One of the characteristics we were looking for when we chose this farm was an abundance of trees. There is a wide variety here, from the grand oaks under which the female llamas shelter from sun and rain, to the various plums from which we make so much jam. The willows offer cool dripping shade in the summer heat, and the hazels provide sheltered pathways and unlimited supplies of sticks for garden use.
My favourite of all the trees is, however, one that I didn’t know at all before we came here: the acacia.
These are quick growing, slender branched trees that make a delicate tracery of branches lightly covered with long leaf shoots with multiple small leaves. Each shoot has a pair of viciously sharp thorns at the base.
Sadly, the blossom is short-lived. Within about a fortnight it is gone, to be followed by the pea-like seeds.
The acacia is not just beautiful – it’s also an extremely useful tree. It’s a major honey plant: despite the short life of the flowers, French acacia honey is renowned. The wood is also very highly valued in this area. All of the hundreds of fence posts around the farm are cut from acacia – it’s an immensely hard and durable wood. One of our neighbours told me that the quality was better in the past, when the wood was only cut in the winter when the moon was waning, but even with modern production methods, a post is likely to last more than 25 years without any form of chemical treatment.
The acacia, as it is called here in France, is technically a ‘false’ acacia. It was introduced to Europe from its native North America (where it’s known as the Black Locust Tree) in the 17th century and given the Latin family name Robinia after the French royal gardener Jean Robin.