Faith was rewarded as 13 Kewites travelled far to this northern outpost one Saturday late in September, for on this day the 100 acre Arboretum was bathed in autumn sunshine and the start of autumn tints. It was Faith too that led us around (Faith Douglas, the part-time curator, a one-time nurse who re-trained at Askham Bryan College). This remarkable collection boasts 55 UK Champion Trees and 5 National Collections of genera such as Tilia, Juglans and Cotinus.
The Arboretum is privately owned by the Ropner family who bought the Millbank Pinetum of Victorian origin and underplanted the conifers with Japanese Maples. The Acer Glade is now set off by Blue spruces and a specimen Magnolia biloba. An avenue of Elms has been replaced unconventionally with a double line of Acer Ozakazuki backed by a foil of Italian Alders which also act as a windbreak. Somehow in this north-easterly location a mild micro-climate has been established; we saw Eucryphia still in flower.
The Ropner family has had its eccentricities; Sir Leonard Ropner was the major influence in the Arboretum`s creation but was prone to some of life`s vices so that by the time his son, Sir John Ropner, inherited it in 1977, it was a jungle. A meeting with Lord Hesletine convinced him to open it to the public in 1980, which in doing so released a £50K grant.
Now 70,000 people visit the Arboretum annually but the level of income to employees thus funded is well demonstrated in that in addition to a part-time Curator there is just one full-time gardener, a handyman, 15 volunteers and Lady Ropner who was once frequently seen on a mower. A remarkable lesson in efficiency to run a 110 acre Arboretum.
Maybe a little incongruous, a Bird of Prey and Mammal Centre is located in the former walled kitchen garden but then it provides a rounded experience to the Arboretum visitor. The plant collection is diligently labelled, but with cattle ear-tags! A novel way to beat the ubiquitous label thieves. A visitor has to purchase the Arboretum Catalogue to cross-reference the naming, making plant identification a little opaque to the casual visitor, and even to the Kewite with an eye for detail and accuracy. For the Sunday stroller however it is simply a superbly varied and beautiful landscape.
Left to right: Di Stuttard, Curator Faith Douglas, hidden behind her: Jean Peach, Rod Peach, David Edmonds (in blue hat), Jan Overland, Alan Stuttard, Stephen Ashworth, Tony Overland and Charles Attwood.