“A cherry year
is a merry year,
And a plum year is a dumb year.”
I have seen the explanation suggested that cherries being particularly wholesome contributed to the happiness of mankind, but that the less salubrious plum tended to depression of health and spirits. There is, however, a small black cherry still grown in this and other parts of Hampshire and Surrey called the “Merry,” from the French merise, and it was natural that when cherries were abundant the merry would also be plentiful. The word “dumb” is an archaic synonym for “damson,” and the same rule would apply between it and the plum, as with the cherry and the merry. My own small place here, in the New Forest, has been known for centuries as “the Merry Gardens,” and no doubt they were once grown here, as at other places in the south of England, called Merry Hills, Merry Fields, and Merry Orchards. Even now as I write, on May Day, the buds on the wild cherries in my hedges are showing the white bloom just ready to appear, and in a few days, these trees will be spangled with their little bright stars. I imagine that they are no very distant relation of the old merry-trees that once flourished here.
“O flourish, hidden deep in fern,
Old oak, I love thee well;
A thousand thanks for what I learn
And what remains to tell.”
—The Talking Oak.
Keats tells us that
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self,”
and had he included the trees around a dwelling-house, the epigram would have been equally applicable. Sometimes, of course, it becomes absolutely necessary to cut down an ancient tree that from its proximity to one’s home has become a part of the home itself, but it is a matter for the gravest consideration, for one cannot foresee the result, and to a person who has lived long with a noble tree as a near neighbour, the place never again seems the same.
The Elm is said to be the Worcestershire weed, as the oak is in Herefordshire; the former attains a great size, but it is not very deeply rooted, and a heavy gale will sometimes cause many unwelcome gaps in a stately avenue. Big branches, too, have a way of falling without the least notice, and on the whole it is safer not to have elms near houses or cottages. One of the finest avenues of elms I know, is to be seen at the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester at Farnham in Surrey, but the land is quite exceptionally good, and in the palmy days of hop-growing, the adjoining fields commanded a rent of L20 an acre for what is known as the “Heart land of Farnham,” where hops of the most superlative quality were grown. When the dappled deer are grouped under this noble avenue, in the light and shade beneath the elms, they form an old English picture of country life not to be surpassed.