A Visit to Plaček Quercetum

On Tuesday, September 10, 2013, a group of International Dendrology Society members on tour in the Czech Republic visited Plaček Quercetum, property of IOS member Dušan Plaček. I was particularly looking forward to this visit having met Dušan six weeks earlier at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens during the IOS Oak Open Day held there and been struck by his immense enthusiasm.

Quercus marilandica with the quercetum and Robinia Allée in the background (Photo: Harriet Tupper)

We walked up the drive between acacia trees to be met by Dušan and his advisor, Ondrej Fous, who had also been at Hillier Gardens. They welcomed us with a glass of wine and Dušan explained a little of the background. At 25 he had been living in a city close to Prague but wanted a place with a garden, in itself unusual for someone of this age. Apparently the first plants that aroused his interest were aquarium plants, which he sold alongside goldfish. Now he was definitely after something much more substantial. After quite a search in 1998 he bought a house and land about 60 km/37 mi east of Prague. This was a house and garden dating from the 1930s, when it was built to be the home of an interior minister (Josef Černý) and his wife. The grounds were designed by Josef Kumpán, who had studied in Berlin. Research has turned up some of the original plans showing not only the garden but also cherry orchards.

 

Dušan and his first oak love: Quercus imbricaria in the Dendrology Garden, Průhonice Park, Czech Republic 
(Photo: Béatrice Chassé)

Once we were seated in the garage, which had been cleared for the occasion, Ondrej gave us a presentation on the past, present and future of the Quercetum, with additions from Josef Souček, a dendrologist who works with Dušan, advising him and collecting for him. The property is about 50 ha/123 ac in total, with about 14 ha/34 ac of trees. The historic garden has been restored. The house looks out to a generous lawn which has a fine selection of trees and shrubs planted around it, including weeping willow, birch, conifers and many other ornamental trees. Apparently many have had to be removed or pruned in order to restore the original effect. However, in between and round the edge, oaks have been added, including some very tiny Quercus ilex L. grown from seed sent by Thierry Lamant. Of the 30 seedlings that grew from Thierry’s acorns and were planted out, only about five or six survived. They have been planted under and around the larger trees to give them protection from the cold. This illustrates perfectly the main difficulty for the quercetum and that is hardiness.

 

Plaček Quercetum (north sector) from the central Robinia Allée 
(Photo: Béatrice Chassé)

After we had strolled around the garden, we set off into the Quercetum proper. This is the land on either side of the Robinia Allée. The plantation of the oaks is organized according to the divisions once defined by Gerd Krüssman: cerris, robur, albae, rubrae, dentatae, gallifera, nigrae, phellos. All of the species that belong to one of these groups are planted in the same area and for each species within a group the botanic taxon is central with its hybrids and cultivars planted around it. The goal is to have trees of known provenance from the wild, but in the meantime Dušan plants the best he can get until he can “trade up.” I greatly admire his discipline in planting with plenty of space between trees and between groups of trees. I do wonder if he will be able to bring himself to sacrifice some early planting for the sake of better provenance!

 

Seedlings in the greenhouse (Photo: Harriet Tupper)

There are several hundred different oaks already growing here, all well catalogued and labeled. I will not attempt a comprehensive list here, but the full story of Plaček Quercetum is to appear in the next issue of International Oaks following Béatrice Chassé’s three-day visit there in June 2014, so reader curiosity will be satisfied! An oak that I found especially interesting was a cultivar of a hybrid between Q. falcata Michx. and  Q. rysophylla Weath., Q. ‘Zehra’ (a name only provisionally accepted because it was published without a description). Dušan is particularly fond of Q. velutina Lam. and its hybrids, many of which are rather striking, for example Q. ×willdenowiana (Dippel) Beissn., Schelle & Zabel, a hybrid with Q. falcata. After a methodical walk through the Quercetum, we were taken into the greenhouse, which is thick with young oaks, some not hardy enough to venture outdoors. I was glad to see Q. insignis M. Martens & Galeotti growing in such a way that you could still see the enormous acorn from which it sprouted.

Quercus insignis seedling (Photo: Harriet Tupper)
Dušan's slivovitz (Photo: Harriet Tupper)

 

It seems that not all the orchards have gone, because to round off an inspiring visit Dušan offered us some slivovitz made from his own plums.