Could my royal conker become tree of the year?

Could my royal conker become tree of the year?

28th June 2019 0 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last Updated on 24th July 2020

After making an appearance in the summer edition of the Woodland Trust‘s Broadleaf magazine’s I was obviously flushed with pride. After 30 long years the conker tree at the back of my parent’s garden had finally been recognised, sandwiched as it is in-between the greenhouse and the garden shed. But could it go on to be ‘Tree of the Year 2019’?

UPDATE: My tree wasn’t selected in the end but you can see all the trees that were on the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the year 2019 page. The 4 winners from the public vote for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales were evaluated by a judging panel … with Liverpool’s Allerton Oak going through to the European Tree of the Year competition in February 2020.

So what is ‘Tree of the year’?

Yes – that would be a fine start. Here’s its description on the Woodland Trust website:

From the first tree you ever climbed, to the largest, gnarliest tree you ever saw – they all have a story to tell. Our national contest celebrates the trees across the UK with the most special stories. Could your tree take the Tree of the Year crown?

Woodland Trust Magazine

You can enter your own tree on their official campaign page.

My 30 year old conker tree

So here is the most recent photo of my tree taken in May 2019. The removal of the foremost south-facing trunk has opened up the light to the healthier trunk behind it. The greenhouse is less under threat and the tree is prospering and very much still alive. More about my tree’s history in the timeline below.

Conker tree in May 2019
My conker tree in May 2019 beginning to thrive again

The conker tree’s timeline

My “royal” conker tree story goes a little something like this …

Picking up the actual conker

My friend Daniel and I took a handful of conkers from Windsor Great Park in October 1989 while watching my long-distance running addict dad Roger run the Windsor Half Marathon. At this point we weren’t actually intending to plant any of them and I certainly wasn’t expecting to enter any resulting tree in a “Tree of the year” competition 30 years later.

It would be wonderful to have actually remembered which mummy tree along the Long Walk the the conker had actually came from!

Me and my pal Dan in 1989 sitting on deck chairs in Windsor Great Park
In Windsor Great Park on 1st October 1989. The day I picked up my royal conker!

Now to plant it somewhere sensible?

I “wisely” planted one of my conkers next to the greenhouse in my parent’s back garden. My friend Dan planted his in a small plant pot nextdoor; the tree doing it’s best to reach up to the skies but ultimately wilting away, having never made into a permanent location in the ground.

My tree 10 years on

Trawling through boxes of old 6″ x 4″ Kodak photos (oh how I miss them in this digital world) returned a handful of photos of my tree over the years. Sadly its early days have been lost in the mists of time and we jump forwards almost 11 years to April 2000.

At this point the slight foolishness of planting a mighty chestnut tree less than 2 metres away from a greenhouse wasn’t yet apparent. The tree also looked uniformly “tree like” as it hadn’t yet split into two distinct trunks.

The 11 year old conker tree behind the greenhouse
In 2000, at almost 11 years old the tree was now almost twice the height of the greenhouse

The in-between years!

At some point in the mid 2000s disaster almost struck.

Horse Chestnut leaf blotch?

Does it have leaf blotch? This disease was first reported in Britain in 1935 and is caused by the fungus Guignardia aesculi. It normally occurs around June time with the whole leaf turning brown and shriveling up. Fortunately this is more disfiguring than permanently damaging and my tree saw it off.

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner?

Or had it suffered from the micro-moth Cameraria ohridella? This little beastie arrived in the UK from Europe in 2002. The moth caterpillars tunnel inside the leaves around the same time as leaf blotch above, so I never did find out what my tree exactly had. Maybe it was a bit of both? Similar to leaf blotch the damaged leaves shrivel up and turn brown. Fortunately this too doesn’t permanently damage our native horse chestnut trees. Still – it was a worry when you first see these things happening to YOUR favourite tree!

The tree 28 years on

In late 2017 the still unnamed tree needed one of its two trunks removing. It was starting to look a bit unhealthy and was threatening to fall onto the greenhouse below. As well as the leaf blotch … or leaf-miner, there were signs of canker on the trunk nearest the greenhouse.

This manifested itself in some slight “bleeding” and obscure gashes. Almost as if Freddie Kruger had been lashing out at it with his gloved hand of razor blades. It was also starting to drop some of its upper branches close to the greenhouse.

For many years I’d told my family to just “let it grow” but then it was me who planted it in the “wrong” location in the first place and it was time to give the tree some much needed TLC.

The Conker tree in 2017 behind the greenhouse
My conker tree was beginning to look a bit poorly

My tree 29 years on – post surgery

Worried that my mother might decide to have the whole thing cut down we went with the middle option of removing the nearest trunk to the greenhouse using a local tree surgeon. This was to spare the greenhouse, give the criss-crossing of branches some more light and ultimately prevent the whole tree from having to come down.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the “surgery” … but it was soon back to full health in the spring of 2018.

Conker tree in April 2018 behind the greenhouse
The Conker tree’s back to full health in April 2018

To quote Jeff Goldblum …

There were even signs of life from the removed trunk in June 2018. Check out the featured image at the top of the post and you’ll see shoots sprouting from the removed trunk.

Putting its materials to good use

In March 2019, almost 30 years after first taking the conker from Windsor Great Park I removed the bark from a section of the now dried out trunk. I lightly sanded it down, Danish oiled it before affixing it atop 10″ long hairpin legs to make a nice little side table. All safe in the knowledge that the main tree is very much alive still.

The conker side table and sofa in my front room
30 years in the making but my conker tree side table looks rather nice on its hairpin legs

I used this great article on How to Make a Tree Stump Table written by The Art of Doing Stuff

My conker tree’s first magazine appearance

I’ve been a member of the Woodland Trust for many years now and once I realised there was a ‘MY HERO TREE’ towards the beginning I thought I’d approach the magazine and see if it could feature. I assumed such trees had to be mighty, ancient oaks from the time of the Armada but I needn’t have worried – the editorial team were more than interested to hear a bit more about it.

The Woodland Trust's Broadleaf magazine summer edition cover
The Woodland Trust’s Broadleaf magazin
MY HERO TREE article in Broadleaf magazine
My tree making the news!

Tree of the year? Well it is for me!

So whether it gets shortlisted for the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tree of the Year’ is another matter but it’s been wonderful seeing it grow so tall over the years. This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes whereas I’ve been lucky enough to sit under my one.

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

“Possibly” from a volume of moral writing by a Quaker in 1951
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