Here at Bodnant Garden the grand old Sweet Chestnut on our Top Lawn is one of our most loved residents. Known as a ‘walking tree’, she’s now in the running for the title of Wales Tree of the Year.
Striding across the grass of the formal lawn with her gnarled, many-legged trunk, the old girl is one of the first sights to greet visitors when they arrive through the garden gates, much photographed, painted and admired.
Now, she is one of six great trees around the country vying for the prestigious title of Wales Tree of the Year in a competition being run by the Woodland Trust. The public are being asked to vote for their favourite and the winner will be announced in mid-October.
So why is she so special? This tree is one of the oldest at Bodnant Garden, a remnant of its early, Georgian past.
Owner John Forbes built the original hall in 1782 and created a parkland around it in the Landscape style of the day after designers like Kent, Capability Brown and Repton. This brought nature close to the house with a panorama of rolling grassland dotted with native trees like oak, beech, sycamore and chestnut, and a ha-ha or ditch keep grazing animals away from the hall.
With her solid Georgian roots, our Sweet Chestnut has withstood the passage of time and the rugged North Wales weather, being encorporated into the later, formal Victorian upper garden and ageing into her very own, unique character. Her main stem was blown out at some point in the past by a lightening strike causing the trunk to split. Over time several of the larger branches have layered themselves upon the lawn, giving her ‘legs’.
She’s a favourite of gardener Dave Larter who watches over our trees here at Bodnant Garden. He says: “I love trees! Especially old trees with some history, trees with character and trees with potential for the future. This one has it all. At well over 200 years of age, maybe 250, she is making her claim on the top lawn for sure.
“Having lost her top many decades ago, she started to ‘walk’ northwards. Beaten back by strong winds and chainsaws, she is now intent on a south-westerly route. A truly ‘walking tree’, she appears almost Elephantine without foliage, placing her trunk where she wants to go next. She has already layered daughters which are layering their own offspring and, given chance, they will layer theirs. Who knows where she could be in years to come?”
Bodnant Garden is home to many exotic and native trees, some of them UK Champions – the biggest and best of their kind in the UK. The Sweet Chestnut is an honourary native, having been introduced to Britain by the Romans, and while ours hasn’t attained any official Champion status (yet!) she certainly holds a special place of honour here at the garden.
The Wales Tree of the Year competition runs until October 9. To vote for our Sweet Chestnut find the details at the Woodland Trust website here http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/wales