Tree-mendous place

The ‘Garden of England’ is known for its scenic charm and hidden by the surroundings of Bedgebury Forest lies the enchanting Pinetum which serves an important role in the vitality of the planet.

Let’s face it, as a society we suck at looking after Earth. Remember the 10 year challenge trend last week? Well activists used this as an opportunity to demonstrate the destruction that our planet has seen over the last decade (see below) and it really goes to show how much we do suck. Like a lot.

Global warming effects over last 10 years

So there’s about 3trillion trees on Earth, with around 3million of them being in the UK, according to a study from Yale. Unfortunately, around 15billion are lost annually.

Half the world’s rainforest has been destroyed in a century because of logging, agriculture and oil extraction. All human-caused.

The good news is there are people and places that are trying to help; and I spent a Saturday afternoon exploring somewhere that dedicates its time to just that.

For 300 million years conifers have stood the test of time and possess unquestionable value for our planet’s health. As the demand for conifers increase (for timber and medical treatment even) and the effects of global warming set in, these magnificent antiquities are facing extinction.

Bedgebury National Pinetum is among the handful of international botanic gardens which focus on preserving these ancient trees. The estate has been a safe haven for centuries, dating back to the 1800s, when the Beresford family planted newly discovered exotic plants. Some of the original trees still stand proud today, including the ‘Old Man of Kent’ – a 50m tall Grand Fir.

Bedgebury Pinetum

“A quarter of conifers are endangered,” Dan Luscombe, Collections Manager, who curates the Pinetum, told storiesbybethan. Travelling the world, Luscombe dedicates his time searching for seeds to harvest to help prevent the conifer from disappearing entirely. And it’s not just these important plants that he’s trying to help populate again. The Pinetum is also known for its rare tree collection.

Luscombe described his journeys as a ‘plant hunter’ as “difficult”, “exhausting”, and “always changing”. I made a quip about ‘Indiana Jones’ in our interview and to my surprise, his job doesn’t sound too dissimilar – although perhaps without the rolling boulder traps…but you never know. “Sometimes we’ll be making our way across snowy mountains, other times we’ll be trying to get across rushing rivers just to get to the right plant,” he explained.

With trees like the conifer in such demand, the labours of Luscombe and the team at Bedgebury has never been so vital.

Forest fun

Upon approaching the Pinetum’s barriers that stood proudly on gravelled ground, I was welcomed by a peep* of chickens roaming a large field on the other side of the road. I wonder why they crossed the road? Also, do, er, chickens roam?

They do now.

The chickens have nothing whatsoever to do with the Pinetum, but they really added to my day.

Back on track: I have to admit I was a little unsure what to expect. I have never been much of a ‘visit a garden’ person until recently…and, of course, not forgetting the forced childhood visits my green fingered father took my family on.

He joked beforehand that our visits to gardens had inspired a new love in me for walking around forests and gardens. He might be right, well perhaps not about me weeding or planting flowers in the garden, but I do enjoy a good walk out in the fresh air every now and then. Still, like I said, I’m not an avid garden visitor. Unless it is a pub garden.

As my friend and I made our way down the gravelled carpark and onto the path, we were greeted by a beautiful pond, the reflections of the winter-fed trees staring back at us.

My friend, who is certainly an outdoorsy-type (and thankfully so, even with the map, I think I would still be wandering the woods if left to my own devices), was a bit flummoxed. He jested “so er…trees, eh? Many, many trees.”

Grand trees line the grassy fields, standing proud

“There’s another,” he joked and I laughed. Because on initial impressions it is just that. Many, many trees. However, as we wandered the grounds, the Pinetum took a hold over us. We became silent, admiring our tall, short, wide and bushy companions. “It’s actually lovely here,” he said after a while and I nodded because it is lovely there. Like seriously nice. What’s more it is actually open all year round and with its picturesque surroundings, it makes for a stunning winter walk. Just what you need during the dreaded month of the January blues!!

There are a series of walking trails throughout the Pinetum. The grounds cover 250acres, so I can tell you now, I haven’t seen it all…not by a long shot…but what I did see was delightful.

The ducks we came across were a particular highlight, coming up close to us and skimming the otherwise still surface of the pond.

Ducks gliding across the pond

The trails are mostly clear (I am just very bad with directions) and a map can be obtained at the Visitor Centre, which indicates which routes you can take. But, one particular trail to note is in the east area. Known as ‘The Plots’, this was a devoted research section for species trials planted in 1929. You can walk here as part of the Hidden Secrets of the Pinetum trail.

Hidden amongst the walking paths

…And it isn’t actually just trees and walking trails – there is lots of activities, including horse riding, Park Run, cycling and Go Ape. The website has a tonne of information, including a more detailed overview of the forest’s history. Go check it out. It’s tree-mendous.

I know, I know, I made that joke in the title. Who cares? It’s a great pun. Don’t give me that face. Leaf it out. 

After our crisp walk in the outdoors, we headed to a local Costa. Amusingly, when my friend ordered a hot chocolate, he didn’t quite read the fine details of how big his luxury hot chocolate would be.

Hot chocolate left, Latte right. Moral of the story: always read the fine print

“Is that my hot chocolate?” He asked the barista.

“Yes.”

“Right.” Without another word he took it, because we’re British after all and that’s what we do. And me? I just laughed and took a picture. I’m also British.

*I’ll admit I looked up the collective noun for chicken and was not disappointed.


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