Gone in the Blink of an Eye

Bleeding canker and moth larvae are a lethal cocktail for English Horse Chestnut trees and apparently within 20 years we won’t have any left.

Arriving in the UK from Macedonia (Northern Greece) in 2002 this tiny larvae (leaf miner caterpillar) burrows into the leaves of the Horse Chestnut causing them to prematurely brown and wither in July and August and, as there aren’t any natural predators, there is no way to save these beautiful trees.  The trees become susceptible to bleeding canker – and this leads to death.

The reason I am writing is because today one of these magnificent trees was cut down in less time than it takes to look up Horse Chestnut tree on the internet.  The tree which has caused me such sadness at its demise stood for over 400 years across the road from where I used to live as a child.  It stood there before my 82 year old mother was born and it was there long before her mother arrived in the area in the 1920’s.

It was in the garden of a lovely old country house when I was growing up, standing tall with huge spreading branches whose flowers eventually yielded the spiky covers hiding the Horse Chestnut inside – the one kids for centuries have played conkers with.  It divided the long sweeping drive in two – they had two entrances lined with Oaks and Horse Chestnuts and Silver Birch and the wonderful Copper Beech to name a few of the many trees in those lovely grounds.

I used to babysit for the professor and his wife who owned the old house which creaked and groaned so much when I was there on my own looking after their small son,  I used to sit with the carving knife in my hand – ready for anything.  Once the door handle moved all on its own and their dog went nuts barking at the closed door whilst I watched in horror wondering who was coming in.  No-one appeared.  Eventually the dog got bored and went to sleep but I never took my eyes off the door or my hand off the knife.  All the time the shadows of those huge trees danced back and forth cross the ceiling of the sitting room where I waited for them to come home.

The professor’s father lived with them and every morning at about 7am he would go for a ride on his huge snow-white horse. Back stiff, head held high, looking every bit the ex Army Major that he was in his riding outfit, the old man would duck under the branches of the Horse Chestnut on his way out and I can see him now as plain as day.

I went away for years and upon my return was pleased to see that the tree had survived progress.  Gone was the house and the wonderful grounds and sweeping lawns and most of the trees and in their place there was a Residential home for the elderly – a huge modern block of flats – but the Horse Chestnut remained, majestic and full of life and memories right across the road still.  Now it had a small local library for company as well.  A seat was placed underneath and many families would sit there and read the books they had just collected from the library.  Children sat with their dogs waiting for the library to open.  Elderly people strolled to the seat and would sit and watch the world go by.  Kids would collect the conkers and have their matches underneath its branches. 

Life went on as before and the tree flowered and dropped its fruit and then its leaves with every passing year – until last year.   Last year it did not flower and it never grew any leaves.  It remained bare and sad and vulnerable looking through the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter as we all watched and wondered why it was looking so forlorn.

Today they came with their cutting machine and the answer.  They took that wonderful and noble tree from us.  There is a huge gap in the ground and a huge hole in our hearts now.  Gone is the familiar giant standing guard across the road from us.  Holder of secrets, recipient of carved initials and provider of lovely pink flowers and the free pleasure-giving conkers we children used to play.

Centuries of being – gone in the blink of an eye.  Part of us all gone too.

Horse Chestnut tree in its prime

Horse Chestnut Tree before its decline

Horse Chestnut in Winter

Horse Chestnut Tree in winter

Horse Chestnut Tree Oct 2012

The ailing Horse Chestnut this weekend

I thought I had photos of it in flower but sadly I don’t.

Categories: Blog


  1. My grandson hasn’t found conkers this year either. What a terrible shame the tree had to be cut down. Jane – your first few words of this post would make a BRILLIANT opening sentence to a novel.

    “Bleeding canker and moth larvae are a lethal cocktail ,,,,”


    • ha ha, thanks Anne…I shall have to have a think. It is sad and now the Ash seems to be going the same way. I adore trees and could never live somewhere were it is barren and without them, like the Falklands for example. Do hope we can stop the loss of our ancient forests and woodlands. Good luck with the novel.


  2. It’s devastating and the little critters are sweeping the country. I can’t recall the last time I saw a healthy horse chestnut tree. Even in the height of summer (such as it was), the leaves were brown and black. Here in Lincs, the kids and I have been searching in vain for conkers this year; the trees seemed to be carrying a few ailing little fruit but not much has fallen. It’s a tragedy. There is a cure, apparently; something to do with injecting an anti-viral/fungal solution deep into the roots but it is time intensive, costly and not 100 per cent proven. I’m with you, my friend ~ I think these fabulous trees are on their way out, and it breaks my heart.


    • I know and now the Ash is at risk. I found a photo of the Horse Chestnut in full flower the other day and felt so sad, just two years ago it was magnificent and now it is no more. I do hope we don’t lose all the Ash now or more Horse Chestnuts….Elm was bad enough.


  3. What a sad story for a tree that has stood for so long and been enjoyed by so many generations. I understand your sentiments – looking after the garden at Orchards you felt sadness at every loss especially the losses from my parents era.


    • Penelope just seen this and not sure I replied at all…so sorry, some of these posts are only just showing up!

      The tree had black right through the middle so must have been dying for a while. The gap looks really odd now. Since this the Ash are in danger and the larch too so I hear. Tragic.


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