To plant a Cedar of Lebanon takes a very special kind of generosity. The trees, which grow to more than 100 feet tall, take decades to mature and are a gift to be enjoyed by future generations.
It is just one of the reasons that I have so much admiration for Alfred Day who not only created the figure-of-eight steeplechase track at Fontwell Park, but also planted an intricate garden that featured a box maze, yew topiary and a beautiful cedar tree. Never mind Capability Brown, someone (not me) should write a book about the creators of racecourses, who must surely be among the most generous and inspirational people in history. I’m sure it’d sell at least a dozen copies.
At Kelso we have too many trees in the centre of the racecourse and not enough around the edges. Working with the golf course (for whom the trees demark the fairways), we have felled some of the most troublesome trees in the centre and reduced the height of others. But I’m very keen to plant new ones in the hedgerows and car parks that surround the track. Not only will they be aesthetically pleasing, they’ll help to break the wind on those chill Winter days – something which might be important if the Government never lets us drink indoors again.
We have to hope that we won’t be in the same Covid-situation in years to come, or even at this time next year. We have to look forward to the Spring, the season of renewal, fresh growth and mass vaccination. Which is why I’m not only thinking about planting trees for future generations, I’m also in the process of selecting Spring flowering bulbs to be planted around the Parade Ring and enclosures.
Bulbs are cheery: they poke their necks through the soil at just the time when we’re despairing that nothing will ever grow again, particularly the grass on the track which is kicked to kingdom come by the blessed hooves of the horses that we prepare it for. And then, hopefully, the earliest bulbs will bloom just in time for our best races in March and the later varieties will last until Ladies Day in May.
In the meantime, I’m hoping that by turning over the soil, we can prevent trainers from ducking under the single horse-rails of the parade ring to lean on the crowd barrier to talk to their owners. Ordinarily that would be a pleasant way to chat but, in the World of Covid-precautions, it is exercising the patience of the BHA staff designated to uphold the temporary distancing rules. Muddy shoes may just be the disincentive required.
While it’s wearing to keep a distance at the moment, there will come a day when we can sit in the shade beneath the spread of a large tree and talk about the bad-old-days when we kept people apart and were forced to stay at home rather than amble down the road to Hexham where our selection Black Ebony runs on Saturday.