Rosemary Tozer feels a great sense of peace when she escapes to the Yorkshire Arboretum’s leafy refuge. Located on the sprawling Castle Howard estate, it has beautiful lakes, several ponds and over 6,000 trees. It is also home to a red maple and small-leaved lime she has adopted in memory of her two dead sons, Sam and Danny. “It’s like seeing them again,” she says of her visits. “I find it quite emotional.”
The retired researcher, 71, adopted the trees with her husband Tim in 2017, two years after their eldest son, Danny, died following an epileptic seizure aged 36. Sam, who was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t speak, died in 2003, when he was 19, after a bout of pneumonia. The couple, who live in Elvington, York, also have a daughter and wanted to do something to commemorate their love for their late sons.
Tozer’s eye was caught initially by the dazzling red maple, also known as Acer rubrum (“October glory”), but it was when she saw the lime tree, Tilia cordata, next to it that she knew she had found the right pair. “This little tree had light-green and yellow leaves. It was looking quite frail leaning into the Acer. It just looked like Sam leaning into his brother. His head would go over, and he couldn’t quite sit up on his own.” When the trees are bare in the winter, the branches can be seen entwined. “They’ve almost got their arms around each other, in a way.”
It gives you a sense of how fleeting life can be, especially when you’ve lost young people in your family
During her first visit after lockdown restrictions eased, Tozer noticed all the wildflowers blooming around the trees. To her, it was as if they were “cheering”. But her favourite time to visit is in autumn, when a crisp chill sets in the air and the leaves of the red maple turn deep crimson. “At the moment, it’s green with red tinges on the leaves. That will extend all over the tree. The lime is a light green. As it comes into autumn, it becomes a lighter yellow. Its leaves fall before the Acer, like Sam died before Danny.”
Tozer is glad the trees exist as a “positive” symbol of her sons’ lives and enjoys seeing them change throughout the seasons. “The leaves fall off, but they always regenerate. I think that’s quite impressive for us, who are just humans and fade away.”
She appreciates this poignant reminder of the cycle of life and the chance to reflect during her trips there. “It gives you a sense of how fleeting life can be, especially when you’ve lost young people in your family. At our time of life, you know most of your life is over. I think it’s important to think about how to use the time you have left and to value what has gone before.”
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