A year ago we planted a tree. Not just any tree – it was the very tree Russell had been guiding into position when the accident happened – a Cornus kousa or Chinese Dogwood. It would have pretty white flowers in the spring and pink strawberry-like fruits in the autumn. It was about 2.5 m high, far too big for our garden, so where could it go?
After much thought and consultation with Russell’s friends, we decided on Great Kingshill common; there were other small trees planted along one side, and one of them had died, so there was a space available, we just needed permission. It didn’t take long for the Parish Council to say ‘yes’ to our request for a tree with a York stone plaque underneath. A date was set for the end of October for the planting. This date was significant in two ways: 26th October is John’s birthday, and 27th October 1985 was the date of Russell’s christening.
We had many offers of help to dig the hole (which needed to be about 1m across and 1m deep), and digging started at about 9am; the tree was due to arrive around midday. Scott was in charge of the project, and our team of about 10 diggers finished in record time. By the time the tree arrived around midday, there were about 50 of us to watch it being planted. Before we laid the stone we buried a ‘time capsule’. It contained a copy of Russell’s family tree, a short history of Russell’s life and family, a USB stick of photographs, messages from friends and some CD’s of Russell’s favourite music. We hope that if in the future someone finds all this they will take the time to read it and if possible contact any future relatives of his friends or us. Scott and Luke then laid the stone, which was engraved simply with ‘LIVE FOREVER RUSSELL’. The following day John and I planted some crocus and snowdrop bulbs underneath, and tied a red ribbon to one of the branches.
When we planted it, the tree still had a few autumnal red leaves attached; my plan was to photograph it each week to keep a record of how it changed through the seasons, and for six months I did just that. A weekly photograph of the tree with flowers left on the stone, Christmas decorations (including a mince pie, Russell’s favourite Xmas food), the snowdrops and crocuses that flowered in early spring, red roses on Valentines Day and a can of G&T on his birthday. However, the photographs also showed the appalling wet weather and flooding of early 2014, which unknown to us at the time was to cause major problems.
The soil on the common sits on top of clay, which is not porous, and below ground the roots had become waterlogged; the new leaves which we had been so pleased to see were curling up and falling. So in late May, Scott came to the rescue and dug a drainage trench, releasing around 200 litres of water from around the roots!
With no leaves, the tree didn’t have any flowers or fruits, and many of the smaller twigs and branches died back, so there was little point in photographing every week; we now photograph each month. In June we celebrated Russell’s life at Russell Fest around the tree, hoping it would survive. Throughout the year, we have all continued to leave flowers, decorations and messages to Russell.
In July, with no sign of new growth, we began to get really worried, so I contacted the Royal Horticultural Society for some advice. They were really helpful; they sent us some ideas to help the tree survive and a list of suitable replacements should we be unlucky. We pruned the tall branches back and started feeding every two weeks for the rest of the summer. Now, in the autumn, it would be dormant anyway, so we have no way of telling if our efforts have been successful until the spring. Most of the smaller branches have died but the larger ones, I think, are still alive. Last weekend will pruned again taking about 3 feet off the top, and yes, the main stems still appear to be living. We are hoping for less rain next spring, and who knows – we may be lucky. If not, you will all be invited back to help us plant another one.
IF ANYONE READING THIS KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT LOOKING AFTER TREES, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.