Tree-mendous times at Stowe

Visitors walk through an avenue of trees at Stowe

Area Ranger Ian Goode gives an insight into the wonderful variety of trees we look after at Stowe, and how we care for them.

Tree safety

Before I explain the way we manage the trees at Stowe it is worth noting the importance of tree safety. If we are concerned about the safety of a tree we will sometimes take the decision to remove deadwood, fell a tree, or remove the ivy. This decision will be taken by our Head Gardener, Barry, our Assistant Head Gardeners Paul and Patrick, or myself, Ian, Area Ranger, who have attended specific four day training courses in managing tree risk. If you are concerned about tree safety, please consult a professional before doing anything, as you could risk damaging the tree or making more unsafe. 

Designing a landscape

View from Hawkwell Mead
A view across the landscape at Stowe to the Palladian Bridge

Trees are an important feature in any garden, but are especially important in landscape gardens. The great garden designers used both existing trees in the landscape and planted new trees to create atmosphere, frame views, create avenues, and to plot the contour of the landscape.

Why has the tree got ivy on it?

Sometimes it's easy to see ivy growing on trees and pull out your pruning saw ready to cut it off - but hang on! It might have been allowed to grow for a reason.

First of all it's important to dispel a common myth that ivy kills trees. It's not true. It is true that ivy can have a negative effect on a healthy tree by reducing the tree's capacity to produce energy. If ivy climbs through a tree's canopy, it can smother the leafing branches, which would limit the tree's ability to photosynthesise. 

This alone isn't enough to kill a tree, but ivy may target weakened trees. Ivy-clad trees that topple over in strong winds are usually diseased or in decline.

Ivy can also provide an important source of food, the small yellow flowers that are produced in autumn provide a source of nectar when there are few other nectar sources available.The nectar provides essential reserves needed by the adult admiral butterfly to hibernate over winter. 

Dense ivy on trees can provide a great hiding, roosting, nesting, or hibernation place for, bats, small mammals, and birds.

That being said, in some locations and situations the ivy will be removed from trees. If we wish to further investigate a possible tree safety issue we may need to remove the ivy to see what is going on. There are also some parts of the garden where the presentation dictates that ivy is not allowed to develop.

Ivy clad bark
Ivy climbing up the bark of a tree

Ancient and veteran trees

What is the difference between an ancient and veteran tree? An ancient tree has passed its mature phase of growth in comparison with other trees of the same species. So an ancient hawthorn would be a different age to an ancient oak.

A veteran tree has some of the same features as an ancient tree but not because of the length of time the tree has lived. A veteran tree could be very young, with a small trunk, however the features that make it veteran provide great features for wildlife.

Some of the work we undertake to promote veteran and ancient trees is listed below: 

A large ancient oak tree

This oak has begun a process called crown retrenchment. Oak trees produce strong wood resulting in the dead wood being retained in the tree. This can sometimes be referred to as 'stag-horning'. In certain areas of the parkland where visitor use is very low we leave the deadwood in the trees as it provides habitat for invertebrates.

An ancient tree protected by a fence
A rustic wooden fence surrounds an ancient tree

Some trees at Stowe need further protection from compaction around the base, so we might choose to exclude people from under the tree for their own safety by enclosing it in cleft oak fencing. 

I hope this has given you an insight into some of the work we do to care for our trees at Stowe. We often have gardeners working during our opening hours, so do stop us for a chat if you have any questions.