So have I heard the cuckoo’s parting cry,
From the wet field, through the vext garden trees,
Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze.
Mather Arnold, 1822-1888
How apt that just a few days before our visit to Bodenham I (Graham Heywood) should be reading the above poem by Mathew Arnold. Was it a warning of the weather we might expect?
We gathered under a dark grey sky with warnings of extreme gales and heavy rain, but despite the warnings 22 members signed up braved the weather to enjoy the first event of the 2017/18 season. Organised by Tony Overland with assistance from Brian Phillips we enjoyed a guided tour of ‘Worcestershire’s Hidden Garden’. Led by the second generation’s owner James Binnian we were shown a huge range of trees and shrubs, set within a beautifully landscaped 170-acre park with magnificent water features.
The arboretum is a privately-run garden, part of a larger family run farming business incorporating home produced lamb, pork and beef; log production producing 1,000 tons per year to feed the hugely increasing number of private log burning fires; a very popular lakeside licensed restaurant and shop. There are 170 acres in total. The restaurant has become a local destination attracting large numbers of visitors at the weekend.
James informed us that in terms of overall income, the most profitable was the food sales, followed by sale of logs and then admissions to the arboretum.
The site is bowl shaped with an opening on one side, and converting it to its current purpose was relatively easy. Within this bowl there are two miniature valleys which are fed with water from a series of springs. David Binnians’s (James’ father) first task was to decide where the pools were to be created, and then the location of the planting of additional trees. There are now some thirteen pools with a constant supply of water.
When the property was purchased in 1973 by James’ parents it was a near derelict 127 acres with extensive rough grazing and covered in brambles and scrub woodland. James’ father David was a Kidderminster based estate agent and who read forestry at college. The arboretum opened to the public in 1998. It now employs 20 staff inside and 5 outside the grounds. The site is on clay but with careful management the tree losses have been reduced. Part of the estate was heavily planted with Poplar for the nearby Bryant and May matchstick factory, but this has long disappeared although large stands of Poplar still survive in and around the site. One of the main features of the park is the Laburnum tunnel, styled on the fine example at Bodnant but laid out in a unique curving format. Honey fungus is a problem here. A splendid Gazebo erected to mark the millennium and a new fernery both add greatly to the must-see attractions.
The arboretum is a perfect wildlife habitat and the West Midland Bird Club hold their National Bird surveys there every year. One the busy times of year is Christmas when the donkeys become a firm favourite.
James has received a host of awards including a Tourism Enterprise Award and an English Heritage Status Award in 1995. Bodenham is the only site which has qualified twice for this prestigious award. James took a poignant moment to describe his experience when visiting the House of Lords to collect the Tourism Enterprise Award from Angela Leadson. He was on the Westminster Bridge at the time of the terrorist attack in March of this year with his family on their way to collect their award.
James reminded us about the Kew links with the arboretum – Kew were assessors for the Heritage Status award and were also instrumental in the early days of its development by providing plant material. Sadly, these early links with Kew have not lasted and our President, Jean Griffin promised to look into the possibility of these links being renewed.
Finally, we asked about the future plans for the arboretum and the family business. James is not the kind of man to let the grass grow under his feet! There are two rapidly growing Forest Schools benefiting more than 3000 children each year and a programme of thinning and shrub colour enrichment. At this point James reflected on the knowledge he and his family have accumulated over the years and cautioned anyone in a similar situation not to plant trees too close together. They need room to grow!
We concluded our very informative and inspiring morning tour with a splendid lunch at the lakeside restaurant, after which many members took the opportunity to explore the gardens by themselves before departing home. However, before members and friends departed the restaurant there was one very important task for the President to perform. That was to congratulate Leo Pemberton on his 89th birthday (we had all signed a birthday card for Leo) who seemed to be more fit and agile than many present who were younger than he. We reflected on the support and encouragement Leo had provided to many of us during our time as students at Kew. Well done Leo; what a wonderful age and what a wonderful man!
PS: The weather was, after all, relatively good for our visit with just a light occasional drizzle and no wind to speak of.
Review by Graham Heywood and Peter Styles.