Dr Fox's vision for Winkworth Arboretum
What prompted Dr Fox to buy the land for the arboretum, and what guided his planting philosophy?
Renowned dermatologist Dr Wilfrid Fox had owned Winkworth Farm in Hascombe since 1918, and had come to love the beautiful Thorncombe valley on his doorstep. He described it as “one of the most beautiful bits of Surrey that is left”.
In a lecture to the RHS in 1953, he explained what drew him to the site. “It was the remarkable beauty of the valley...quite unspoiled, of pastoral and wooded character, patterned with hedgerows and abounding in wild flowers, with gentle undulating hills on the east side and a steep slope on the west side – which is now covered by the Arboretum – and the river stream winding between, forming two lakes which are the haunt of wildfowl.”
Dr Fox was extremely knowledgeable about how to effect his vision for the land. He had already been involved in the planting of tens of thousands of decorative trees along Britain’s roads, in his capacity as Secretary of the Roads Beautifying Association - an achievement for which he was awarded the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour in 1947.
He drew his inspiration from the great landscape gardens of Westonbirt, Sheffield Park, Exbury and Leonardlees, whose owners he knew well. His intention was always to plant species that were to be found wild in their native countries, rather than horticultural cultivars.
" As we cleared the ground, the hillside seemed to call for large-scale planting for autumn colour"
Painting the landscape
One of the issues he had to face was how many of each species he should plant to achieve a good splash of colour. “It all depends on whether you look upon yourself as an artist using trees and shrubs to paint a picture, in which case it is easy to be bold, or whether you are a gardener and love growing all these beautiful things for their own sakes”.
His 24 liquidambars and 24 scarlet oaks indicate his boldness. He did his utmost “to avoid hard, clear-cut lines” by planting groups across the various straight paths that ran along the hillside.
Planting for the future
Dr Fox recognised the importance of planting for the future, and said of the post-war Magnolia Wood: “it is a part of the Arboretum which should be of particular interest to future generations”. He declared “we have thought of posterity and planted long-lived trees”. This selection included 10 different oaks and 7 kinds of beech, as well as the huge southern beeches we admire today.
We are the beneficiaries of his vision, which has guided us for over 60 years and continues to define the arboretum today.