Bedgebury - A Brief History
The first mention of Bedgebury is in an Anglo-Saxon charter but the name derives from the earliest listed resident of the area in the 1400s, a Mr John de Bedgebury. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that it began to resemble the Pinetum we know today when the then owners, the Beresford family, started planting newly discovered and recently introduced tree species. Many examples of these early plantings still remain and constitute the backbone of the modern Pinetum.
In 1925, the Forestry Commission (FC) purchased the estate from the Beresfords. At the time, the conifer specimens within the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew were suffering from London's high pollution levels and needed to be relocated. The FC had developed a partnership with Kew and thus, Bedgebury was purchased to establish a new collection so that both organisations could continue their work with conifers.
William Dallimore (pictured left) was the first curator employed by Kew. Much of what he grew came from seed collected by Victorian plant hunters, a fad of the era. He kept detailed notes and maps of the site which are still housed at Bedgebury. Interestingly, one document states that the collection was only for study by professionals and that the public should be 'discouraged' from visiting! In 1965, the FC and Kew ceased their collaborative work at Bedgebury as Kew's efforts moved to Wakehurst Place. However, we still work very closely with Kew.
One of the most dramatic changes to Bedgebury over the years came in 1987, the year of the infamous 'Great Storm'. On the 15th and 16th of October, gale force winds ravaged much of England causing immense destruction. Bedgebury lost a third of its collection and entire sub-collections from single countries were completely destroyed (see picture below). One positive that came from this was opportunity to redesign the landscape and establish new collections.
The Pinetum has continued to grow and adapt over the years, making it the most important single site for conifer conservation in the world. However, it still faces many obstacles, not least the impact of austerity measures as the 2011 government sell-off proposal demonstrated.
In contrast to Dalimore's time, public support is now the lifeblood of the Pinetum and it is only with you that we can continue to understand and conserve this fascinating group of organisms.