It being advent, and the braziers at every lamp-post with hot Spanish chestnuts for sale, that fine gentleman and man of parts, Mr Honey, on our meeting at the Tatler’s Waste-Bin, offered me one from a small brown paper-bag he had stuffed in his waistcoat, and then declared that Sweet Chestnut was the most superb of trees, echoing Thomas Hale, ‘very much superior … in every Respect’.
I came close to an immediate agreement, for unless ‘shaken’ by bad ground chestnut will provide timber that is as strong as oak and was often used – and mistaken for – oak in buildings. I must add that where I have found it planted with oak it is the latter is evidently attacked more readily and more quickly by fungi than the former. It has a good flowers, a handsome leaf and fruit that is both abundant and palatable to stock, it was admired by Gilpin, particularly as ‘the tree, which graces the landscapes of Salvator Rosa’, and it coppices extremely well. It also makes good fire wood, indeed Hale warmly recommended chestnut for avenues, clumps and plantations.
Of course it is there in the designs of the incomparable Capability Brown, so misguidedly Krowned as Konquering King of the Konkers for his use of the Horse Chestnut – that unforgettable grove at Benham for example, the clumps at Swynnerton and Himley, the parkland at Patshill, and the plantations at Fisherwick – yet it is surprising that there are not more, and so we turned to the problems, exemplified by chestnut, that plague the recording of landscapes. First there are the trees that fail – Walnut is a good example (but Sweet Chestnut might be another for its sweet palatable sap will persuade stock to pull the bark off); then there are short-lived trees such as Cherry, Elder, Willow, some Poplars, which live their life and are not replaced when they go; and lastly there are trees that are felled because they are cropped early (and most trees, even Oak, were reckoned mature at about 100 years old, so we may see it as something of a miracle that any survive at all).
Well,Mr Honey pronounced that where we know there were trees in a certain area, but none survive, we might be justified in considering that they had been chestnuts, but were all felled because they had such a value as estate wood.
I might have rejoined that he overstated his case, but by his actions, Mr H indicated that the discussion was at a close.