#RHSChelsea Tree Hunt

Posted on 14th April 2014

It’s the final countdown (fidgets nervously in chair)… in just over two weeks we will be on site at the Royal Hospital Chelsea starting the build of The Brewin Dolphin garden.  There is a really big team of people working behind the scenes to bring the garden to life and since September we have been busy sourcing and growing plants, planning construction details, and pre-fabricating as many of the hard landscaping elements as we can. 

The trees were the first thing I was keen to get sorted for the garden. I am always excited to get the trees on site and planted in any new scheme. The hardscape when it first goes in can on it’s own look imposing and, well, hard. As soon as the trees arrive the space is immediately transformed into a softer more tactile environment and it starts to feel like a garden.

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All plants are special and play an important role in a garden, but there is something about trees.  They are a little bit closer to being human and having a personality. You only have to walk through an ancient woodland to feel a sense of awe and I often remind myself that a big old oak was there long before me and will probably be there long afterwards too. Trees are a constant in the garden, often providing all year round interest with numerous characteristics from the texture of their bark, to the colour and shape of the foliage, sometimes fruiting or flowering with a huge variety of different shapes and sizes. With all this choice selecting the right tree for the right space is not always a simple task, especially when it is for a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

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My quest for the perfect trees began with a trip to Belgium in November with Mark Straver from Hortus Loci leading the expedition. Hortus Loci are sourcing and growing on the trees and plants for the Brewin Dolphin garden and have buckets of Chelsea experience. For Mark this was a regular part of his job; the airport staff in Belgium all seemed to recognise him with a nod of the head.  For me this was the first time I had had the opportunity to go abroad tagging trees so I was a little excitable, even at 6am.

.Carpinus betulus, 2m tall x 60cm x 60cm pre-formed (3) (1280x853)
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First stop was field upon field of hornbeam hedging growing as if it were a crop of corn. We selected the best and moved onto the main event, selecting pleached trees.   I have chosen the Sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ to form a light pleached screen above the hornbeam hedge.  It’s maple like leaf will be a fresh green in May and provide the slightly transparent airy feel I want.  Liquidambar is best known for it’s fiery Autumn colours and I like the idea that the Brewin Dolphin garden would look good all year round and not just in May.

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Liquidamber Worplesdon espalliers, 2.2m clear stem, head dimensions, 1.75 - 2m wide x 1.5m tall, 20-25cm girth, head detail (4) (1280x853)

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Liquidamber Worplesdon espalliers, 2.2m clear stem, head dimensions, 1.75 - 2m wide x 1.5m tall, 20-25 and 25-30cm girth on mass (853x1280)

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This confident, triumphant pose was just after I’d spent a good hour tagging what I thought were the perfect trees, but on the way out of the field we stumbled across another row which were even better. To get the best for Chelsea we set about re-tagging our hoard.

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Next a trip to Germany with River Birch and Acers on the shopping list. There are five multi stemmed River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) in the design, chosen for their light canopies and in particular their coppery coloured pealing bark which will compliment the patinated copper elements in the garden. The birch we had come to see were too wide, (slightly sulky concerned face) and I started to think that this trip was not going to be as fruitful as the last. That is until we found the most amazing Acer griseum. Again I’ve chosen these trees mainly for their stunning pealing bark and it’s darker coppery tones, but the thing that is so good about these particular specimens is their structure and form. They are so good I’m going to make you wait to see them in their entirety in the garden.

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So no Birch that day. Mark from Hortus continued the UK and Europe wide search emailing me images of birch after birch.  Finally, Deepdale Trees sent us through images of a row in a field in Northern Germany of what appeared to be the ones. We flew out to see the trees in January, it was grey, wet and muddy, but as soon as I clasped eyes on them it was love at first sight… I felt I had won tree lottery.

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All of the trees are now in England, they are waking up and have started to come into leaf. Next stop Chelsea.

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For more on The Brewin Dolphin Garden visit www.brewindolphin.co.uk/chelsea

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