New life for a dead tree

Sunday, 08 December 2013

Our dead Pistacia tree

When we moved to our current house almost exactly 20 years ago, there was an old but attractive pistachio tree (Pistacia chinensis) on the edge of our battleaxe driveway. It had a good shape and provided leafy shade in summer, whilst letting in the sun during winter. Over the years, it has been mercilessly attacked by possums and cockatoos, so much so that it was defoliated every spring. It is more or less dead now, with just a couple of leaves appearing this year. I really didn't want to cut the tree down as it was always a feature of our garden and a favourite perch for the many and varied birds that visit - apart from the expense of getting trees taken out these days!

The blue tree at Mt Annan Botanic Gardens, NSW

During a trip to Mt Annan Botanic Garden earlier in the year, I saw 'the blue tree' there - where a dead tree has been painted bright blue, transforming it into an amazing sculpture and allowing it to continue its role in the landscape as a habitat for birds and insects. It is a brilliant concept and one that has been used in a number of overseas gardens.

Orchids growing in a tree, Joncia Garden, Brisbane

So, instead of getting our tree chopped down, I decided to regard it as a woody statue and use it as a host for a variety of epiphytic plants, such as bromeliads, Spanish moss, orchids, zygocactuses and even orchid cactuses (Epiphyllum cultivars). Suitable orchids include native Dendrobium species, crucifix orchids (Epidendrum ibaguense) and the many pretty cultivars of Dendrobium nobile. I generally fill an old stocking leg with a handful of orchid bark in the middle, tying knots on either side to keep it in position. I cut a hole in the bark-filled section for the roots of the plant to be inserted, then use the end of the stocking to tie the plant to the tree, either in a fork of branches or directly onto the bark. I usually cover the stocking with a handful of Spanish moss to camouflage it. By the time the plant has developed roots to anchor it to the tree, the stocking will have rotted away.

Dipladenia growing through a tree stump

In recent times, I have seen other ideas for dead trees. A local restaurant has transformed the stump of a small dead tree into a host for a bright red climbing Dipladenia. At first glance, I was puzzled as to what on earth this 'tree' was until I realised what had been done. This particular plant was a good choice, as it flowers for many months of the year.

Tillandsia plants on an old log in the former garden of Pam and Harry Fowell in Sydney

In another garden, the stump of a dead tree was turned into a seat and an old log from the tree was used as a host for a variety of decorative Tillandsia plants. A dead tree can also be swathed in fairy lights to become a feature of the garden at night. Where a dead tree poses a danger of falling down, my approach is probably quite unwise, but such a tree could possibly be pruned to a low frame with a few forks for tucking in the epiphytic plants.

With Christmas fast approaching, I will be taking a break from blogging for a few weeks. Happy Christmas to everyone and thank you for visiting my blog during 2013. I will be back in 2014 with more garden musings. In the meantime, there are plenty of blogs in the archives, as well as members' gardens to 'visit' in our Garden Ramble feature. Why not add your garden someday soon?