Cotswold Gardens: Special branch
PUBLISHED: 16:02 05 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:56 20 February 2013
An interest in trees has led one Cotswold couple to turn a field into an arboretum. Words and pictures by Mandy Bradshaw.
I planted the field around the outside and then kept going, he laughs.
One of the first things to go in was a group of firs intended to be a festive cash crop. That never materialised and today they form a solid boundary, mingling with hornbeam, wild cherry, larch and crataegus. A new area of Norway firs is likely to be felled as Christmas trees. Elsewhere a group of willows are being grown as an experiment in biofuel.
We cut them right down and in 12 months they have grown up. You can see how they would be very good as a renewable energy source.
Nearby is the Saxon ring a spiral of trees, including nut, hawthorn, beech, privet and even a swamp cypress. At its centre is a red oak and the whole thing is clipped once a year to keep it in shape.
Its a bit like a maze and the kids like to walk in it.
Indeed, the field is enjoyed by many of the villagers: a central grass tennis court is used by Dawn for tennis lessons for local youngsters with a tournament at the end of the season, while in mid-summer it becomes a stage for a village music festival in aid of the church, with visitors camping in tents and caravans.
We dont advertise it. Its just for village people and their friends, explains Vaughan. The whole village turns up.
The arboretum has more than 200 different varieties of trees, often grouped together by type. Theres a grove of eucalyptus, including the spinning gum, Eucalyptus perriniana, so called because the young leaves grow around the stem and, as they age, spin in the wind. Just as beautiful as the grey green foliage is the mottled, peeling bark of what Vaughan refers to as the weeds of Australia.
With their twisted branches they make an eye-catching feature in any season.
Many of the trees have been planted for members of his family. A monkey puzzle, grown from seed 10 years ago, is known as his nephews tree.
Theres an American red oak for his sister-in-law, a beautiful Japanese maple for his grandson, his son has a Cedar of Lebanon, his daughter a red horse chestnut and his daughter-in-law a Himalayan cedar. A red-twigged lime has been planted in memory of his mother-in-law and an English oak for his father-in-law, a cabinet maker, while his mother has a liquidambar and his father a Wellingtonia a particular favourite with children as its spongy bark makes an ideal punchbag.
Dawns tree is a purple weeping beech, while Vaughan himself has an elm a rare sight thanks to the ravages of Dutch elm disease.
Other beautiful trees include the Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glytostroboides, Prunus serrula, with wonderful peeling bark, a Brewers weeping spruce, golden elm and purple beech. There are several types of oak, such as cork, holly, Mexican and the scarlet oak, Quercus coccinea, which goes deep red in autumn, as well as numerous rowans sporting pink, white, red and golden berries.
A small orchard has several old varieties of apple and pear. Taunton Fair Maid is a cider apple while Old Somerset Russett is halfway between cider and dessert. There is also William Von Cheritien, Pitmarston Pineapple and, aptly Dawn and Colonel Vaughan. He is trying out Pink Lady, as it is his daughters favourite but is not confident of success.
Whether it will grow in this country Im not one hundred per cent certain.
Meanwhile, he has just named a new apple he discovered growing in the field in 2009. Brogdale, which holds the National Fruit Collection, has confirmed that it is a new variety, similar to an old apple called Catshead and the family has decided to call it Epwell Castle.
The cost of the project has been kept down by planting mainly small trees and by growing many from seed. Sometimes this has unexpected results as in the case of a group of pines, grown from a packet of seed, that as yet are unidentified.
Theyre unusual in that they keep their cones, explained Vaughan.
Indeed, the four trees have cones stretching back many years, all tightly closed as they open only in extreme heat.
I think they are North American stone pines but Im not certain. I would love somebody to come and tell me what they are.
The site is divided by a footpath that Vaughan has fenced off to keep the arboretum secure and this also neatly divides the site into two styles. While the larger part has many of the more exotic trees, the second area is home to British natives. More natural woodland than arboretum, this has wild cherry, beech, oak, ash, hornbeam, whitebeam, sweet chestnut and field maple, one of his favourite trees because of its beautiful shape.
He has cleared a badly overgrown area near a small stream and this is now filled with primroses and bluebells in spring. Wild garlic has been introduced in another part and recent work has seen a boundary hedge relaid.
As with the rest of the arboretum, it is a magnet for wildlife a buzzard nested there a few years ago and the trees are full of birds, while the long grass and mown paths throughout the site are full of mice and voles.
Grass cutting is a major task in the summer and maintaining the arboretum entails hours of work Vaughan laughs at the commonly held view that trees are easy. He is constantly pruning for size or safety, thinning out trees, or replanting more.
For, despite the impressive collection he still has plans for yet more trees.
Once you start you think Id like this and Id like that, he explained, adding with a laugh I could do with a bit more land.
Church Farm Field, Epwell is open for the National Gardens Scheme by appointment, call 01295 788473. Admission is 2, childrens entry free.