The Pinetum - an introduction

Out of curiosity I looked up the dictionary definition of the word Pinetum as I am frequently asked what a Pinetum is and how it is pronounced. Various online dictionaries give definitions like “ Pinetum as a plantation of pine trees or other conifers planted for scientific or ornamental purposes”; “An area planted with pine trees or related conifers, especially for botanical study”; “a plantation of pine trees; specially: a scientific collection of living coniferous trees”. These are all correct, short and concise answers, but in the context of Bedgebury National Pinetum this comes nowhere near to explaining what the site is about. Bedgebury National Pinetum is home to the national collection of conifers and with over 7,500 specimens holds the largest collection on one site anywhere on the planet! In addition to this there are a further 3,500 non-coniferous trees and shrubs to be found on the site.

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The first plantings took place around the 1850s by the Beresford family and some of these trees can be found along Lady Mildred’s Carriage Drive. The most impressive of these veterans used to be the ‘Old Man of Kent’.  At 50m, it was the county’s tallest tree until disease and lightning forced its felling in 2016.   The Pinetum is also a haven for native plants, animals and fungi and our management of the site places equal importance on our local residents as well as the trees from all corners of the globe. The main habitats here are mainly heath and acid grass-land. These habitats are becoming increasingly rare in South East England so the Pinetum provides a safe haven for all of the species that live here. Staff from Bedgebury are actively involved in the conservation of conifers. They have been on seed collecting expeditions to all corners of the world to bring back seeds of Endangered and Critically Endangered conifer species to grow in the Pinetum and to store in the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.

Each year the tree team plant around 400 new trees in the Pinetum – grown from expeditions such as this. A Pinetum is an amazing place for all the reasons given above but the thing I love most about it is taking my son for a walk, playing on the fallen logs, feeding the fish in Reflection Pond, playing chase in the Rhododendrons – all in the beautiful rolling Kent countryside amongst all the majestic trees; so much more than “an area planted with pine trees or related conifers”.

 

Dan Luscombe, Bedgebury's Collection Manager