The best arboretums in the UK

It’s the perfect time of year to visit the UK’s best arboretums

Bedgebury National Pinetum

Bedgebury is a recreational and conservational arboretum, totalling over 12,000 trees and shrubs, many of which are rare and endangered. It contains some of the oldest and largest examples of conifers in Britain and is recognised as the most complete collection of conifers in any one place in the world.

Originated by Kew botanist William Dallimore in the 1920s, the 320-acre site was chosen over Kew Gardens (which suffered from smog and air pollution), for its marshy land and drier ridges, which better suited conifers. Largely evergreen, there are some interesting deciduous species, such as larch, that turn a vivid yellow.

Bedgebury National Pinetum, Lady Oak Lane, Goudhurst TN17 2SL. 01580 879820. Open daily, check website for seasonal opening times

Derby Arboretum Park

Derby Arboretum Park was created by John Claudius Loudon at the request of local cotton mill owner Joseph Strutt. It was given to the city of Derby in 1840 to provide an area for ‘exercise and recreation in the fresh air’ at a time when industry dominated – and polluted – towns and cities, and ‘to offer the means of instruction to visitors’ with the labelled collection of trees and shrubs.

Today, the arboretum is Grade II-listed and maintains the same philosophy that was shared by Loudon and Strutt. While some of the original specimens have not survived, highlights include the red oak, introduced from America, the Indian bean tree and the silver pendant lime.

Derby Arboretum Park, Rose Hill, Derby DE23 8FZ. derby.gov.uk. Open daily

The only dedicated arboretum in the National Trust’s portfolio of properties, Winkworth is set around a magnificent lake and wetland area in the picturesque Surrey Hills and features spectacular views across the landscape. It was created in the 1930s by amateur gardener Dr Fox, who was passionate about trees and today there are over 1,000 specimens.

The Japanese, American and Norwegian maples, sweet gum, tupelo, katsura and sorrel trees are noteworthy for their striking colour. Free guided walks take place on the first Wednesday of the month (check the website for times).

Winkworth Arboretum Garden, Hascombe Road, Godalming, Surrey GU8 4AD. 01483 208477. Open all year – dawn to dusk. Hascombe Road, Godalming GU8 4AD

Dawyck Botanic Garden

This is a gem in the Scottish Borders, with over 300 years of tree planting that has benefited from the cooler temperatures of its location. Highlights in the 62-acre site include exotic conifers dating back to 1680, the unique dawyck beech, horse chestnut, Japanese maples, yellow birch and a large Japanese katsura tree, which overhangs the Scrape Glen.

Don’t miss the beech walk, which affords exquisite views of Dawyck House with Trahenna Hill in the distance.

Dawyck Botanic Garden, Stobo, Peebles, Scottish Borders EH45 9JU. 01721 760254. Open daily 1 February to 30 November from 10am to 4pm/5pm/6pm

Stone Lane Gardens Arboretum

The incredible work of the late Kenneth Ashburner, who began his arboretum on the edge of Dartmoor National Park in 1971. Astonishingly, he planted out trees that were grown from the seed he had collected on expeditions around the Northern Hemisphere, as well as from other nurseries and botanic gardens.

Today, among over 1,000 trees in the five acres of woodland, there are 34 alder and 69 birch species, and this collection was awarded National Collection status in 1995. Stone Lane Gardens Arboretum also features pools, streams and an impressive variety of shade-loving plants.

Stone Lane Gardens Arboretum, Chagford, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 8JU. 01647 231311. Open seven days a week from 2pm to 6pm in the summer months and noon until dusk in the winter

Glenwhan Garden and Arboretum

Created by plantsperson Tessa Knott, this 12-acre garden boasts a range of mixed conifers and deciduous trees, such as the Chilean fire bush, eucryphias and olearias from New Zealand and eucalyptus, which benefit from the gardens proximity to the Gulf Stream and its mild climate.

While visiting Glenwhan, take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking views over Luce Bay, the Mull of Galloway and the Isle of Man. Follow the new tree trail, which features over 130 specimens, and wander around the neighbouring 17-acre moorland wildflower walk, which offers opportunities to spot red squirrel and peacocks.

Glenwhan Garden and Arboretum, Dunragit, nr Stranraer, Wigtownshire DG9 8PH. 01581 400222

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

Westonbirt is arguably the most widely-known arboretum in the UK and was created by wealthy estate owner, Robert Stayner Holford, in 1855, largely for pleasure and to show off his status. Holford initially laid out the Old Arboretum, then 40 years later his son, Sir George, expanded the site across the valley into Silk Wood, planting rhododendrons and maples, among many other specimens.

Managed by the Forestry Commission since 1956, the arboretum has one of the most important collections of trees and shrubs in the world, with over 16,000 specimens – some of the oldest, rarest and largest in the UK. Visitors can enjoy 17 miles of paths and a calendar of events and festivals.

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QS. 01666 880220. Open October-February, from 9am-5pm and March-September, from 9am-8pm

Bluebell Arboretum & Nursery, Smisby

Despite its name, this isn’t a bluebell wood! Created over 20 years ago, the arboretum is filled with choice, rare and unusual specimens that are a delight to behold. Initially designed to form a shelter-belt of native varieties for the award-winning family-run nursery, the arboretum now covers nine acres.

Highlights include maples, rare oaks, flowering dogwoods, cercis cultivars, redwoods and many other rare woody plants, all of which are available to buy. The woodland garden is fully labelled and guided tours are available, while staff are on hand to answer questions.

Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery, Annwell Lane, Smisby, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 2TA. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm from March to October; Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm from November to February

Harcourt Arboretum

Dating back to 1835, this arboretum has been part of Oxford University since 1963 and spreads across 130 acres. Originally laid out by William Sawrey Gilpin, it contains some of the oldest redwoods in the UK as well as early introductions from the Pacific North West region of North America.

In the last 15 years, award-winning landscape architect Kim Wilkie was commissioned to restore the picturesque glades and serpentine ride and ‘develop a modern landscape’. This work alone makes Harcourt a must-visit arboretum, but there is also the native woodland with oak, lime, birch and pine specimens to enjoy. 

Harcourt Arboretum, Oxford Lodge Peacock Gate, Oxford OX44 9PX. 01865 343501. Open daily, Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, Sunday and Bank holidays, 11am-5pm

This article first appeared in the October issue of Homes & Antiques. Back issues are still available. To purchase a copy click here

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