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The versatile hornbeam

hamishtreearticleThe late Dr Scott (senior) took it upon himself to plant a number of lovely trees around the village of Shipton and I have already expounded on the significant and dramatic beech tree he planted on the village green.  But very close to the green is another fine example of one of this country’s native trees, planted by Dr Scott, namely the hornbeam at the Ascott Road turning off the High Street.

This tree has grown unimpaired, spoiled neither by other trees close by nor by buildings.  The only blot on its beauty is the plethora of road signs on that corner.  That apart, the tree is beautifully shaped and proportioned and I admire it every time I pass it by.

The hornbeam is a forest tree and often confused with the beech tree.  But its leaves are smaller, with serrated edges and a curl at the tip.  The wood is remarkably hard and is used commercially for flooring and any other situation requiring a particularly hard structure; for example butchers’ chopping blocks and indeed cogs in windmill or watermill wheels.

There is another very wide use of the hornbeam and that is for hedges.  Indeed we have a remarkably fine example in our own garden, complementing an equally fine beech hedge.  Both varieties retain their leaves throughout the winter, only shedding them when pushed off by the new growth in the following spring.  They provide excellent screening throughout the year quite apart from being refuge places and hideouts for birds as well as small animals.  Not only that but the hedges also develop reasonably quickly and are not too difficult to maintain, thus proving their popularity through the country.  You don’t have to look far in the Wychwoods to find excellent hornbeam hedges.

Finally I must say how grateful we all should be to the late Dr Scott for his tree planting activities all those years ago.  Is there another village tree planter anywhere?  I hope so.

Hamish Harvey

August-September 2019