In fact, it's very difficult to grow ash as a decent commercial hardwood because it tends to fork and produce a split trunk.
The mass of sea water that surrounds Britain protects us from extremes in temperature, although it's difficult to believe it this year. That protection provides a very special climate and allows us to grow the astonishing range of plants for which British gardens are famous. But it also leaves us vulnerable to the unexpected.
The ash can tolerate much colder weather than it gets here, so long as it gets it at the right time. Once it's dormant, it'll happily take our winters. What it doesn't like is the unexpected. Give it a bit of spring warmth and it wakes up and puts on both leaf and flower straight away.
A late frost clobbers its flower, making it a poor seed producer. A late frost will also take out the first buds to burst, which inevitably include the apical bud and result in a forked trunk. It won't happen every year but chances are it'll happen before a tree has produced a decent commercial trunk. Whereas the oak takes its time, wakes up more slowly and isn't so bothered by a late frost.
Just as our climate lulls us into thinking we can grow ash in the UK, it lulls our councils into thinking they know how to provision for road grit. We've got some wonderful gritting lorries — I've seen them parked up in council depots - and we've got some of the finest salt mines this side of Siberia. We just don't expect to need to put the two together very often, let alone for weeks at a time.
The same factors can make fools of nurserymen. We grow an astonishing range of hardy plants in the UK, but not all of them are hardy enough to take the winter we're having this year. Anyone with a few years experience knows this, but give us a few mild winters and we forget the lessons of the past. I won't be making too many road grit jokes until I know just how much stock we've lost.
Tim Edwards is managing director of Boningdale Nurseries