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UK Oak Open Days 2015

Originally published in Oak News & Notes, Vol. 19, No. 2

On July 11 a small but perfectly-formed group of IOS members from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the UK met at Lloyd and Sally Kenyon’s estate at Gredington in northeast Wales for the commencement of the two-day 2015 UK Oak Open Days.

A view of Gredington. Photo: © Wiecher Huisman

The scene is set the moment one arrives at Gredington, as the gateway lies between two magnificent Quercus robur dating from the mid-18th century, and leads to a long entrance drive between gently rolling sheep-grazed parkland, the house as yet hidden in the distance: one is immediately aware that this is one of the most beautiful arboreta in the entire United Kingdom. Lloyd and Sally’s hospitality was similarly exceptional, not only did they provide morning coffee, a delicious lunch, and afternoon tea, but, well above and beyond the call of duty, they gave overnight accommodation to several of the group.

Quercus pyrenaica 'Pendula' at Gredington. Photo: © Wiecher Huisman

The Kenyon’s arboretum extends over 80 acres/32 hectares on a neutral clay soil; rainfall averages 30 in/76 cm per annum. We were provided with excellent species lists, both alphabetical and in the order they would be seen on the tour; in addition there were separate lists of the hybrids and of oaks in the nursery awaiting planting (the latter a temptation to larceny). The parkland is dotted with native Q. robur, but there are also established Q. rubra and Q. ilex on the property. However, the collection really got under way with plants raised from the 2003 Winchester Conference seed exchange. Oaks from the Cerris section are generally good “do-ers” and are notably happy here, with, to name but a few, a Q. trojana of 6 m/20 ft, a beautiful Q. castaneifolia, and also at 6 m the hybrid Q. ×libanerris (first described from a tree raised by Dick van Hoey Smith at Trompenburg Arboretum). Mexican oaks are also adapting happily to the Welsh climate, including a Q. greggii at 3.5 m/10 ft. Within an old walled garden, Lloyd holds a UK National Collection of Viburnums of around 230 taxa. In an IOS publication, with difficulty I limit myself to mention only two: V. sargentii f. flavum, from my notes “like V. opulus on steroids,” a most attractive plant; also V. harryanum, “most un-Viburnum-like.”

Lloyd Kenyon with Viburnum sieboldii BSWJ2837. Photo: © Wiecher Huisman

After a convivial evening for those of us who stayed at Gredington (note: a couple of Lloyd’s gin and tonics would suffice to sedate a horse), the majority of the group reconvened for the second day’s visit to Ness, since 1948 the botanic garden of the University of Liverpool. Ness botanist Timothy Baxter very generously gave up his Sunday morning to guide us. The 64 ac/26 ha garden was originally created in 1898 by cotton merchant and proprietor of Bees Seeds, A. K. Bulley. Bulley’s interest was mainly in herbaceous plants (the garden still includes beautiful herbaceous plantings), and the story goes that his head gardener thus had to secrete woody plants in the nursery, and he subsequently slipped them into the plantings as windbreaks. Several enormous Q. rubra must date from this period. In 1970 Hugh McAllister commenced an expansion of the collection, which by 1990 contained an astonishing 14,000 wild-origin acquisitions. In particular the genera of Alnus, Betula, Cotoneaster and Sorbus were collected, but also included were some Quercus from the USA and the Far East – of the latter, a row of Q. variabilis lent credence to the specific epithet by displaying considerable variation in leaf width between different individuals. But with such a richness of genera, and Tim to give us the inside story, I confess that my notes were largely “non-oaky” – for example, a group of Betula bomiensis with fine pleated leaves, collected by Keith Rushforth (KR 6371), is probably the only source of seed of this species outside Tibet. The garden also has a notable collection of the various apomictic species of Sorbus, with which botanists continue to wrestle.

Betula pendula × papyrifera at Ness Botanic Gardens. Photo: © Wiecher Huisman

The next IOS Journal will be devoted to the proceedings of the October 2015 Conference, but a fuller report on these Oak Open Days by Chris Carnaghan will appear in the subsequent issue. In the meanwhile the warmest thanks are due to our hosts, Lloyd and Sally Kenyon (Lloyd also set up our day at Ness), and to Tim Baxter. 

The group at Gredington. Photo:© Patrick Vereecke
Part fo the group at Ness Botanic Gardens; from left: Patrick Vereecke, Shaun Haddock, Lloyd Kenyon, Wiecher Huisman, Chris Carnaghan, and Ness botanist Tim Baxter. Photo: © Marleen de Muyt
Quercus castaneifolia 'Green Spire' at Gredington. Photo: © Shaun Haddock
Quercus rubra at Ness Botanic Gardens. Photo: © Shaun Haddock