The big laburnum tree in the garden of the house on the corner of our street is dying. I walk past it every day on the way to the newsagents to pick up the paper. Overhanging the main road it must be thirty or forty feet high. Buses brush it as they pass. It’s the biggest laburnum I’ve ever seen. The trunk solid and four or five feet in diameter. Not a pretty little ornamental thing. A proper tree. A joy to see. When we first came here twenty years ago it was thriving. The bark smooth, unblemished, shiny, pinky brown. We moved in the spring so it was full of bunches of bright, hanging yellow flowers. Its early burst of flowers in May an optimistic sign of the coming summer. A sign of hope for a better future.
How old could it be? The house was built about a hundred years ago. Was it planted then? The first householder would have planted it with hopeful anticipation as a tiny, eager sapling. But now the bark is pitted, lined, wrinkled and dull. It looks old and diseased. It still puts out leaves and flowers but they are sparse in the high canopy.
It all started to go wrong when they moved the driveway entrance from the side of the house to the front three or four years ago. Now a couple of cars are parked right next to it everyday. The weight of the cars is compressing the soil around its roots. It can’t breath properly. Eventually it will suffocate and die.
The gardening books say that laburnums are notoriously short-lived trees but this seems like an assisted death. A thriving, healthy pensioner being carelessly helped into an early grave. It makes me think of my own life. Will I subside into a crippled old age? Neglected and ignored. Or will I go out in a blaze of glory? One last flush of glorious flowers and then expire. Job done.