The Marks Hall collection is planted on a geographical theme, with plants from the temperate regions of the world grouped together. There are areas representing Europe, Asia, North America and the Southern Hemisphere, set in more than 200 acres of historic landscape providing interest and enjoyment throughout the year.
Highlights include the Millennium Walk, designed for structure, colour and scent on the shortest days of the year; the largest planting in Europe of Wollemi Pine and the inspired combination of traditional and contemporary planting in the 18th Century Walled Garden.
At the entrance to the Arboretum is the European Section, which was designed to blend with the natural countryside extending beyond the deer fence. The striking new bridge is the gateway to the Arboretum and the easily accessible network of hard paths.
The Screaming Oak
The decaying and contorted trunk of this ancient oak led to it being compared to Edvard Munch’s famous ‘Scream’ painting. It provides a home for a variety of wildlife including bats, tree creepers and jackdaws, and forms part of an area used by our Forest School.
The Honywood Oak
Located on the west side of the brook is the massive Honywood Oak, which is probably over 800 years old. Along with the Screaming Oak, it is one of the last survivors of the 300 or so oaks that once graced the 130 acre deer park which now forms part of the Arboretum.
This was the ancient super continent that formed the evolutionary cradle for the vegetation of South America, the Indian Subcontinents and Australasia.
At Marks Hall we have developed the area of Gondwanaland for Southern Hemisphere species. It is situated in an area that was devastated by the 1987 hurricane and has therefore been cleared of the conifer crop. It is an undulating landscape of low mounds, which are sheltered on the western edge by the planting of Nothofagus (southern beech). Since the start of development in 1999, 200 Eucalyptus trees have been planted and on warm days the oil aroma provides a heady scent.
Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) are an important feature. With less than 100 trees known to exist in the wild it is now the focus of extensive research to safeguard its survival. In addition to the Wollemi Pine, there is also an experimental planting of Cordyline australis, the Cabbage Palm, Agapanthus and Cortaderia richardii New Zealand Pampas.
There were originally three lakes that have now been modified to form two, with brickwork dams and cascades. The lakes have a thriving population of fresh water mussels along with roach and carp. Next to the lower lake is an original nuttery containing Cob Nut trees. This area is now a ‘spring flower area’ with snowdrops, species of daffodils, cowslips and other wild flowers.
The Birkett Long Millennium Walk
This much photographed garden is located within the Asian section of the Arboretum and has been planted with autumn, winter and early spring in mind. The brightly coloured stems of the Dogwood and Rubus provide spectacular reflections in the lake. The Sarcococca (Christmas Box) combined with the Chimonanthus (Wintersweet) provide a spicy sweet scent that complement the bold contrasts in colour.
The Walled Garden
This comprises five separate gardens, starting with an earth sculpture representing a new beginning, the start of the year. A Choisya ternate (Mexican Orange Blossom) hedge merges into the second garden, where it snakes and dips providing the support for plants such as feathery purple fennel and the graceful fronds of Achillea ‘Moonshine’. The Choisya disappears through a hedge into the third and central garden. Here everything is strong and clear, where Amelanchier ‘Robin Hill’ shades the long stone seats. The line taken by the Choisya leaps across the garden through a series of spheres, first clipped box and then stone. Most striking is the clipped box and stone table, from which right angles of Lavender grosso run, pierced by a contrasting line of Iris ‘Deep Black’. In the fourth garden the thread has become an undulating stonewall and the planting is fiery red, orange, gold and yellow, which lasts well into autumn. Finally the slate thread dives into a block of Hornbeam and disappears back into the earth, through a deep slate pool marking the end of the cycle.
This charming piece of woodland is one of the best areas to see the varied birdlife in the Arboretum. The mix of trees provides food, shelter and good nesting sites. Look out for woodpeckers and tree creepers or a flash of blue as the kingfisher flies up the brook. In February the wood is carpeted with snowdrops, mostly doubles (Galanthus ‘flora plena’), followed by clumps of narcissi.
The Taxodium Swamp
Inspired by the Florida Everglades, this area is kept deliberately wet with a seasonally fluctuating water table, creating ideal conditions for the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum). A deciduous conifer, this graceful tree produces curious ‘knees’ that stick out of the waterlogged soil. Although our trees are still young these are already starting to form. The pond fills in the winter and then dries out slowly through the year providing a perfect habitat for newts, frogs and toads. It is also a very good pond for dragonflies, including the rare Hairy Dragonfly.