Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, May 06, 2011

Our Oak Tree gets a serious haircut

Back garden of the Gite, Oak tree, barn and house

In the back garden of our Gite we've a large oak tree with a 3 or more feet thick trunk which must be well over a hundred years old.

In the photo above which is taken from the bottom end of the garden in winter you can see that the tree is behind the barn (to the right) and the main house which is to the left of the picture. We've not "done anything" with the tree since we bought the Gite 7 years ago and have been quite content to let it grow; apart from once when I put my ladders up the tree and went up and cut off a couple of smaller branches. It was then that I realised just how big the tree is as my double extending ladders only just reached up into the main crown of the tree where the branches all split off from the main trunk.
I realised that I was going to need some help when it came to pruning the tree ...

In August last year I decided it was about time we gave the tree a haircut as several large branches were now overhanging both the barn and the house. I wasn't particularly worried about the tree being unstable but all the leaves, moss and small twiglets from the oak tree would fall down each year onto the house roof and block up the gutters so I was keen to stop that annual job, and also I was concious that if ever a dead branch did fall off the tree then it could do serious damage to one of the buildings when it came down.

So I phoned Dave Robbins a British ex-pat tree surgeon that lived the other side of Pontivy and he came over and we agreed a price for "part-pollarding" the tree.
Dave would remove all the branches that overhung on the barn and house side, taking them back to 4 feet or so up from the main crown of the tree. I didn't want the tree completely pollarding as it would then look like a large stump until it started growing again, and there was always a slight risk that more major surgery could damage or kill the tree. No, a haircut on one side was agreed to be a good idea.

Dave advised that he'd need to do the work in October or November when the tree growth had ceased for the winter and so we agreed a date in November when he would do the work and I could come over as well.

Tree Surgeon up the oak tree (in the rain)

Unfortunately the November day that we'd arranged turned out to be heavily overcast and dismal and as the day went on the rain came and came and came. I was quite impressed that Dave was happy to continue clambering around the tree with his chainsaw in the rain, but other than tea breaks and one period of torrential rain the two of them just kept on going.

Interesting to see how Dave climbed up the tree, he doesn't use ladders but instead he threw a weighted rope over one of the upper branches, then pulled a heavier rope behind it, and then using mountaineering equipment and carabiner's he climbed up into the tree.

Logging the cut branches

Down below Dave's mate, also chainsaw equipped, was busy cutting all the large branches up into half-metre or so long logs which were then stacked in the wood store. You can see the woodstore in the background, the left-hand side we use for drying wood and the right-hand side is for wood that's already dry and ready for the fire.
At the start of the day the left-hand wood store was quite empty.

Clambering up in the oak tree, cutting branches and pollarding back

Most of the time Dave actually used the ropes to support his weight and he walked along the branches with his feet to get into position to cut the next branch back in sections. Larger pieces were lowered to the ground by rope, all the smaller stuff was just allowed to fall down.


The guys worked a pretty full day and it was just about going dark when they finished the work and tidied up the ground underneath. Next morning it was of course a beautiful blue sky day and you could see much clearer just how much they'd taken off the tree.

Pollarded oak tree, taken from the garden side

And as you can see in the picture below taken from the patio side of the garden, there was still an awful lot of oak tree up there !

Oak tree, barn and house taken from the patio side

The wood store was very very full afterwards with all the cut and logged oak brances. It'll take 2 years or so for the wood to try out properly and some of the sections will need to be split before we can put them on the fire, but we've got an awful lot of wood now.

All the smaller branches, twigs and leaves went through a shredder onto a tarpaulin in the garden and when we were over at the Gite at Easter we wheelbarrowed it all onto the flower beds. We had enough mulch to cover the 8m by 4m flower bed that's behind the swimming pool to a depth of several inches. Will hopefully keep the weeds down.

Woodstore now overflowing with cut oak logs

And this final picture was also taken at Easter this year when we had some scaffolding up so that Geoff the plumber could re-point and repair the chimney stacks on the main Gite roof. It's still an awfully large oak tree, but now with a suitably well groomed hair-cut!

Anyway I couldn't finish without passing on details of the Tree Surgeon we used, Dave Robins, take a look at Les Bocages, Brittany arborist. Definitely recommended.

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