple, alder and fast-growing willow.