I regret that ash trees are nowadays held in so little regard.
It seems that ash has followed sycamore and birch as a tree that readily colonises empty ground. Thus when conversation at the Tatler’s Waste-Bin turned to the value of ash, it was dismissed – except it might be used for chair backs and walking sticks. In short it is altogether too successful and too good at setting itself – how times will change when disease has rid us of it!
‘Twas ever thus. Here is William Harrison: ‘Ash cometh up everywhere of itself and with every kind of wood. And as we have very great plenty and no less use of that in our husbandry’; and here, Alexander Hunter: ‘In all good dairy-farms an Ash-tree is never permitted to grow, except in woods’.
Yet it is still a useful tree, as Thomas Hale would say, quick growing in wet conditions, able to make a plantation, and valued for firewood. Valued also by those who concern themselves with such things for its look, its fronds of pinnate leaves that dapple and spot the woodland floor, though they tend to drop early. William Gilpin had heard it called the Venus of the forest, and his nephew W. S. Gilpin regarded it, like beech, as a cheerful tree and used it in his own designs.
As for Capability Brown, since ash is seldom long-lived (it tends to break up in less than 200 years unless pollarded, it is of no use for cart felloes or fences, yet for fidgets and firewood it has a value), therefore is it hardly to be found today in his landscapes, though there is a good surviving pollard at Ickworth, another at Croxton and one could once find it bulking up his clumps at Wimpole and Heveningham.