News. The 10-acre Arboretum

17th of August, 2017

Establishing and maintaining a healthy, 500-tree arboretum is no walk 
in the park. Ask horticulturist Brian Corr, who as Dumfries House’s Head of Gardens manages the upkeep of The Arboretum, which links the Estate’s Avenue Bridge to the Walled Garden.

“As well as planting, pruning and shaping trees, you’re feeding them and assessing and reviewing the staking and supports,” he says. “You have 
to maintain a metre-and-a-half weed-free radius around trees for the first 
three years of their life as they compete for moisture, nutrients and light. You’re replacing trees where necessary, watering them during dry periods and cataloguing and labelling the species so the public can identify them.”

Add to this the differing conditional requirements of trees from different parts of the world – Asian katsura trees, American sweet gums, Korean sargent’s cherries, Chinese dawn redwoods, common native oaks – and a high water table caused by heavily clay-based ground, and what you have is a perpetual work in progress. “A clever drainage system was put in around the time the site was originally cleared to create The Arboretum,” says Corr, “but it runs next to the river, and excess water can be as bad as drought because it depletes the soil of oxygen.”

But all the effort was well worth it in the case of a 10-acre zone within the Estate that was, until late 2013, an unkempt woodland overgrown with spruces and poplars. “The wet ground conditions dictated which plants, shrubs and trees should be planted,” explains Gordon Neil, Development and Facilities Manager at the Dumfries House Trust, “but The Duke of Rothesay’s preferences were a big factor too.” His Royal Highness also had a central role in the creation of the elegant, faintly ecclesiastical building that sits at The Arboretum’s midpoint.

“We needed a centrepiece, so Prince’s Foundation for Building Community students were tasked with coming up with a design that would be in keeping with a woodland setting,” says Neil. “It then became a live build project for the students and was completed over 10 weeks.” Leading away from the structure are three walkways, named Ailsa, Rosemary and Victoria after the daughters of the late Brian Maguire, whose Maguire Family Trust funded the project.

The Arboretum is today a living, breathing tribute to human endeavour and, according to Neil, is appreciated as such by all who come to enjoy it. “Visitors love the serenity of this area, and enjoy taking in all the delightful scents and smells coming from the trees, shrubs and woodland flowers, depending upon the season,” he says. “You often find them on the benches having a picnic, reading or relaxing around the ponds and water features.”

Words: Nick Scott

Photography: Simon Brown