2002, Nigel Hepper, The Introduction And Cultivation Of Cedrus Libani Into Britain

The Introduction of Cedar of Lebanon into Britain

by F. Nigel Hepper

In 1996 I went to Lebanon to see the famous cedars, Cedrus libani (A. Richard), in their reserves high up on Mount Lebanon. Unfortunately, civil war in Lebanon had prevented me from traveling there for many years, so it was a thrilling experience as this was the species used for ships and thrones in Ancient Egypt and Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Later on, having given a lecture on cedar past and present to the Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.), I was invited speak to the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (A.S.T.E.N.E.). This was to cover the published accounts of travelers over the centuries, but it developed into a major study on the introduction and cultivation of cedar of Lebanon into Western Europe. Seeds were often collected by the travelers to Lebanon and grown in parks and gardens where they have survived for several centuries. I wanted to find out when these were planted and by whom; what was their provenance? And were they grown from wild or cultivated seeds?

First, I needed to consult the published records of cedars, such as Loudon’s Arboretum & Fruticetum (1844); Elwes and Henry’s The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland (1908) and Alan Mitchell’s National Tree Register and his other recent works. This lead on to a wealth of other literature, which in turn resulted in considerable correspondence with landowners, followed by a fascinating series of visits to see and photograph the trees.

An old cedar of Lebanon at Highclere Castle
An old cedar of Lebanon at Highclere Castle, Lord Carnarvon’s home
the 17th and 18th century trees grown from wild-collected seeds have been lost to storms.
(Photo courtesy Nigel Hepper, 2000)

The earliest extant cedar in England seems to be Rev. Edward Pocock’s tree at Childrey, Oxfordshire (c.1642). One of the four trees planted at Chelsea Physic Garden in 1683, was the first in Britain to yield seeds, in 1732. Richard Pococke collected seeds in Lebanon in 1738, which were grown at Highclere Castle and Wilton House gardens. William Kent, `Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton extensively planted cedar of Lebanon raised from homegrown seed in British estates during the 18th century. In the 19th century William John Bankes’ seeds were raised about 1820 at Kingston Lacy; and the Prince of Wales’, later Edward VII, tree from collected seed in still growing at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight.

All this I have now published in the Arboricultural Journal vol.2, pp.197-219 (2001). Although my travel and correspondence for this study was at my own expense, I am grateful to the Kew Guild Award Scheme which enabled me to purchase and distribute reprints as a thank-you to those who helped me.

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