Telegraph, London, 1997)
GUM, IT'S ANOTHER BLOODY EUCALYPT
by Ian Richardson
Let's get one
thing straight right away: I am an Australian and I love eucalyptus
trees. But not in the UK!
When I first came
to Britain nearly 30 years ago, eucalypts - or gum trees as Aussies
prefer to call them - were something of a rarity.
friend and I had an inebriated plan to sneak onto Hampstead Heath
at night and plant eucalyptus seedlings all over it.
Sanity and sobriety
prevailed, but the English suburbanite has since seemed determined
to do the job for us - at least in their own gardens.
These days eucalyptus
trees seem to be everywhere. There are even at Buckingham Palace,
where the Queen has planted three over the past 15 years.
England gave Australia
its rabbit plagues; now Australia is retaliating with its gum trees.
I live in Ealing,
a genteel, leafy part of London, proudly enjoying its Englishness
and its unofficial title Queen of the Suburbs.
And I have to
confess that my wife has grown a eucalypt in our back garden, but
that is okay: it is a bonsai, just eight inches high.
A friend and near-neighbour
was once given a eucalyptus tree as an anniversary present. It arrived
as a small shrub in a pot, but grew 50-feet high. [Update: The current
owners of that property had the tree removed in November 2017 at
a cost of around £1000 after it became clear that it was in
danger of being blown over.]
She had to have
it severely cut back several times, each at a cost of several hundred
A few years later
it is back to its original height and the pruning has made it even
she loves her eucalyptus tree, and at least she has it planted in
a sensible position well down the garden - which is more than can
be said for most I have seen, inexplicably, planted against brick
fences or house foundations.
Within two blocks
of my home there are at least 20 large eucalypts, looming over their
host homes and the street.
Apart from their
disfiguring effect on the English suburban landscape, the problem
with eucalypts is that they grow at a terrifying rate in this climate,
achieved by sucking huge amounts of moisture from the ground and
consequently from around foundations.
And because they
are evergreens, they continue to keep out the light during the dull
I predict that
eucalypts - along with conifers - will eventually be voted The
Tree We Most Wish We'd Never Planted.
James Tighe, the plant adviser at the Syon
Park Garden Centre in west London, thinks many people have been
attracted to eucalypts because of "the romance of growing something
from a foreign climate".
the man in charge of the tree and shrub collection at the Royal
Botanic Gardens at Kew, has a few eucalyptus specimens in his
care but urges caution when buying them for a suburban garden.
so fast they can catch you out.
"It's a bit
like the Leyland Cyprus, which people buy for hedges, then discover
they have a row of trees up to 70 feet high," he said.
One of the biggest
suppliers of eucalypts is Celyn Vale Eucalyptus Nurseries of Corwen
in Wales. It sells between 50,000 and 100,000 a year.
the owner, Andrew McConnell, disagrees that eucalyptus trees are
inappropriate for the British landscape.
80% of plants grown in this country don't 'belong' here, so you
could write off all kinds of trees if your argument were accepted,"
He admits that
eucalypts can be an "environmental disaster" in the wrong
place, but his company issues picture labels and other information
to try to ensure that customers buy the right sort of trees and
know where to plant them.
The company is
now also offering varieties that don't grow quite so quickly.
planted, ornamental eucalyptus trees are not a problem," McConnell
Despite such soothing
words, I remain unconvinced.
If God had wanted
England to have gum trees, he would have also provided koalas and
don't look right here. This is specially so in winter when they
stick out like giant plastic ornaments in the austere, grey and
grand winter landscape.
But don't despair,
there is one good use for these arborian invaders from the Antipodes:
Take to them with an axe and save the branches and leaves for your
next barbecue. As any Aussie will tell you, there's nothing quite
like a beefburger or a lamb chop cooked in the aromatic smoke of
a gum tree.