Curl up in front of the fireside

Log fire
Log fire

Christmas around the fireside. A real fire with dancing flames and sweet smelling smoke; and the promise of roast chestnuts or hot buttered toast cooked by glowing embers late in the evening.

Central heating may have its advantages in this modern world, but the attraction of a real fire is never stronger than during the festive season.

Log burners and ‘real fires’ are certainly making a come-back – but I, for one, am glad not to have to rely on them for heating our home! Memories of laying fires, fetching the coal or wood from outside, and, worst of all, cleaning out the ashes the next day (not to mention the extra dusting…) as a matter of necessity not option. Been there, done that!

We do not have an open fire now. But I have come across articles I wrote some years ago when the fire was lit as a matter of course and, would you believe, it made me quite nostalgic for the leaping flames, glowing sparks and the aroma of sweet burning logs.

I remember stacking the logs as upright as possible in the grate for a fast-burning fire with lots of flame, or horizontally for a longer lasting fire.

Mostly I had little choice of the variety of wood which found its way onto the fire. Sometimes from a large ‘pruning’ job, but more often from logs purchased.

But amongst my articles I found one of the old country rhymes extolling the virtues of some woods – and warning against others…

Beechwood fires are bright and clear

If the logs are kept a year

Chestnut only good they say

If for long it’s laid away

Make a fire of elder tree

Death within your house will be

But ash new or ash old

Is fit for a Queen with a crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast

Blaze up bright and do not last

It is by the Irish said

Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread

Elmwood burns like churchyard mould

Even the very flames are cold

But ash green or ash brown

Is fit for a Queen with a golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke

Fills your eyes and makes you choke

Apple wood will scent your room

With an incense-like perfume

Oaken logs, if dry and old

Keep away the winters cold

But ash wet or ash dry

A king shall warm his slippers by.

So for a fragrant winter fire look for Apple wood, although Pear, Cherry and Juniper are nicely scented alternatives.

But is seems to be the Ash that reigns supreme.

But for how long? The UK’s 80 million ash trees are in real danger of being lost to a deadly fungus, Chalara Fraxinea, commonly called Ash Die-back.

Only discovered here in 2012, arriving from mainland Europe, this is a devastating killer of young ash trees, whilst the crown of more mature trees will blacken and wither, with die-back soon following.

So, if you have Ash, look out for the tell-tale signs of premature leaf fall, crown die-back and bark lesions.

n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre) teaches RHS Courses at all levels. Visit: www.maneaschoolofgardening.org or email: msog@btinternet.com