Castle Howard, Historic House North Yorkshire
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Tree of the Month - Walnut
By Maria Ellis  //  Tue 1st August 2017
Trees, Nature, Tree Nursery
The walnut is a mighty tree – an irrefutable statement and one worthy of shouting from the roof tops, or should that be tree tops? It stands, grand and impressive, with a broad and handsome crown of green leaves, stretching languidly out to bear its prized fruit. Wrapped in a mottled green case the size of a crab apple, the walnut is a small nut with a big history.
Dating back to 7000 BC, the walnut tree is one of our oldest fruiting trees and originated in Persia where it was deemed to be so delicious that it was reserved only for royalty. However this regal commodity would have been traded with spices, fabrics, jewels and gossip as they travelled along the Silk Road and other trading routes between Asia and the Middle-East until eventually crossing the sea to more distant destinations. It was the Romans who first introduced the walnut tree to Britain where its fruit was enjoyed in its original form as well as being ground into a nutty flour or squeezed into a rich and luxurious oil. It is also from the Romans that we get the walnut tree’s botanical name, Juglans regia, which means ‘the glans of Jupiter’ or to further translate, ‘the royal nut of Jupiter’. Jupiter, or Jove as he was also known, was the Roman god of the sky and chief among the other gods. According to Roman mythology, when Jupiter walked the earth he lived solely on the bounty of the walnut tree. Not only is this little nut the food of the gods but it was praised throughout history for its medicinal uses. From Ancient Rome where the walnut was used as an aphrodisiac and breath freshener to the Ancient Greeks who thought it could cure inflammation and baldness, there has always been a use for the walnut tree.

While I wouldn’t recommend eating copious amounts of walnuts in an attempt to grow some new luscious locks, I would recommend making the most of this fascinating tree. Mature trees can grow up to a grand 35 meters in stature and so this species is best for larger gardens. You can see some fine walnut trees at Castle Howard which stand proud across from the archway that frames the Lime Avenue. When planting your own, place them in a position with full sun and protect them from frosts and your trees will do very well. Watch for the drooping yellow catkins and the clusters of female flowers in the spring and in summer, take a couple of walnut leaves, crush them between your fingers and smell the wood polish aroma that emerges. When the fleshy green husks appear, as they will this month, take a long stick or pole and harvest them before the squirrels and mice beat you to it and use a mixture of vinegar, sugar and spices to make your own pickled walnuts – perfect with a ploughman’s. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy then leave them hanging on the tree a little longer until their hard shell has developed and then gather them in ready for the winter festivities. Just make sure you have your nutcracker at the ready.

If you already have a walnut in your garden it would surely be too beautiful a tree to fell but if you did have your eye on the timber, it is said that the best wood is at the base of the trunk so walnuts are often dug up rather than felled. The resulting timber is a rich, dark wood with a wonderfully rippled grain, full of different shades of brown and red. Strong and durable, walnut makes perfect furniture and floorboards. So if you do not already have a walnut tree in your garden, then what are you waiting for? Make like a Roman god and get planting.
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