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Elm

14 Jun

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Just finished this gate for a client who wanted to stop his grand daughter venturing out of the back yard and improve the security of his property. A deceptively simple brief made more interesting by the fact that the client’s house is n a conservation area – so the design had to be traditional. I managed to get hold of some wind-blown Elm for the gate and some nicely figured oak for the posts. It got me thinking about the last time I saw a mature specimen of  Ulmus minor.

In the summer of 2010 I was in Wales on the Gower peninsula on a camping holiday with my wife. She and I had followed a rambling footpath deep into the Welsh countryside when we came across three huge (30 m +) trees in the hedge row beside us. We were struck at once by the size of the trunks (2 – 2.5 meters in diameter) and the distinctive oval leaves with serrated edges, puckered and rough on top and downy underneath. I knew at once that we had found native elm trees, and these big specimens had escaped the ravages of  Dutch Elm disease spread by the Scolytus beetle which has changed the landscape of the British countryside, robbing us of a majestic skyline in many park lands and open countryside. This secret corner of the beautiful Gower Peninsula holds three great survivors.

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I have found the odd small specimen in Sheffield and continue to come across the remnants of felled elm trees in local hedge rows which continue to coppice. Elm loves to reproduce by suckering. The tree may have withdrawn for a time from the limelight, but it survives discretely in juvenile form all over the British countryside.

Elm has fantastic properties for makers. My dad used to make coffins and guttering for the eaves of houses out of elm – it is renowned for its rot-proof properties (ironic when you think that the living tree succumbs so readily to an Ascomycete fungus). In the middle ages, large tree trunks were hollowed out for guttering, and because of its incompressibility it has been used for primitive gearing (in flour mills) and lock gates on waterways in the past.

I would love to see a resurgence of this magnificent tree, but it will not happen in my lifetime. In the mean time whenever I find a bit I will use it with respect. What better use of a random collection of elm pieces than a gateway to protect the next generation?

June 17th – the finished piece:

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7 Responses to “Elm”

  1. universalpeacepipedreamer June 14, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Hi, Henk, I had took notice, that you used a lot of elm, in you work. Great history of the elm tree and it’s uses. On the lot of land I grew up on, there were quite a few big trees, the elms, were the grand dads of the lot, some of them were three feet across or better at the trunk, they were the best for climbing, and the biggest one had a tire swing on it. They got Dutch elm disease, by the time I was a teen they all had to be removed. It’s really good to see that wood and to learn about it and it’s history. The gate is fantastic, really dig the top of it. Peace J.A.M.

    • woodenhenk June 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      Glad you like the top – it’s an ellipse drawn with a loop of string and two nails! Cheers H

      • universalpeacepipedreamer June 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

        I was out walking the other day and saw this lady putting what looked like a purple box kite up in a tree, I had to ask her what she was doing. She told me that it was a trap to catch the Emerald Ash Bowering beetle. That they liked the color purple and it was sprayed with pheromones. It was pretty interesting and made me think of the elm. Had to share it with you being both wood and bug doctor.

      • woodenhenk June 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

        Nice one – I’d heard of pheromone traps but not the purple colour being attractive to a beetle. Cheers!

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