Arboretum de la Chabotte

A Visit to the Arboretum de la Chabotte, the collection of Daniel Dumont

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in International Oaks, No. 22, 2011. We have posted it again here in honor of Daniel Dumont, who died in February 2014. You can read further about Daniel in Guy Sternberg’s blog.]

The fog had invaded the valley of the Ourthe that morning of the 4th of September.  Béatrice Chassé, our Franco-American president, had driven up from the Dordogne to spend the night here before our planned visit to Daniel Dumont’s oak collection.  I did not know Daniel Dumont until my return from the IOS conference in Dallas in 2006, although early members of the IOS had known him for some time.  He had heard that I had come back from the conference and a pre-tour organized by Guy Sternberg with quite a few acorns.  And it is with great pleasure that I gave him acorns from the lots he was interested in.  In the summer 2007, I finally visited Daniel’s “Belgian” collections (see below) and I was happily surprised by the number of trees it included and that it was relatively unknown in local dendrological circles.  Moreover, it was less than an hour away from the Arboretum Robert Lenoir, an arboretum I myself am taking care of in my free time.      

As we left the valley to drive to Daniel and Arlette Dumont’s place, we also left the fog behind us.  Up on the plateau the skies were blue and the sun was shining.  This would prove to be the finest week-end of the latter part of the summer.  

Soon after we arrived, we were joined by about 15 other people, mostly from Belgium (many of these were members of the Belgian Dendrology Society) and from the Netherlands. 

INTRODUCTION

Before starting the visit, Daniel gives us a brief overview of the history of his collections and the reader will quickly realize that Daniel clearly suffers from a severe case of compulsion.

It was in the early sixties that Daniel planted his first trees in the small garden of his grandmother in Ciney, a city in the French-speaking part of Belgium.  A few good trees are still to be found in this garden today, for example, Taxodium distichum, Sassafras albidum and Cedrela sinensis.   Soon, in 1963 and then again in 1965, Daniel acquired two small plots in Chapois (near Ciney), of 0.27 and 0.51 hectare respectively (Haute Famenne, altitude 290 m and 310 m).  The soils on these sites are acidic.

In 1976, after a very hot and dry summer in Europe, Daniel acquired yet another 3 hectare  piece of woodland, farther south, near the French border, in the massif of La Croix Scaille, near Gedinne; the soil is again acidic and boggy in part, at an altitude of 360 meters.  

In 1981 he invaded the garden of his in-laws in Moustier sur Sambre in the Valley of the Sambre and acquired another hectare of land nearby, in Lesve, where he can spend time when his wife visits her parents.  This land is partly ferruginous, partly calcareous (cave of Lesve and dolines) and partly acidic (Haute Marlagne).   We will be visiting Lesve in the afternoon.  The garden in Moustier had a good specimen of Quercus tomentella Engelm. which I saw and photographed two years ago.  Unfortunately, two consecutive severe winters (2009 and 2010) killed all aerial parts of the tree; it is now slowly re-growing from basal sprouts.  Three magnificent specimens of Sorbus domestica L. are also growing there.  

In 1986, the Dumont family moved to a new house in Scoville (Hamois en Condroz) in the Valley of the Bocq, just about 10 km away from Ciney, from which we set out this morning.  The house is surrounded by a garden of 2 hectares where we are standing as we listen to Daniel. The soil here, he says, is limestone, with a high pH.  The altitude is 300 meters. 

Daniel Dumont

Daniel further expanded his collections into France in 1999.  He wanted a warmer climate in order to be able to plant tender plants.  After having considered the south of France, he concluded that what was really important were the minimum temperatures, and that he might as well buy land much farther north, in Brittany, where minimum temperatures are about the same as in the area of Nice, on the French Riviera, even if maximum temperatures are far from being as high as on the Riviera in Summertime. 

Daniel tells us that both of the arboreta that we will visit today (here in Scoville in the morning, Lesve in the afternoon) have endured two severe winters, with temperatures as low as -25° Celsius (-10F).  Furthermore, a disease probably caused by two very wet years in 1999 and 2000 has decimated his collection of pines. Daniel also admits that the double hedge of spruces that he has planted all around his garden might also be detrimental to his pines.  He has started to plant pines in Brittany also, where there is more wind along the coast, to duplicate his initial collection in Belgium.

Daniel ended his introduction by describing the storm of July 14th, 2010.  On that day southern Belgium was hit by a major storm, especially harsh in the region of Ciney and the garden suffered some losses (The church in Ciney lost its bell tower).  I would notice later in the garden that Daniel had done a lot of work in preparation for our visit, removing fallen trees since my pre-visit at the end of July. And although the gales were probably a disaster for the trees that were felled, they may have done a favor for the remaining trees: the latter will now have more room, which is a scarce commodity in this garden.

THE GARDEN IN SCOVILLE

After his introduction, Daniel invited us to walk down to his garden.  The visit started out as a field trip of the Conifer Society, with assembly around an Abies squamata Mast., a Chinese fir with  remarkable bark. The group then moved on to Abies vejari Martinez, a Mexican fir that does very well in collections in Europe and North America.  There is indeed an excellent specimen at Thenford House, the garden of IOS member Michael Heseltine in England.  (This tree grew initially in the garden of Keith Rushforth.)  Next we saw  Abies pindrow (Royle ex. D. Don) Royle, Athrotaxis laxifolia Hook., and many juniper species and cultivars.   

Daniel Dumont and Marc Struelens

But come on! This is the Oak Society! So the group eventually began to focus on oaks.   The first one is a specimen of Quercus graciliformis C.H.Mull., an oak native to the Chisos Mountains in Texas, growing here in an area comparable to USDA zone 6.   Daniel Dumont belonged to the network of people around Steven Roesch who eventually brought about the creation of the International Oak Society, and  he grew this oak from seed received through that network, as is the case with many of his oaks.   This Q. graciliformis was sown in 1994.

Next we moved on to a Q. robur  L. ‘Fastigiata’. Daniel believes that this tree belongs to a species distinct from Q. robur proper because it comes true from seed.  He collected the seed from which he grew this plant on a tree at the Castle of Dave, in Belgium, which was a property of the Spanish Duke F. Lunez. Daniel said that he saw a whole stand of the very same oak in Ustarritz, in the French Basque country, all fastigiate like this one.  The stand in Ustarritz has since disappeared.  Daniel believes that the mother plant of his tree might have come from that area close to Spain (Note: Some of us thought that the tree was a fastigiate form of Q. petraea (Matt.) Liebl.)

Next we came to a specimen of Q. kelloggii Newb., grown from seed which Daniel received from Steven Roesch.   This oak from the Pacific Coast of North America is not doing well in Belgium.  As far as I know, all other specimens of this species in Belgium are younger than Daniel’s tree and none are really happy in the Belgian climate. 

Q. kelloggii Newb.

Farther down in the garden we came upon three good plants of Q. trojana Webb (grown from acorns bought from Schumacher in the USA) and a specimen of Q. acerifolia (E. J. Palmer) Stoynoff & W. J. Hess. This plant came from seed originally gathered from a well-known specimen growing at the Morton Arboretum in the United States.  This handsome oak is not often seen in Europe.  We then saw Q. dentata Thunb. and nearby a vigorous  Quercus ×vilmoriniana A. Camus, which is a hybrid between Q. dentata Thunb. and Q. petraea (Matt.) Liebl.  This came from what was a chance seedling noticed by Maurice de Vilmorin at the Arboretum des Barres at the end of the 19th century.

Quercus ×vilmoriniana A. Camus, in Scoville

Daniel has planted a double line of Norway spruce, Picea abies (L.) H. Karst., all around his garden.  These were planted as a windbreak.  Over the years they have grown to be tall trees and they take a lot of light from the trees they are supposed to protect.  At one point during the visit I walked through the hedge to examine a laciniate form of Quercus cerris L. growing beyond the windbreak.  Here I caught a bit of sun at last, and I noticed how beautiful the countryside is.  None of that can be seen from the other side.  The Turkish oak is doing very well even though it is outside the enclosed area. I wonder if Daniel could be persuaded to thin this double hedge a bit, maybe first right here at the Q. cerris?

We finished the visit to the garden in Scoville with a Picea chihuahuana Martinez, a recent introduction with needles as sharp as thorns. We then headed back to the house, where we had lunch on the terrace in the sun.  This was also an ideal time to thank Daniel and Arlette for their hospitality and to present them with some gifts:  oak seedlings mostly, but also Mexican pines, brought by Béatrice for the occasion.

THE ARBORETUM IN LESVE

After lunch, we drove to Lesve, which is about 40 km away from Daniel’s house and a 45 minute drive over various back roads of Wallonia (French Belgium).  We crossed the valley of the Meuse in Burnot before driving up to Profondeville and Lesve.  Daniel’s field there is about half the size of the garden in Scoville.  It is also fenced by a double hedge of Picea abies and because its area is even smaller than at Scoville, one feels oppressed by the darkness of the place.  The sun is shining, but the trees do not get much of it. 

Darkness not withstanding, Daniel has some interesting trees here.  Some of the people in attendance, also members of the Belgian Dendrology Society, started measuring some of the trees for the national tree inventory (BELTREES), which was established and is maintained by the Society (Circumference is measured at 1.5 meter high).

The first tree of note, right at the entrance, is a spectacular Corylus colurna L. (138 cm in girth and about 15 meters high).  A few meters away, are an Acer triflorum Kom. (58 cm) and a small birch, labeled Betula davurica Pall. It was quickly decided that the label is incorrect, and some of the participants got very excited trying to identify it (Actually the birch is not yet identified.  Since it came from a nursery, it may be a hybrid.) 

Nearby is a good specimen of Quercus xruncinata (A. DC.) Engelm.  (137 cm in circumference and 17 meters high), seemingly quite happy here.  The next oak is Quercus xcalvescens Vukot., a naturally occurring hybrid between Q. petraea (Matt.) Liebl. and Q. pubescens Willd.  Daniel collected this one in a natural stand in Ave et Auffe, not far from Lesve.  The collection also contains Q. pubescens, collected by Daniel Dumont in the Gard region in France.  Q. pubescens occurs here and there in southern Belgium always with populations of hybrids, Q. xcalvescens already mentioned and Q. xkerneri Simonk. (Q. pubescens x Q. robur).  The latter is much rarer, but found a bit farther north in the Province of Brabant but in the absence of Q. pubescens.  Other oaks recorded are Q. aliena Blume (74 cm), Q. cerris L. (143 cm) and Q. macranthera Fisch. & C. A. Mey. ex Hohen. (65 cm).

Quercus xruncinata (A. DC.) Engelm.

For the record, in addition to those already mentioned, other trees which were measured in Lesve  (thanks Marc Struelens for the list) are Abies concolor (Gordon & Glend.) Lindl. ex Hildebr.  ‘Candicans’ (83 cm), Betula costata Trautv. (81 cm), Betula szechuanica (C. K. Schneid.) C.-A. Jansson  (45 cm), Calocedrus decurrens  (Torr.) Florin (127 cm), Castanea sativa Mill. ‘Argenteo-marginata’ (170 cm in girth and 15 m high), Cupressus arizonica Greene  (80 cm), Fraxinus excelsior L. 'Jaspidea' (80 cm), Fraxinus latifolia Benth. (80 cm), Juniperus squamata Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don  'Meyeri' (38 cm), Pinus lambertiana Douglas (138 cm and 17 m), Pinus taeda L. (51 cm and 12 m), Pinus virginiana Miller (76 cm and 10 m), Robinia pseudoacacia L. 'Unifolia' (97 cm), Salix candida Flüggé ex Willdenow (164 cm.  Note: this one needs to be checked as S. candida is a North-American shrub), Salix pentandra L. (98 cm and 15 m, collected in Switzerland), and Tilia americana L. (113 cm).  

Quercus aliena Blume

 

Note: All pictures by the author