Britain's oldest Christmas tree? Wrest Park celebrates Sequoia garden giant

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 December 2013

More than 150 years after it was planted in a house it eventually outgrew, the giant which could be Britain's oldest Christmas tree is being celebrated in Bedfordshire

A split photo showing a huge tree in a country garden from today and 150 years ago
(Left) Head Gardener George Ford (seated) and his replacement George McKinlay pose with the Wrest Park Christmas tree in 1900, after it became too large for the house. The photo on the right shows their modern day successors, Chris Slatcher and David Liberty© English Heritage
Wrest Park, a 90-acre “secret garden” of Italian and Rose havens in Bedfordshire, is laying claim to England’s oldest recycled Christmas tree – a 30-metre high, 19th century Sequoia Gigantea planted by a Head Gardener who retired on Christmas Eve 1896.

The festively-named Seward Snow planted the young tree in 1856, instructing his successor, George Ford, to return it to the conservatory each year before replanting it once the festivities had concluded.

“Conifers have not been largely played at Wrest,” read the accompanying editorial in the Gardener’s Chronicle of June 1900, picturing Mr Ford and the future Head Gardener, George McKinlay, posing next to their impressive resident specimen.

“There are some of the more popular species, and several of them succeed well, but not all. A specimen of Sequoia gigantea merits remark.

“It is said to have been planted by the late Mr Snow in 1856, and must therefore have been one of the first introduced into this country.

“It is now a fine tree, with branches that sweep the ground at its base. The soil is a sandy loam, resting on a sub-soil of strong clay.”

The exact measurements of the tree at the time were recorded as just over 74 feet high, with a ground level girth of 21 feet and three inches and branches extending between 35 and 36 feet.

A resident of Dorset, where he was born into a gardening family, Snow arrived at Wrest Park in 1835, planting a flower garden planned by Earl de Grey and re-establishing the on-site kitchen garden.

Current Head Gardener Chris Slatcher and apprentice David Liberty have recreated the original Chronicle photo, proudly calling theirs “one of the most impressive” Christmas trees in the country.

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