Grumpy Gardener – Hail the Horse Chestnut

The Grumpy Gardener – December
Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander, salutes the mighty Horse Chestnut in its battle against canker but admits to being a bit peeved about all the leaves it dumps on the garden come the Autumn.


The mighty Horse Chestnut, a gardener’s glory except for when it hinders the Rake’s Progress come Autumn (Credit: Mike Alexander)

I always feel sorry for the glossy garden magazine editors at this time of year as they struggle to fill their December issues with relevant and interesting information. 

For me, after cutting back the roses slightly and insulating pots that are to remain outdoors over winter, December can be summed up in one word. Leaves. Actually I would prefer to sum it up in two words but my editor has a strict code of polite language that he likes to adhere to, so I have to dispense with the first half of the summary. It’s easier to remain polite when you are not the one confronting a mountain of leaves armed only with a rake.

The major source of my autumn woes are a dozen Horse Chestnut trees which shed leaves by the tonne each autumn. Although this leads to days of boring and back aching labour I still have a soft spot for these magnificent trees which originate from the Balkans but have been a part of our tree heritage since the 1500’s. In summer they look magnificent and when in flower they become so attractive to bees that the garden seems to vibrate with a sound not unlike a symphony orchestra going through it’s warm up routine.

Although there are a dozen or so varieties of horse chestnut throughout the world, the two we are most likely to come across as garden trees are the white Aesculus hippocastanum and the red A x Axcarnea. Both are under a tremendous threat at the moment from a virulent canker which has potential to devastate the species. This canker caused by a fungal pathogen was first identified in the 1970’s. By 2007 up to one third of trees in France were believed to have been infected as well as seventy percent of trees in the UK.

At present there is no chemical treatment available although considerable research is taking place throughout Europe. Early symptoms are gummy lesions bleeding a liquid from dying patches of bark which can eventually girdle the trunk of the tree and cause the tree to die. If you have any of these trees in your garden it is worth examining them occasionally to check for the lesions mentioned. If major branches are infected and there appears to be a risk of them falling they should be removed. If the entire trunk starts to become girdled then the whole tree should be felled and all vegetation burned to avoid creating a disease reservoir.


Raking them all up at this time of the year is a back breaker, as any gardener knows. (credit Mike Alexander)


It is not entirely gloom and doom however. Firstly the fungal pathogen can take several years to establish and secondly there is some evidence of trees recovering and even developing an immunity to the problem.

The demise of these trees would be a great loss not only for our towns and gardens but also for the organisers of the World Conker Championships. This event which has been taking place place near Oundle in Northamptonshire in the UK since 1965, may not yet have been nominated as an Olympic sport but it does raise lots of money for charity each year.

Previously – click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
The iris and Madame la Guillotine... full story - click this image
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
Hedge You Bets - how do YOU like your hedges... full story - click this image
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander

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