KMOTT went to Gloucester – and did not step into a puddle at all!
The long-anticipated excursion to Gloucestershire started on a miserable note – our pick-up points at Stop 24 and at the Mercure Hotel near Maidstone caught our travellers in an unexpected downpour, but your correspondent is happy to report that this was the last of the rain that we saw for the rest of the week.
Our coach driver, Dean, immediately impressed with his accurate and steady driving, and he delivered us with no more than usual roadworks delay to Gloucester and our first visit – to the cathedral – before finding our hotel. The cathedral is a most impressive building, and there was more than enough to interest our group – beautiful architectural features, rare examples of wooden medieval cope chests as well as a whispering gallery, which allowed perfect reception of the spoken voice along a gallery curving across the nave of the church. The weather in Gloucester was already very friendly, and the afternoon sunshine brought the stained glass windows to life!
Our first trip was to Miserden, owned and cared for by the Wills family. O ur host was the softly spoken Major Tom Wills. He led us down the very attractive village street, stopping to point out the view over the wooded valley, and through the tall wrought-iron gates into Miserden Park. The Major inherited from his grandmother at an early age and left the army to run the estate and begin his planting plans. One of our first sights was a good colourful specimen of Acer rubrum, and our noses were soon delighted with the scent of burnt sugar Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the Katsura tree. Next came the Turkish Hazelnut, Corylus colurna with is extraordinary convoluted cluster of nuts. This part of the garden was once a Victorian rockery, until the Major decided to bury it in the old swimming pool, leaving more room for his trees. Dozens of unusual trees were pointed out to us, many presented by friends or exchanged with other keen dendrologists. Across the meadow were specimens of varying sizes, planted to celebrate family birthdays and marriages, culminating in a small sapling for his six year old grandson. ….
Kentucky coffee tree, Colesbourne
After lunch at the Carpenters Arms, we travelled a short distance to Colesbourne, where we were again shown the features and trees of interest by the owner, Sir Henry Elwes, whose family has owned and improved the estate over several generations. The garden is principally known for the vast collection of over 350 varieties of snowdrop – a most beautiful sight in Spring – but certainly also hosts a large number of national and Gloucester champion trees. During a meander around the arboretum, Sir Henry pointed out the tallest fastigiate hornbeam, Carpinus betulus ‘Fasticiata’, a black oak, Quercus velutina and the Red Cedar – Thuja plicata ‘Semperaurescens’ – all very impressive.
Acer colour, Westonbirt
Wednesday was an entire day to be spent at Westonbirt national Arboretum, and the time was indeed needed. This is a resource that covers in total 600 acres, split into two parts – “The Old Arboretum” which was the original collection and expanded into a larger area “Silk Wood”. Between these there lies a shallow valley, across which a walkway has been thrown to cross from one side to the other, and which allows a visitor to wander amongst the treetops in a quite breathtaking way!
Our group spent the time wandering at will through and across both parts of the arboretum, and returned to convene to discuss the colours, shapes and majesty of the trees in the collection. Whilst there are 140 champion trees in the collection of over 2500 species, this was less a day for spotting these individuals, and much more for admiration of the grace, beauty and variety of the trees to be seen
Topped out cypress, Hidcote
On Thursday we started with a visit to Hidcote, a National Trust property, and we were treated to a very knowledgeable and wide-ranging guided tour of the gardens by one of the gardening team who – aside from a period at Westonbirt – had spent his entire career at Hidcote. We were first introduced to the champion treeform Cotoneaster cornubia, and following a meander through a series of garden “rooms”, each of which was set out to a different colour or planting and features mood, then further out to admire the various shapes and sizes of the Holm oak Quercus ilex, which in this collection are pruned as topiary and one tree that has demonstrated a multi-stemmed form. The general consensus was that we could have spent longer here, as there were areas outside the formal garden area that received too little time to reveal all their treasures.
Gravity fountain, Stanway
After lunch at Hidcote, we travelled a short distance to Stanway House, the residence of the Earl of Wemyss. We learnt that only two families have owned this 5000 acre estate since the year AD715, and there were indeed a number of very interesting and venerable trees to admire specifically – an Oriental Plane Platanus orientalis that had seen 400 summers, and a Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum which was more than 150 years old. We were allowed to wander through the gardens undisturbed, but everybody was fascinated by the fountain which began to play during our visit. The fountain is the highest gravity fountain in the world, and shoots up to the mighty height of 300feet! This capped a wonderful day indeed.
Batsford Dinosaur Trees
We broke our travel home for one last visit to Batsford, where the group again dispersed to wander up and down the paths through the garden. Particular trees of note included a small-leaved lime Tillia cordata that had layered suckers around the original trunk and was considered to be over 200 years old, a Tulip tree Liriodendron tulipifera that was possibly the tallest in the country, and specimens of the so-called Dinosaur tree Wollemia nobilis, which is a species previously only known in fossil form, but discovered living in Australia in 1994.
Tillia cordata, Batsford
Travel on the way back home was uneventful, and the party broke up. with thanks to driver Dean and to the organisational skills of Debbie for organising the trip, full of the joys of a week spent in good company – human as well as tree!