Last Saturday I embarked on my long-awaited visit to Priestfield Arboretum, I was keen to find out more about this hidden gem tucked away in the Chilterns as we are planning a visit there next year as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was none too favourable with heavy rain expected to continue all day, stalwart garden historians are not put off by this and I set off as planned.
The arboretum is accessed from a private road in Little Kingshill, it is privately owned and maintained by volunteers. The land can only be accessed by members of ‘Friends of Priestfield Arboretum’ and small organised groups are shown round by the friends on open days. The 2.4 hectare site is home to approximately 200 broadleaf and conifer specimen trees from around the world.
The arboretum was created around 1917 by Thomas Priest a local solicitor and amateur tree enthusiast who planted the garden of his house, Harewood, with exotic trees. The land had previously been a large kitchen garden and orchard. Sadly, his original list of trees is now lost but was thought to have included 70 varieties of conifer and more than 400 trees in total. An excellent guidebook and tree list was included with my entry and is a very useful for reference.
During the mid-twentieth century there was only minimal upkeep and unfortunately the devasting storms in 1987 and 1990 wreaked immense damage. Inevitably over time the collection has changed as trees die and new ones are planted. However, the arboretum continues to provide a fine collection of choice and rare trees of varying ages, including a number of champions!
I hope I have whetted your appetite, and make sure to book for our visit next year, date tbc. The walk will be led by Michael Hunt, BGT’s tree expert.
For more information go to www.priestfieldarboretum.org.uk
Claire de Carle