The trees that make May memorable
THE spring comes so gradually to these islands, and it is usually accompanied by so many reminders of the winter we keep hoping we have left behind, that when April finally merges into May we are sometimes taken by surprise, for there is nothing mute so green as the countryside at this time of }ear. " Extravagant" I once heard it described by someone newly returned from the East; and 1 have seen a middle-aged man, back from 20 years' farming in the Karroo and of the type generally referred to as "hard-bitten," quite unashamedly weeping at the unexpected sight from a railway carriage of beeches in full, hut still pale, leaf. That particular first green of the beech is almost impossible to describe and, so far as I am aware, nowhere exactly repeated. It is not the green of the lime or of the maytree or of the silver birch, lovely as are the first young leaves of all of these; and when one is fortunate enough to come across Thomas Hardy's " pale beech and pine so blue, set in one clay '' the tones of these colours together are quite unforgettable.
UT imeches are not the only
trees that make May memorable: it is in this month that the horse chestnut unfolds its sticky toffee-like buds and stretches accusing fingers at the passers-by. (Perhaps I harbour a perennially guilty conscience, but I always feel that quite young chestnut leaves are pointing at me with a mocking sort of "ha-ha!" in their expressions). In May, too, the boles of the elm trees " grow all those whiskers " as a small girl once put it; and the lime and the sycamore stiow pulls in their first fresh promise of green.
They are far too many to enumerate, these newly awakening
trees, but a reminder of them and an incentive to go out into the country at this particular time of year comes in the new Shell Guide, " Trees and Shrubs," painted by S. R. Badmin and described by Geoffrey Grigson (Phoenix House, 7s. 6d.), where each month is enchantingly depicted with pictures that delight the eye (with a separate map giving the name of each tree shown in the colour plate) and a letter-press that contains odd little pieces of information as well as the essential descriptions.
A MONG these are'Wordsworth's name of " cluster cherry " for the gean that we know as bird cherry; the legend of the aspen condemned to perpetual shivering because it had refused to bow to Our Lord on His way tq Calvary; the American name of Washingtonia for the big tree that we call Wellingtonia and the botanist's term sequoia, after the Red Indian who invented an alphabet for the Cherokee language: the fact that the tamarisk was first grown in this country in the gardens of Fulham Palace as a cure for melancholy; and that fossilised leaves of the maidenhair tree have been found in rocks in Scotland.
Fruits of the spindle tree were used as a purgative in medieval days. Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago wooden weapons were made from yew. The Chinese name for the magnolia is " How-do-you-do-tothe-Spring."
This is the perfect book for the invalid. Any country lover condemned to spend weeks in bed would find hours of delight in turning over the pages, amusing himself not least with the artist's charming fancy of painting most of his tree-filled landscape as if seen through his own studio window.