Helping woodlands breathe: Mary’s story

Mary Norman with her husband Dr Thomas Norman, at their Dorset home

If trees could talk, they would sing of Mary Norman. The ‘doughty lady’ of Dorset loved their nooks and gnarls and dedicated much of her life to their protection. A prolific tree planter, she organised memorial woodlands and helped to line many roads near to her home in Blandford with lime and beech tree avenues.

Mary left a gift in her will to the National Trust, so that other people could enjoy and explore trees and the open countryside as she did.

Visitors walking at Kingston Lacy, Dorset
Visitors walking at Kingston Lacy, Dorset
Visitors walking at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

A lifelong passion for trees

Mary’s gift has been used to support a special tree planting project at Kingston Lacy in Dorset, where Mary was often found admiring the great cedars. Her son Richard shares memories of his mum and how her passion for trees will never be forgotten.

‘Mum just loved trees,’ says Richard. ‘She was a great photographer and birdwatcher, and she spent a lot of time looking up at our enormous mighty oaks. She loved the gnarled shapes of ancient trees, where soil collects in nooks and crannies and ferns have started growing. And she was absolutely fascinated by the habitat they formed for all the birds and insects.’

Growing up in India, Richard remembers exploring trees in the jungle with his parents, and his own interest for botany, butterflies and orchids was inspired by their curiosity of the natural world.

When the family returned to the UK in the 1960s after 14 years, Richard says his mum was shocked at how Dutch elm disease had transformed once wooded vales into desert-like landscapes. She began her mission to 'plant-up Dorset', leading to a 25-year crusade as chairperson of the Dorset International Tree Foundation (formerly Men of the Trees).

" My mum was well-known as a doughty lady. It was her mission to plant-up Dorset and get it back to where it was. And she certainly felt that the countryside was to be enjoyed by everyone."
- Richard Norman

Special family memories

Richard’s family settled in Dorset and his parents lived at the Old Rectory at Winterborne Houghton for more than 50 years.

‘We used to enjoy sitting under the trees in our garden,’ says Richard. ‘We had some lovely horse chestnuts and an enormous beech. Mum really loved the trees there and was very protective of them – to the extent that she wouldn’t let my father have any felled when perhaps one or two should have been.’

He says, ‘Our house was half way up a hill and there was an apple walk going down from the garden. It looked wonderful in springtime because all the daffodils and primroses came up, and then later on there would be orchids – common spotted, pyramidal ​and bee orchids.’

Amongst the bluebells at Kingston Lacy
Bluebells on the Kingston Lacy estate in Dorset
Amongst the bluebells at Kingston Lacy

Leaving a legacy to Kingston Lacy

‘My mum loved all the countryside and the estates along the Dorset coast, which are cared for by the National Trust. She used to take us for walks along there,’ says Richard. ‘I think she left a gift in her will to protect the countryside and the wellbeing of people.’

Richard and his brother Michael suggested that Mary’s gift might be used to plant some trees, and we were able to use the gift to help with a special tree planting project next to the existing Abbotts Street Copse at Kingston Lacy. With their mum’s support, more than 2,500 trees and 1,500 hedgerows have been planted and guarded, and a new bluebell walk has been created.

‘My mum spent a lot of her time at Kingston Lacy,’ says Richard. ‘We actually knew the Bankes family that gave the property to the nation in the 1980s, so my family would visit often. Mum used to talk to people about the trees there. She loved the enormous cedar trees. It was one of her favourite spots to go to and – long before it became well known – she would go to see the snowdrops.’

We’re so grateful to everyone who’s left a gift in their will to look after woodlands, including Mary. If you’d like to help look after our woodlands, please consider donating to our Woodlands appeal, or find out more about leaving a gift in your will below.

Gift life to the landscapes you love

By leaving a gift in your will to the National Trust, you will be helping to care for the beautiful moments and places that make life better.