Gardening requires some trial and error. Even for an organisation with over 100 years of experience, we are always learning. At the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey we have been replanting the avenue of paper birch trees after successive planting schemes sadly failed.
The most recent rows of birch trees were showing signs of damage after being planted in 2015, leading our horticulture team to plan for a better long-term replacement and the replacement trees have just been planted.
Woodpecker damage can be seen on the bark of one of the failed birch trees. We suspect the tree ties which had not been removed created a perfect environment for insect larvae or caterpillars which were a food source for the birds.
Whenever we consider any planting changes to a site, we first refer to the architect’s drawings so we can understand how the original designers saw horticulture complementing the site.
While Sir Edward Maufe’s drawings of 1952 show a double line of birch, next to the rhododendron beds, it was agreed a single line would be best. This will give the trees the necessary space as they mature and avoid obscuring the view towards the memorial, while retaining the spirit of a broad avenue leading visitors in.
The birches chosen are Betula papyrifera, a deciduous tree which will ultimately reach a height of 12 metres, with distinctive white bark peeling to reveal pale orange under-bark.
The replacement trees have been carefully planted at the same planting depth as the nursery they were grown in to help them establish, and we will closely monitor their condition.
Black perforated piping will allow us to properly water the young trees’ roots during summer droughts. We have also planted a further four trees from the same group elsewhere on site. This will allow us to keep some spares which are of a uniform height by replacing any individual trees if they fail in future, without needing to remove the whole row.
As with the home gardener, we are still learning lessons a century on from when our work began. By adapting and learning our horticulture can continue to support the unique look and feel of our historic estate for years to come.