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Conkering pensions

Around 35 years ago, my father and I planted a tiny little horse chestnut tree in the garden behind our family bungalow. It was about an inch high (the tree, not the bungalow). We got it from the local woods, in what turned out to be my only direct contribution to deforestation, thus far.

It’s now about 35 feet high and, for the first time, it’s threatening to produce some proper conkers. My father sadly passed away a few years after we planted it, but my mum still lives in the same bungalow.

She’s an exceptional gardener, and a 75 year old pensioner. Everything in her garden does well.

On a number of levels, the tree has great sentimental value for me. It’s bigger and taller and will long outlive me. It also represents great memories of the relatively short time I had with my father. I’d be very sad if anything happened to it.

But mum would be very happy.

The thing is, she says it’s “threatening the garden” and, more recently, the house. Personally, I haven’t seen it display any threatening behaviour at all. Quite the contrary, it provides much needed shade for the hostas, sanctuary for a few nesting birds and a great deal of privacy from the neighbours.

I accept, its roots are unearthing the lawn here and there and it’s stifling the growth of some nearby plants (in particular, an “annoying” cherry tree – my words). Arguably, it’s “a forest tree, not suitable for small gardens.” There will soon come a point where it genuinely threatens the house because it is simply tall enough to reach it in a fall.

This last point is understandable so I’ve suggested to my mum that she stay out of the southerly rooms when it’s windy.

Anyway, she frequently lops off big branches. She used to deny it, putting it down to “freak storms” to try to cover up her mercenary tactics. Edinburgh has suffered a significant upturn in whirlwinds, typhoons and tornados in recent years, it seems. We should perhaps twin with Kansas.

So you’ll be wondering where I’m going with this…

I could talk about how from tiny beginnings mighty trees grow. (too obvious)

Or maybe the garden represents a landscape of inter-generational conflicts. Does my mum have the right to cut down my tree from her garden and deny me the hope of it becoming the centre-piece of a local or even national park, inspiring great writers or artists to travel from far and wide? (too complex for a tree)

And who knows, many years in the future, the many children of many families to come will be playing around the tree, subconsciously pleased that the generations before them had the foresight to allow the tree to grow into something stronger and more substantial. (passing down wealth? Too convoluted)

Perhaps the tree has reached a tipping point where it will be too tall to be contained, where it will start to become dominant in the landscape and having the tree will become an accepted norm for my mum. (too tenuous)

But the point for me is that my mum and I are engaged in the debate about its future – perhaps with differing views – but we mutually accept its significance in our lives.

We’ve reached a point of greater honesty; her about her attempts to curtail its growth and me about its general inappropriateness in the garden.

Maybe the tree will outlive mankind altogether, spawning the start of a rainforest of horse chestnut trees that will rule the revitalised green earth and give life to a dominant new species beyond humankind.

Or maybe it will simply remain a source of engagement that gets us focused more on what the future holds rather than just the here and now.

Just like pensions.

Here’s my mum and the tree. I think it looks older than its years (the tree, not my mum).

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