Main text and photos:Bruce McDonald
Tree notes (below) by Chris Powell
As part of Insole Court’s Heritage Day, Cardiff Naturalists’ Society agreed to organise a tree walk which was led by Chris Powell, ex-Cardiff City Parks department and currently leading walks in Dyffryn Gardens. There is only limited information on the trees at Insole; a list of champion trees on the Cardiff City website and another list derived from a walk around the garden in 1902 with Tony Titchen. The notes from Tony’s walk were helpful although inevitably in the intervening 16 years some trees had disappeared and there has been some new plantings of, principally, Acers.
Chris kindly passed on his own notes that were the basis for this tour and what follows is essentially what was covered on his perambulation. Fine weather was on offer and a large group of 31 assembled outside the Visitor Centre to look at the trees. With some of the paths narrow and winding a group of around a dozen would have been ideal and with over 30 it was inevitable that people at the back did not always hear what was said. It seems that a self-guided tree trail would be a good idea and we hope that the Society will be able to design and publish one as part of its decades long involvement with Insole.
The house was acquired in 1856/7 by James Harvey Insole (1821-1901) who had extensive coal and shipping interests. The garden developed initially in 1861 by local nurseryman William Treseder and then Insole’s daughter Violet added a national collection of Irises and a large rockery containing an extensive collection of alpines which has since disappeared. A horse Chestnut avenue was planted in 1882. Cardiff Council then acquired the house in 1932 by compulsory purchase for the creation of Western Avenue and new housing.
Today there is a large collection of interesting trees some of which are Glamorgan and Welsh National Champions. The mid Victorian period was a time of great interest in gardening spurred on by the plant hunting expeditions that were introducing new plants from North and South America , Asia and in particular China. Plant hunters like George Forrest introduced Rhododendrons from the Himalayas and Ernest Wilson added new species from China. The fashion for planting exotics was spurred on by the new found wealth acquired as a result of the Industrial Revolution and there was considerable competition to outdo neighbouring estates such as Bute Park, Dyffryn Gardens and the Plymouth estate in St Fagans. Insole Court includes a good range of New Zealand plants as well as others from the northern hemisphere which were able to thrive in this area of Wales
Tree notes by Chris Powell
Acer Lawn formerly a rose Garden
Magnolia Kobus borealis Northern Japanese Magnolia larger than species but shy flowering.
Acer crataegifolium Hawthorn Maple Japan having yellow flowers and prettily marked bark.
Cornus nuttallii Pacific Dogwood W N America introduced 1835. Large bracts appear in May sometimes flushed pink.
Cotoneaster x waterii – Hybrid Cotoneaster with upright fruits and flowers
From drive looking beyond the hedge
Sequioa sempervirens (Californian Redwood) introduced by Archibald Menzies in 1794 can reach over 100m in Californian forests soft and spongy bark which is fire resistant. Slightly drooping branches. Grow on seaward side of coastal mountain ranges. Tallest tree in Devon in 1970 reached 40m but are often struck by lightning in Britain. Long lived, 500-700 years average but can live up to 2000 years
Sequoiadendron giganteum Wellingtonia having the widest in girth (24m) grows in the western slopes of Sierra Nevada in California. Said to be the oldest living thing in the world. 3000 years plus. Reddish brown bark similar to the giant redwood.
Pinus nigra (Austrian pine) has roughish greyish brown bark introduced to Britain in 1835 often as a wind break.
Trachycarpus fortunei Chusan Palm introduced in 1849 winter hardy
Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat) from Japan. (Wales Champion 2017). Large shrub or small tree growing 6-10 m with blackish bark cracked with age. Leaves deeply veined and brown and woolly on underside. The flowers are white hawthorn like followed by yellow pear shaped fruit which ripen the following summer. It seldom fruits in Britain although its large evergreen leaves make for an exotic effect. (Rosaceae)
2 Magnolia grandifloras from SE America usually grown against a south wall on houses. The large white flowers are scented and appear in July and August.
Pinus nigra var. caramanica Crimea Pine from West Asia broad conical habit more compact habit than Pinus nigra introduced in 1798. Thrives in chalky soil. Trunk divides into several stems.
Gleditsia triacanthos Honey Locust E United states introduced in 1700. Pinnate leaves resembling mimosas flowers greenish followed by flattened shining brown seed pods.
Gingkgo biloba Maidenhair tree ancestors found in Britain 160 million years ago. Male and female trees. Introduced in 1727
Magnolia grandiflora Bull Bay Magnolia – S E United States often grown against south facing walls. Large creamy white flowers produced throughout summer and able to be smelt through open windows. Lime tolerant
Myrtus luma syn M. apiculata. Chilean Myrtle Wales Champion in 2005 with orange brown bark peeling white. Dark green fragrant leaves with white single flowers appearing in late summer and early autumn. Naturalised in parts of southern Ireland, the red and black fruits are edible and sweet.
Sophora tetraptera – Kowhai from New Zealand. Leaves pendulous and with 20-40 leaflets In May yellow flowers appear in clusters followed by winged seed pods. Rare Wales Champion 12m tall in 2017. Introduced in 1772.
X Cupressocyparis leylandii - Leyland Cypress. Fast growing tree bigeneric hybrid slightly drooping sprays. First originated from Leighton Hall in Montgomeryshire in 1888 and 1911. Wales Champion 2017 next to Gingko.
Cedrus libani (Glamorgan Champion) from Asia Minor and Levant grows 35-40 m with flattened tops and deeply cracked stems. Level branches as opposed to Cedrus atlantica with upturned branches and Cedrus deodara with pendulous tips to branches. Tree was declared a Glamorgan Champion in 2005
Liquidamber styraciflua - Sweet Gum from Eastern N America and Nicaragua - a large tree with deeply lobed alternate leaves and a corky bark. Very good Autumn Colour with red yellow and purple tints. Glamorgan Champion in 2017.
Corokia Cotoneaster- Wire netting Bush New Zealand with twisted branch system and tiny yellow but attractive flowers.
Fagus sylvatica purpurea Purple Beech purplish leaves selected from seedlings. Grows up to 40m tall with yellowish green flowers in May
Fagus sylvatica Riversii Purple Beech either vegetatively propagated or in this case possibly grafted
Carpinus betulus – An upright form of Common hornbeam makes a very large tree with broader crown as it matures. Suitable for clay and chalky soils.
Cornus capitata Bentham’s Cornel – An evergreen tree with large sulphur bracts in June July followed by large strawberry like fruits
Cryptomeria japonica – Japanese cedar large tree with reddish shredding bark and spreading branches. Likes moist soils. Similar to Wellingtonia but with less spongy bark.
Griselinia littoralis- Cornacaea introduced from New Zealand in 1850 an evergreen leafy shrub often used as a coastal hedge.
Quercus petraea Sessile Oak native oak growing in west and north. Long stalked leaves and sessile fruit
Podocarpus totara – Totara. A tall tree from New Zealand with yellowish green leaves leathery stiff and sharply pointed. It likes the protection of other evergreens.
Eucryphia x nymansensis – A deciduous shrub with pinnate leaves. A profusion of white flowers in July and August. Hybrid between cordifolia and glutinosa.
Aesculus indica – Indian Horse Chestnut from N W Himalayas with later flowering large panicles of red flowers. Introduced in 1851
Thuja occidentalis American Arbor-vitae columnar tree with reddish brown pealing bark. Branches horizontally spreading up curved at tips. Leaves have conspicuous resin glands dark green above pale green below. Pleasant fruity smell when crushed. Important timber tree in N America coping with colder conditions.
Stuartia pseudocamellia – Japan a small acid loving tree with lovely autumn colour and flaking bark. A member of the Tea family closely related to Camellias with large white camellia flowers occurring solitary in leaf axils
Acer sacchirinum – Silver Maple A large fast growing tree from N America with 5 lobed leaves silvery underneath. Introduced in 1725.
Chamecyparis nootkatensis pendula – Nootka Cypress from western N America with drooping branchlets. Introduced in 1853 the sharp point scale like leaves are strong smelling.
Picea brewerana- Brewer’s Weeping Spruce. From North West California and Oregon. It is a rare tree in the wild (Siskiyou Mountains). Makes a majestic tree when mature.
Cupressus macrocarpa Lutea Monterey Cypress a tall columnar tree becoming broader with age, with soft yellow foliage becoming green. First Introduced in Britain 1893.
Other plants seen but not described were flowering Bescheria yuccoides, Cestrum parqui, Abutilon megapotimcum growing on the west facing wall along the Acer Lawn. In the area behind the former rockery were Crinodendrum hookerianum (Tricuspidaria lanceolate) Chilean lantern, Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree).
Photos by Bruce McDonald
Tree notes by Chris Powell