If Trees Could Talk…

We’re not long into September, and I’d like to think it’s still summer, if only just. But it seems that many of the trees think otherwise. I can’t help feeling a little antagonistic towards them. It’s as if they’re trying to deprive me of what little summer is left; as if they somehow know there isn’t any more good weather to come, so they might as well get on with the autumn business of dropping their leaves. I have an instinctive sense that trees are wise, but in this case it may be less about being in touch with the rhythm of the seasons, and more about giving up regardless. If trees could talk, they’d be saying ‘we’ve had enough!’

My Quince Tree (Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranja’) has suffered a lot this year. In spring, its freshly emerged leaves were ripped to shreds by strong winds. Likewise its second growth. It’s lived through prolonged drought, excessive rain, vastly fluctuating temperatures, and now a long period of dull, humid weather. And now it’s losing its leaves at an alarming rate. I understand I’m not alone – it seems to be a bad year for Quince. The culprit is a fungal disease called Diplocarpon mespili (1) (or in the more user friendly common name, Quince Leaf Blight). But I guess we don’t need to know the specific variety of fungus, as its just one of a range of black spot/scab type problems that blight many plants, particularly those in the Rosaceae family, such as Apples, Pears, Roses (obviously!) and Quince. I’ve seen plenty of roses with stems feebly clinging on to just a few remaining scabby leaves. There’s an irony in this cycle of disease. The plants are stressed by a number of factors, but particularly by a lack of water at their roots, which makes them susceptible to disease, which in turn flourishes on the wet, humid conditions above ground.
The diseased leaves are actually quite attractive, in a modern art sort of way. I might submit some photos to Tate Modern (with an accompanying text  explaining how they illustrate the contradictory relationship between fecundity and decay in the natural world).

Back in the more practical world of gardening, the advice is to use chemical sprays to try and control the disease. But I don’t like to use chemicals, and in any case, I’m certainly not going to try and spray a tree that’s five metres tall. Collecting up the fallen leaves and burning them is also good practice (though not an easy job when they’re spread across the whole garden!), otherwise the spores will remain to re-infect the plant next year. I know that in commercial apple orchards, they used to (and probably still do) spray the ground with some sort of nitrogenous liquid to make sure any leaves that aren’t collected rot fully over the winter.

There are quite a few species of tree that seem to suffer every year. Horse Chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanaceae) have for some years now been prone to a bacterial disease which leaves them in a sorry state by mid-summer. The Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) is a very popular garden tree, with lovely dark leaves and pretty pale pink flowers in spring, but where I live, most specimens look dead by August.

I’m confident the Quince will come back renewed next year, when I’ll keep my fingers crossed for better growing conditions (and a better harvest of Quinces). If not, I might have to call in a plant pathologist.

On a more positive note, though some species of tree are apparently ready for Autumn, others are still in their summer green, so who knows; perhaps there might still be a few days of warm, sunny weather left for us this year. Let’s hope so.



(1) www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=745


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