New trees for an old arboretum

After months of work preparing planting sites, plus some “arboreal retail therapy” to select suitable and interesting specimens, we were ready to start our tree-planting for the 2020-21 season. Here we tell you about what we’ve been planting and why.

Until we started planting some trees last year, there had been little or no planting in the arboretum for up to 20 years. This left a big gap in the woodland’s structure. A healthy woodland has trees of all ages growing; to support each other, to plan for succession when trees die, to reduce windthrow, to help protect younger trees, and to minimise pest and disease effects. 

Without new plantings, in around 50 years’ time the woodland will be bare or have mainly native regeneration – we have already seen this to some extent with birch and sycamore growth – meaning the woodland will revert from arboretum to native woodland, losing its connection to the history of the Ducie family, and part of what makes it such a special and unique place.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our amazing volunteers, over the last few years we’ve been able to make steady progress clearing areas of the arboretum of bramble and invasive rhododendron, as well as clearing dead, diseased and fallen trees (still leaving plenty of trees and fallen branches for wildlife habitat). This has now opened up new areas for planting, a process we began last year but have been able to focus on more this year thanks to our grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As we selectively reduce the amount of rhododendron (R. ponticum) and elder, and remove bramble, this is leaves a gap in the woodland’s understory, a gap that we are now able to fill with interesting shrubs and small trees, for the benefit of both visitors and wildlife.

This year’s plantings have were started at our Autumn Open Day in October (the days before lockdown!) and continued by our Sunday and Tuesday volunteer groups. They all have substantial protection around them as their fresh young leaves and shoots will be very tempting to deer. We have been mainly planting near pathways, for ease of management, and have plans to continue into larger areas next year, with potential space for larger trees. More about the choice of tree and shrub below these photos.

Big-leaved Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)

A companion planting for our somewhat damaged but much loved Umbrella magnolia. From the southern United States, this species has fragrant white flowers and as the name suggests, distinctive large leaves. Magnolia are an ancient genus, as they predate bees the flowers evolved to be pollinated by beetles.

Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Earlier this year in February we lost one of our most magnificent oaks, a red oak right by the entrance to the woods. We loved the tree so much, we decided to plant another one in its place!

Spindle tree (Euonymus planipes)

A beautiful shrub/tree with brilliant autumn foliage and scarlet fruits, splitting to reveal orange seeds. Native to Korea, Northern Japan, Sakhalin Island.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis)

We’re growing our own tea! From southern China, the leaves of this large shrub are the origin of most tea, white, green, black. The name sinensis means “from China” in Latin. Not to be confused with tea tree oil, which comes from a different tree.

Camellia grisjii 

Another, slightly more unusual Camellia, with a strong scent and beautiful pure white flowers.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’, ‘Orange Beauty’)

Witch hazel has long been used in traditional medicine to treat anything from damaged skin and bruises to insect bites. These captivating trees produce fragrant orange flowers in late-winter, providing some much needed colour while a lot of other trees are still dormant. 

Mock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Purpureomaculatus’, ‘Casa Azul’)

A pair of mock orange shrubs, boasting fragrant flowers with purple markings near the centre.

Cut-leaf lilac (Syringa x laciniata)

A hybrid between european and chinese lilac, from southwestern asia (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan). 

Chinese, Japanese dogwood (Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’)

A hybrid of C. kousa and C. capitata, originating in the gardens of Norman Hadden of Porlock, Somerset. This small spreading tree has masses of creamy-white bracts covering it’s branches, followed by large, pendant strawberry-like red fruit. On top of this its leaves also have beautiful red and pink autumn colours.