By Bruce McDonald
just a few days to go before our trip to Tortworth, on Sunday 31 May, the
weather forecast was dire - would it go ahead? In the event the weather
relented and we enjoyed a day at this amazing arboretum led by the
irrepressible Tony Titchen, an ideal guide for this collection as he had been
involved with the identification and cataloguing of the trees in the past. We
had invited members of our other groups and were delighted to be joined by
representatives from Bristol Naturalists, Gloucester Naturalists and Friends of
those unfamiliar with the location, the arboretum is in the grounds of the
Tortworth Court Hotel near Wotton under Edge and a convenient 45 minute drive
from Cardiff. There is plenty of history to this place as Tony pointed out. As
far back as Edward I's reign (1272 - 1307) the manor of Tortworth belonged to
Sir Nicholas Kingston. The Veel family held it for 200 years when it included a
deer park; then the Throckmortons and finally the Ducie family who owned it for
350 years. The house itself was built between 1849 and 1853 by the 2nd Earl and
was designed by Samuel Teulon. During the Second World War the building was
used first by Royal Navy as a training establishment when it was referred to as
HMS Cabbala. Next, American servicemen took up residence and it was at this
point that some of arboretum trees were lost due to the spillage of vehicle
oil. In 1991 the house was bought by Phillip Stubbs but a disastrous fire
caused widespread damage. The structure was then purchased by Four Pillars
Hotels and their restoration is what you see today.
now to the purpose of our visit: the arboretum itself. Whilst some mature trees
predate the arboretum it was the 3rd Earl who started planting in 1853 and
created an arboretum which at the time was a rival to Westonbirt. Our tour
started with a Robinia pseudoacacia (below)
but this was the contorted form 'tortuosa'.
Robinia originates in the Eastern and
mid-Western USA arriving in Europe in the 17th Century.
Then a Blue Cedar, Cedrus atlantica, the form 'glauca' of the Atlas Cedar from the
Atlas mountains of Morocco and Algeria. Tony pointed out the characteristic short
needles which contrast this cedar with most others. And then a massive Southern
European Plane, Platanus hispanica,
often referred to as a London Plane. The girth was impressive although, as with
many of us, the bulk had shifted downward in old age.
Dawn Redwood, Metasequia glyptostraboides,
followed, discovered in China as recently as 1941. This can be confused with
the Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum,
alongside which it is often planted but a simple key is the opposite foliage of
the Dawn Redwood and alternate of the Swamp Cypress. The first Champion tree to
grab our attention was a Nikko Maple, Acer
nikoense with distinctive trifoliate leaves.
A Shagbark Hickory followed (above), Carya ovata, from North America, and one
of 7 different species but distinguishing them can be tricky. However it
usually (but not exclusively!) has 5 leaflets whereas the Mockernut and
Shell-bark Hickory - the other two with large leaves - usually have 7.
Oriental Spruce (above), Picea orientalis,
was obligingly sporting some cones - Tony reminded us to look out for the
unusually short needles on this tree. Many of the trees were supporting
Mistletoe including species which were quite unexpected such as the Red Oak, Quercus rubra. A stream marked a valley
fault line with acid soil to one side and the other alkaline, helping to enable
such a wide variety of tree species to flourish.
the rain had held off Tony marched us under the umbrella-like cover of a
Crimean Pine, Tilia euchlora, making
it a perfect place to shelter from adverse weather (above). A Common Walnut, Juglans regia, provided Tony with an
opportunity to use his penknife test to reveal the interrupted pith in the
twigs. And a close relative of the familiar Sycamore and similar in appearance
was Van Volxem's Maple, Acer velutinum
var. vanvolxemii. - a rare tree coming from the Caucasus in the late 19th
century. Under it were hundreds of small seedlings - a propagation opportunity
if ever there was one. Another rarity followed, Chinese Zelkova, Zelkova sinica, with orange-pink bark.
Next, and sporting the largest leaves we were to see on a tree that day, was an
Amercian Lime (above), Tilia americana, and
yet another rarity, although it was discovered in North America as far back as
1752. The photo illustrated the size of the leaves as the ruler help alongside
was 30 cm or 12 inches long.
took great pains to describe our next tree as the Tree of Juda, Cercis siliquastrum, and not the Judas
Tree although it is commonly called the latter. A tree originating in what
might loosely be called Judaea is a more logical name than yet another of the
many varieties of tree on which Judas is supposed to have hanged himself. Distinguishing
this from the not dissimilar Katsura is helped by the fact that the Katsura has
opposite leaves and the Tree of Juda alternate.
next in line with the common names of the Pagoda or Scholar's Tree. This has
similarities with the Robinia that was the first tree on our quest although the
latter usually has spines and round-tipped leaflets. An American Blackjack Oak,
Quercus marilandica (above) took us nicely
up to lunch. With most of our brains and notebooks full to overflowing, how
might we cope with the afternoon session?
a brief pause and cup of tea in the hotel for some we assembled around what
must be one of Tortworth's crowning glories, a mighty Caucasia Elm, Zelkova carpinifolia (above). The photo was
taken in December and shows the scores of stems twisting up from the ground.
Another unusual feature was that the suckers around the base had been trained
to form a protective hedge.
umbrella form of a Pendulous Beech, Fagus
sylvatica var. pendula allowed ample scope for the whole group to assemble
within its protective canopy (above), before we moved on to a smaller tree with prominent
spines, Aralia spinosa, commonly
known as the Devil's Walking Stick (below).
Next, an English Oak, Quercus robur, but this was an uncommon variety with variegated leaves.
And as if we had not already encountered a plethora of rare trees our next
specimen is described as 'very rare' and this was the Chinese Cork Oak, Quercus variabilis, with, as the name
suggests, thick, corky bark.
Willow-leaved Pear, Pyrus salicifolia (above), was
showing off some of its small, inedible fruit but our final meeting was with a
small tree or large bush that many will have encountered, the Corkscrew Hazel, Corylus avellana var. contorta (below). However
this one was different from those that most of us will have come across as it
was an 'original'. The story goes that it was first discovered in a hedgerow in
Gloucestershire and the 3rd Earl of Ducie was a recipient of one of a number of
plants propagated from suckers and distributed to private collections. The
Corkscrew Hazels that are available in garden centres at modest cost will all
have been grafted as the bush will not grow true from seed or cutting. It also
has a popular name, Harry Lauder's walking stick supposedly because the great
music hall entertainer often appeared with a crooked walking stick.
our thirst for trees now well sated our gentle stroll back took us past a pets'
cemetery (below), a tunnel of Wisteria (below) and a pudding stone to be greeted by a lively,
colourful and exuberant Indian wedding taking place at the hotel.
thanks, as ever, to our guru for the day, Tony. If you are tempted by this and
love trees why not pop in and wander round the grounds. The hotel will not mind
but note that dogs are not allowed. Next year we are planning a return trip to
Pontypool Park with Tony as our previous visit was largely washed out. Watch
this space for details.
Text and all photos: Bruce
Post a Comment
Your Comment will go to moderation and will be reviewed before it is published