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Come Hug A Tree at Toby’s Garden & Harvest Fest

Forde Abbey

Devon nurseryman Kevin Croucher from Thornhayes Nursery looks ahead to his Tree Tours at Toby’s Garden & Harvest Festival at Forde Abbey’s this September:

Kevin Croucher

If you go to a large country estate in Britain, you will find woodland and hedgerow trees, but also generally a park and an arboretum, where various generations have collected or are still collecting their arboreal beauties. Forde Abbey is such an example.

Since becoming a private house in the 16th century, successive occupants have planted a splendid collection of trees both rare and otherwise. So there are some venerable and ancient specimens of species from around the world, planted in the 18th or 19th centuries, up to more recent plantings.

To get a flavour of this fine collection of trees, on both days of Toby’s Garden & Harvest Festival on September 16th and 17th I will be leading a guided tour to look at some of these woody beauties.

 I have been visiting Forde Abbey for four decades and admiring large specimens of such rarities as Montezuma Pine Pinus montezumae , Cut Leaved Lime Tilia platyphyllos ‘Laciniata’, Keaki  Zelkova serrata Red Oak Quercus rubra and  Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum to name a few.

Since Roman times, landowners have introduced trees from abroad, to supplement our relatively narrow range of native species. Primarily this was for practical reasons. The Romans introduced Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa for its timber and nuts. Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus  for timber and Larch Larix decidua likewise in the 1620’s. However, by the 1640’s trees were deliberately introduced for ornament not utility. John Tradescant the Elder and Younger, possibly the first commercial nurserymen in Britain were introducing plants from Europe including Russia and the new American colonies. Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum  and Lebanon Cedar Cedrus libani were introduced. Even so, as the 18th century progressed, most major plantings by the great “Landskip” Gardeners, such as “Capability” Brown were mostly native trees.  However, by the 19th century, foreign plants were flooding in as commercial nurseries grew and the demand amongst landowners to collect and outdo each other gathered pace. This desire to collect the interesting, rare and exotic is still common amongst gardeners, large and small scale.

If are an avid tree lover, someone who is interested but wanting to learn more, or a grandparent who wants to imbue a love of trees in a youngster, join me for a stroll.


There will be elements of history, botany and vitally, some humour. Don’t be put off by Latin names, just be prepared to get passionate about trees.  Amongst some people being a tree hugger is a term of derision and criticism, but it’s not valid as far as I am concerned.

So whether you want to admire the canopy, stroke the bark, or learn a little botany and history, come and commune with some of Nature’s wonders.

 Join Kevin Croucher’s Tree Tours at Forde Abbey on Saturday 16th August and Sunday, 17th August. The tours start at 12.30pm on each day. Meet at the Festival Plant Creche on the Lower Lawn. The tours are free and will take roughly an hour.


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