We pay a visit to Thornhayes Nursery & Arboretum, set amid the rolling hills and lush pastures of east Devon.
Visiting specialist nurseries and meeting the growers is always an enjoyable experience. Going to one that grows an incredibly wide range of trees and then sets out to plant up a collection that will inform and inspire us about them is fantastic.
Thornhayes Nursery, owned by Kevin and Pat Croucher is set amid the rolling hills and lush pastures of east Devon and has been growing and trading for over twenty years.
Their nursery catalogue has impressive lists of both ornamental and fruiting varieties. Kevin’s knowledge, and collection of apple trees is outstanding and he is keen to ensure that little known varieties are not lost, especially those associated with the south west.
The nursery development that I have come to see is the arboretum that is being planted on a gently sloping plot just over two acres in size that was part of a production field growing open ground trees until November 2011.
As Kevin Croucher said ‘The objective is to have a collection of trees where visitors can see many different species and compare the often subtle difference between the varieties, hopefully allowing them to be better informed to select the best ones for their own planting sites’.
This project is not about creating a catalogue of living trees growing in straight rows. Kevin’s knowledge and experience of working with trees is being used to lay out the planting in a fashion that will show of the trees at all times of the year. Different trees are planted to highlight their particular characteristics, whether it is dramatic autumn foliage, abundant spring flowers or bright winter stems the individual specimens will be seen in detail and as part of the whole collection. There are some plants growing in groups with particular connections such as the American Birch’s or the Conifers and Hollies that will grow into a screen with winter interest and provide a great backdrop for the flowering Malus and Magnolia specimens.
Plant selection is also crucial, many of the individual trees have been observed over several years to ensure they hold the true characteristics of the variety or cultivar, this being essential when selecting plants for specific planting locations and gathering material to be used in vegetative propagation by cuttings or grafting. The propagation of trees by seed and the subsequent selection of seedling is an area of horticulture Kevin has much knowledge. There are specimens of Birch, Prunus and Acer in the collection that have been carefully selected, grown and monitored to ensure they are true to form in growth rate, shape and colour of stem, foliage and flower. Others such as Euonymus europaeus ’Thornhayes’ and Malus transitoria ’Thornhayes Tansy ‘have been bred and named by the nursery.
This growing collection of plants is at the early stages of development, the first grass paths are due to be marked out and mown this summer allowing visitors to walk around informally while also being encouraged to see the planting from many different positions. Along with additional tree planting there will be a few shrub borders placed at strategic points, plus thousands of flowering bulbs will be under planted around the trees adding even more interest at different times of year.
An area of land at the top of the site has been planted as a model fruit orchard with many different tree species. This will provide a valuable teaching resource for the pruning days run by Kevin and his team. The new timber barn will also be used when other teaching events are held; these include different propagation techniques and planting methods. More details can be obtained on the nursery website, see below.
Over many years Thornhayes Nursery has supplied quality trees for landscape projects and gardens throughout the UK; now the development of the arboretum and more training events being held for the benefit of not only professional horticulturists, designers and landscapers but also for amateur gardeners means this venue will help us all learn more about the world of plants and how to use and care for them.