‘How do you know what tree that is?’ The young dad with his wife and children had spotted Noel circling a fine old tree with string as I held a home-made sign. Beech, it said. And it was.
‘I’m not clever or owt,’ he said ‘I don’t know what tree’s what, so how do you know?’ I wanted to tell him it was nothing to do with cleverness, in fact as far as I’m concerned, I have PG Tips tea to thank. The tea of trees.
We were in our local Calverley Woods, part of which is owned by the Woodland Trust and designated ancient woodland. We’re very fond of our woods, we’ve walked there, run through them, even climbed and abseiled in the quarries, though the green, slippery rock hardly made it classic climbing. I love the woods and feel quite protective towards them, they are for everyone to enjoy. I’ve regularly plogged there, chuntering and tutting as I’ve picked up litter, which included more than its fair share of Red Bull cans, and mounted my own little arty protest with litter mosaics
During lockdown it’s been a regular haunt for us, as it has for many others, including quite a few who have never been before. There are children discovering what it is to be explorers and adults enjoying all the delights offered by the woods including wildlife ranging from honey bees and badgers to roe deer. And the trees, not forgetting the trees.
I’ve always loved trees and wild flowers and know many of them by name, thanks to Brooke Bond adding little information cards to its 4oz boxes of PG Tips, the loose leaf type, none of your new-fangled teabags. For about 40 years they produced collections on everything from cars to famous people. But it was the trees and wildflower collections that taught me most of what I knew and spurred me on to learn more. The little cards had a colour picture with a description on the back . You could put them in an album, or stick them on a chart, oh the sheer joy of sticking a rowan mountain ash on the corresponding empty space and revel in that exotic name. I dreamed of seeing one and was thrilled when I did.
As we walked through the woods and I spotted a little rowan I asked Noel, who wouldn’t want to know the name of a tree or wildflower? Yes, there are apps, but wasn’t the idea of a woodland walk to escape from gadgets, looking around at nature and not down at screens. Wouldn’t it be good to add a few name labels to inform people? I recognised the look of resignation on Noel’s face as he realised that the only way labels would find their ways to trees and flowers would be for someone to put them there. He had a sneaky feeling he knew who that someone was. He was right.
It wasn’t difficult to make a few labels, slightly more so to fasten them in the relevant place, some trees are VERY big. It was as we were hugging the beech tree with string that the dad and family saw us.
‘So what’s that?’ he asked pointing to an elderberry. ‘And that?’ waving at the nasty invasive Himalayan balsam. I had labels for those. ‘And this,’ I told him, pulling the skinny stem off my leg, ‘is goose grass.‘ And then looking at the children I told them in a serious voice ‘or sticky willy’. The youngest sniggered, so did I, that wasn’t one in the PG Tips collection.