Oak Open Days in Gloucestershire, UK - July 6-7, 2014

Originally published in Oak News & Notes, Vol. 18, No. 2

The garden at Congrove. Photo: ©Charles Snyers

Unexpectedly sunny weather greeted 38 participants as they arrived in Upton Cheyney for the start of two days of marveling at oaks – young and old – in Gloucestershire.

Congrove Arboretum

The first event, a visit to Christine Battle’s Congrove Arboretum, started a few miles from there, at Manor Farm Shop, a lovely place that is at once an organic grocery shop, café, restaurant, and campsite, where we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch with a grand finale of scrumptious strawberries and cream.

Congrove Cottage has “tree” written in its destiny. Before Christine and her husband Ben arrived it was already an arboretum that Christine then developed enormously, and now, as Christine and Ben are leaving, the new

Exploring the oak collection at Congrove. Photo: ©Charles Snyers

master of Congrove, Tamburlaine Gorst, is also very enthusiastic about trees. This day was Christine’s farewell to Congrove at the same time as it was a welcome to Tam.

Christine Battle has been a member of the International Oak Society for many, many years and she was instrumental in organizing members to pool their resources to enable expeditions looking for new species. Many oak collections would not be as rich as they are today if not for her commitment to this initiative.

Carpooling after lunch took us down tiny little roads that wind through thick vegetation that create a mysterious ambiance in this stunning countryside. As we drive the last hundred meters it becomes apparent that someone has been planting many special trees here. A vast majority of the oaks are wild-collected botanic species, undoubtedly the

Quercus castaneifolia C. A. Mey. × cerris L. at Leigh Delamere House. Photo: ©Charles Snyers

influence of Allen Coombes, whom Christine met thanks to James MacEwen, IOS member, close collaborator of hers, and our guide for the day.

The most surprising trees that are growing here are Q. insignis M. Martens & Galeotti, Q. germana Schltdl. & Cham., Q. xalapensis Bonpl., and two Q. corrugata Hook. They were planted together in a very sheltered area in 2012 and have thus survived two winters, albeit mild ones (during which they are protected, as are about 15 other species).

I first visited with Christine in 2007 and it was a great pleasure for me to see how Congrove Arboretum has developed in the intervening years. We all look forward to going back there in another seven.

Leigh Delamere House

The official program of this event included Congrove Arboretum followed by Westonbirt, the National Arboretum. The cherry on the top, or rather, in the middle, was an invitation to end the first day with a wineglass-in-hand visit of participant Harriet Tupper’s garden at Leigh Delamere House. Harriet is Chairman of the International Dendrology Society and also a long-standing member of the IOS. There are many nice oaks here – but so many other wonderful plants as well so that it was a treat to look at beautiful flowers, shrubs and other non-oak marvels. We had a very interesting discussion, provoked by three trees that Harriet has labelled as Q. castaneifolia C.A. Mey that are possible hybrids with Q. cerris L. Each tree, grown from acorns collected from

Quercus canariensis Willd. at Westonbirt. Photo: ©Charles Snyers

the same tree in Iran, was remarkably different: two of them with obvious cerris characteristics whilst the third had none.

Westonbirt, the National Arboretum

The following day our rendezvous is 140 km/87 mi north at Westonbirt, where we are greeted by our guides for the day, Dan Crowley and Hugh Angus, as well as by Simon Toomer, who, though he could not spend the day, took the time to welcome us. The morning is devoted to the oak collection in the newer part of the arboretum, where the planting started during the second half of the 20th century. To get to that part of the arboretum we walk through an area where several venerable oaks – Q. robur L., Q. pyrenaica Willd., and Q. ×hispanica Lam. – can be seen.

In the oak collection, a Q. macrocarpa Michx. without the characteristic deep sinus but with the characteristic bark gave Eike Jablonski the opportunity to explain to us that this variation (along with very small acorns) is characteristic of the most northern populations of this species and used to be distinguished from the type under the name Q. macrocarpa subsp. oliviformis (F. Michx) A. Camus.

The day was marked with thought-provoking discussions on various subjects including strategies for maintaining collections, how to promote interest in gardens as well as the morphological differences noticeable between trees in cultivation in different countries. This is largely due to the fact that the horticultural trade in different countries often do not have the same provenances for either scions or seeds. This is strikingly exemplified by the Q. canariensis Willd. commonly planted in the UK and which differs significantly from the form most