A woodland starts with planting ONE tree!

If a thousand mile journey starts with one step then surely a woodland starts with one tree?


My youngest daughter was born in November. Clear bright sunny autumn mornings remind me of the week before my due date, feeling throughly fed up with being pregnant, we decided to go for a good old stomp – surely that would get my labour going (it didn’t!). Vince and I, with our other daughter, went to a nearby woodland that had beautiful sweet chestnuts trees and as we walked we collected the fallen nuts. With pockets bulging we returned home – some roasted over the fire, others saved for planting.

Hand planting an acorn.
Woodcut illustration by Harry Brockway from ‘The Man who Planted Trees’, Jean Giono

A  week later my second daughter was born, bang on her due date, again on a bright sunny morning. My time was wrapped up in caring for her so Vince took our other daughter and planted the sweet chestnuts into some tubs. The ones Willow planted were know as Fern’s Trees. Miraculously it grew. Vince literally filled a pot with earth and put the nut in. That simple.

The tree stayed in its pot for years. Moved with us from Hampshire to Wiltshire, nearly died, resurated itself, was re-potted a couple of times and finally came with us to Devon. In total the little Sweet Chestnut was in a pot for 12 years!

When we moved to the woods we hmm-ed and ha-ed about planting it out, convinced the move would send it into shock and maybe kill it, by now we had grown very attached to it. The tree had bonsai-ed itself and despite its age was only about 3 foot tall. When it first grew it looked odd because it grew regular full sized leaves despite being so small. Over time, however, the leaf size adjusted itself and grew in proportion with its truck – it looked like a mini tree.

In the end we did plant the tree in the bank in front of the forestry barn and it has thrived. In two growing seasons it has shot up and now stands at 8 feet tall and is growing regular sized leaves again.

Nature never ceases to amazes me how resilient and adaptable it is. So, go out and collect acorns, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts and grow your own tree. Even if you only have a balcony or a small patio (as we did back in Hampshire) they seem to be very happy to be grown in pots. Save it for when you do have a garden and can give it a permanent home, or give it as a gift now to someone who does have a garden, or go plant it on an abandoned piece of wasteland.

tree planting in woodland restoration project, north devon
Holding an oak sapling rescued from a woodland ‘ride’

At Courage Copse this is exactly what we do. Concerned about the tree diseases that are affecting our woodlands we are very mindful of only planting trees with known provenance. So what better way than collecting your own seed and growing them? We also dig up any little sapling that are growing on the rides (woodland tracks). Now is the perfect time of year because the trees are going into their dormant phase but still have their leaves making them easy to spot and identify. The saplings are potted up using a mix of our bioChar and soil and either grow on for a season to establish themselves or they are planted out in March when the ground starts warming up again.

There are some really good guides online on how to grow trees from seed. The one we like can be found here.

Or if you want something a little more exotic, I found in the North Devon Journal under the gardening section a review of a specialist fruit growers who now grow and sell patio Victoria plum and raspberries!