There are few sights in this world that compare to a horse chestnut tree in full bloom. Everything about this tree seems to be larger than it should be: it stands about 35 metres tall at maturity, with leaves that can be 30 cm x 60 cm, and flowers borne on 50 cm tall panicles.
The only placental wildlife that can safely eat the seeds of this tree – called “conkers” in the UK – are deer. For the rest of us mammals (including horses) the “horse-chestnut” is poisonous, being only distantly-related to the true chestnut (Castanea).
The tree is not without utility: It’s an abundant source of forage for bees.
I’ve planted one for use as a topiary: despite their towering size in nature, these trees are popular candidates for bonsai. Owing to their vigour, regularly-pruned trees provide an abundance of biomass for soil-building.
Seeds can be collected as they fall to the ground, and are easily germinated by sowing in Autumn – allowing for natural cold-stratification to occur over winter.
Trees have been planted around the temperate zone in various climates, and exhibit remarkable adaptability. Some individuals have been grown as far north as my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, which is at times colder than Mars!
The bleak house stood at the end of a red clay path, surrounded by dead brown grass and skeletal trees and backed by a dark gray sky. Gone were the boulevards lined with trees and topiaries. No porte cochère to shelter aristocrats’ coaches as they disgorged visitors; indeed, no visitors.