Review of 2023

The annual New Year flower count, this year on 3rd January, revealed flowers on 13 species. To continue with the positive, the destructive late spring frosts of 2021 and 2022 were not repeated in 2023, neither was there a sudden damaging severe frost in early winter. However, until recently, it has been hard to find anything positive to say about rainfall. The drought of 2022 had already killed several trees in the arboretum, and the winter rains of 2022/23 failed to the extent that on 23rd February Meteo France noted that there had been no rain in France for 32 days. July also provided no rain whatsoever, and a meagre 15 mm in August was nullified by days when air humidity fell to 20% and temperatures rose to over 40°C. In fact, the first nine and a half months of this year produced only half the total rainfall of a normal year. However, two distinguished English visitors arrived on 21st October, apparently with remarkable powers. Under their influence the weather flipped in an instant from arid La Nina to torrential El Nino, and the 295 mm of rain which fell in the two months between 21st October and 20th December brought the total for the year so far up to the annual average of 600 mm.


Tree losses after these droughts included 7 species in four genera. Tragically our two Araucaria araucana, the Monkey Puzzle (Bourreau des singes), which were favourites of the visiting pupils of the Faudoas primary school in 2022 were casualties, as were several other conifers; surprisingly Eucalyptus of two species were also killed, whilst others lost the majority of their crowns (there is an explanation for this: the limited number of Eucalyptus species which can resist the cold of our winters are found on relatively humid mountain slopes in their homeland). To illustrate just how extreme these last two years have been: a colony of herbaceous Epimediums which had survived in the woodland for around 30 years were wiped out completely, and the native Helleborus foetidus was killed in several areas. On the positive side, few oaks were harmed, particularly as I had made sure to water the few which had shown signs of suffering in 2022. More surprisingly, two Japanese maples planted long ago in the valley of the ‘new field’, and which were never watered, sustained only minor leaf damage and went on to provide long-lasting autumn colour. A pointer for future planting?


Several oak species which normally form abundant crops of acorns produced scarcely any this year, with just one or two species going to the opposite extreme with a profusion (I hope the effort doesn’t kill them!). I had feared that the butterfly population would be reduced this year after the desiccation of their larval food crops in 2022, but thankfully there was no noticeable decline. Nature is resilient.


Also on the positive side, the Arboretum opened under the Rendez-vous aux Jardins scheme in June in cooperation with the Ecole de Musique of Verdun-sur-Garonne, and attracted over 80 visitors for a mix of music by the students and commentary on the trees. This successful event will be repeated in 2024. During the year there have also been visits by representatives of scientific institutions and nurseries with particular reference to the search for trees to withstand a hotter dryer climate (of which the last two years have given us more than enough experience!). In addition, links have been established with those involved with the maintenance of green spaces in Toulouse, which, among other things, will help us to ensure that our trees do not endanger the public.


Our Association was graced by 35 members in 2023, and since the Annual General Meeting in early December we have a new President! Tina Glassenbury, who works tirelessly on behalf of the Arboretum and Association, had requested to stand down as President, and Carl Sandeman generously offered to take over. However, thankfully Tina will continue her invaluable work behind the scenes, particularly with the website and with our ongoing upgrade to the labelling of the trees coordinated with the of mapping their positions in the Arboretum. So, a big and ongoing thank-you to Tina, a warm welcome to Carl, and wishing everyone a happy and successful 2024!