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I’m convinced that trees have their own personalities, something immeasurable that you need to experience. Thankfully I can give my biased opinions about trees without discriminating against anyone. Without wishing to step on the sensitive feelings of humans I see obvious similarities between species of tree and people. One tip, don’t take this blog too seriously!

I first experienced it when I worked daily as a tree surgeon, sitting in an oak permanently checking if my D-carabiners were closed properly. ‘Closed properly?’ the current generation of tree surgeons will be thinking. Yes the senior generation speaks: when we started climbing in trees with long ropes we had steel carabiners which we had to close manually to secure them. The oak feels unbelievably strong, with a sturdy canopy but he also gives me the idea that he is fine without me and, if possible, would let me fall. I refer to oaks as males, they are male in my opinion. The oak is a solid tree species, a bit like people from Friesland. An authentic and quirky personality who likes to hang around with his own kind.

Oak Doornenburg

Oak at Castle Doornenburg tough and indestructible

 

The lime on the other hand feels to me like a woman who would never let me fall. She gives me confidence, maybe too much, as I have regularly been caught out being a little too nonchalant whilst climbing in a lime. A lime, with her sweet blossom and flexible branches, will always be a female tree to me, despite ‘her’ being bisexual. Actually they are bit like people from Limburg, nice people with a soft accent. A province where you can have a decadent stay and enjoy the beautiful landscape. Where the people have the inclination to see where the wind takes them, and out of politeness say ‘yes’ but then do ‘no’. Something I recognize in a lime, always flexible.

Lime Palace Het Loo Apeldoorn

Lime at Het Loo Palace Apeldoorn a lovely overwhelming lady

 

Poplars are a tree that come over as a bully. Out the way because I need to grow, and quickly! If I think about poplars I think about people from Brabant, they don’t complain just get on with it. First the Brabant scenery with its mixed agriculture was like an aspen gently rattling in the wind. Now the poplar, together with large scale agriculture has changed into the clone: Canadian poplar Populus x canadensis ‘Robusta’. In Brabant dialect we even have a name for this form: Cannadassen. Trees that grow fast and die young. For optimal commercial forestry, chop them down and on with the new generation. I do understand the necessity for the poplars and for agriculture in the landscape, but breaking through the monopoly is essential for both. And carnival? Then the people of Brabant are colourful like Albizia blossom, especially when combined with beer.

Populus x canadensis Marilandica

Populus x canadensis Marilandica a sustainable bully

 

The Turkish hazel is a tree you can’t rely on, a species with a thoroughly untrustworthy nature. A tree that can grow for years and then without warning just gives up and dies. I have never been able to get to the bottom of this, it seems to depend on the limited resilience and condition of individual trees but I can’t give definitive answers as to why this is. I’m not going to compare them to a section of the population as they also have feelings, despite their sometimes insensitive existence.

Turkish hazel

Tukish hazel beautiful but unreliable

 

If I think about elms I think immediately about people from Amsterdam. Naturally, as Amsterdam is ‘the elm capital of the world’. Strange really, I didn’t even know there were nominations for such an award! Can somebody help me nominate Drenthe for the oak government of Europe with Overijssel and Brabant in joint second place? Elms are Amsterdam. A tree which is at ease in a city environment, and not critical of their surroundings. The elm feels at home in Amsterdam and won’t be chased out of his home. Something I recognize from Amsterdammers themselves, a 12 year old confronts you with his big mouth because I just happened to be walking on his cycle path, even though I tower 50cm above the spotty youth. Maybe grown up Amsterdammers can learn something from the flexibility of the elm. They see everything outside their city as provincial and a trip to the middle of the country like an expedition into the jungle. Let the elm feel at home everywhere dear Amsterdammers. If you have found a good place for an elm to grow then they will remain faithful, and that is also typical for Amsterdammers.

Ulmus laevis

European white elm in Amsterdamse Bos, an easy cheeky grower

 

I grew up watching the Calimero cartoons. A wronged chick with half an eggshell on his head, his most famous saying: ‘They are big and I is small that’s not fair, oh no’. For me the Calimero among trees is the whitebeam. A tree that comes across as sometimes healthy but fragile, with a fluffy outside. Place this tree, or should I say large bush, in the shade of other trees and you hear it start to complain immediately. There’s always something with the whitebeam, prune the tree then parts of its bark start to die, dig along the roots and he starts to lean over and if it’s not age related then there is always a vague reason for them to give up. It’s never easy with a whitebeam. Do you also know people in your surroundings who suffer from the Calimero complex, who always feel like they get a bad deal in life? I do, but obviously I won’t name them, I don’t want to make anyone feel like that.

Sorbus aria

Whitebeam at the left, it's always something

 

Every time I work in Den Haag it occurs to me how friendly the people are, almost like a small village. Most of the walkers say hello and wish you a good morning, this feels so comfortable that it’s like walking in my beloved Mill. They ask questions out of genuine curiosity without holding me personally responsible for what the municipality is doing, or the person chosen that day to solve their problems. This social behaviour, and yet chique, reminds me of the horse chestnut, a tree with a dome shaped crown which offers protection but also a nice blossom that isn’t pompous but elegant. That so many horse chestnuts grow in Den Haag is no surprise, the horse chestnut symbolizes for me the character of the Hague people.

Aesculus hippocastaneum

Horse chestnut named Postzegelboom, protective and chic at the same time

 

The domination of the birch is admirable, but it is also a scaredy cat. You can have a ruin, or a wet gutter that hasn’t been cleaned well enough, and who grows there first? Exactly, a birch. It doesn’t matter how tight it is they seem to find a way, and thanks to their light seeds they successfully know how to colonize even the driest of soils and heathlands. But if there’s a period of dry weather then the birch panics, sheds its leaves, especially where they have been planted, and dies. A birch is like a criminal, they make the most of places where they shouldn’t be but clear off when things get too much for them.

Betula

Birch a scaredy cat, panics when there's a period of dry weather

 

The Japanese cherry is a tree which goes over the top when in bloom, steady on is what I think when I see Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’ in bloom. Pretty for a couple of days but then invisible for the rest of the year. In the 1970’s and 80’s there were neighborhoods covered in Rosaceae, in other words full of trees in bloom. Trees that show themselves briefly and then for the rest of the year look desolate. They are basically the circus people of the tree world, they take over a village for just a couple of days a year.

Prunus serrulata Kanzan

Japanese cherry, the circus director under the trees

 

Trees and people have more in common than you first think. That we need to appreciate and respect trees as living beings with their own characters becomes clearer to me every day. And we people? Maybe we are more like trees than we think. Which tree species fits your character the best?

 

 

 

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