Thursday, 21 July 2011

A visit to the Harcourt Arboretum

Ken Burras and Ben Jones discuss leaf anatomy in Sciadopitys umbellata, one of the first trees to be planted at the arboretum in 1964 and used to supply material for generations of demonstrations in taxonomy classes.
This afternoon was one of those happy occasions when friends and plants combine and time flies by. I met up with my horticultural mentor and friend of almost 25 years, Ken Burras, formerly Superintendent of the Oxford Botanic Garden, and Ben Jones, Curator of the Harcourt Arboretum of Oxford University, for a walk around the arboretum that Ken was responsible for establishing and Ben is now responsible for.

The Harcourt Arboretum was started in 1964 as an adjunct to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which, in its small site in central Oxford, lacked space to grow a range of large trees, especially conifers, from which material was required for classes in the Botany School. It was established on 30 acres around a core of nineteenth century plantings on the Nuneham Estate, originally owned by the Harcourt family, and included a bluebell wood as well as the arboretum. It has now expanded to cover 130 acres, including an area of coppice woodland and some large former arable fields (Palmers Leys) that are now being restored to meadowland. To go round it with two enthusiasts and hear both about its past and plans for its future was a huge pleasure.

Torreya nucifera, appropriately bearing its nut-like fruits, a single large seed covered in a fleshy aril.

Pseudolarix amabilis, the Golden Larch.

Picea smithiana: a tree planted by Ken Burras in the early days of the Harcourt Arboretum, now a beautiful specimen.

Cones of Picea smithiana.

Lomatia myricoides, a truly hardy Australian member of the Proteaceae, flowering freely and attracting masses of honeybees to its fragrant flowers.

A leaf of Ulmus laciniata, a Far Eastern Asian species that is extremely rare in cultivation. The two small specimens at the Harvcourt Arboretum were the only ones traced in Britain for New Trees, and they are not really thriving.
 
Peacocks have been a feature since the arboretum's foundation, nominal descendants of the Harcourts' birds.

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