Sleeping Giants

29 November 2018

“If you have nothing to do, go plant a tree and it will grow while you sleep”

Hard-working Team

All our gardening work is carried out by a hard-working, cheery team of volunteers who have put in many hours of work, in all weather conditions, to start to bring about the changes you can already see in the landscape up at the House. We have weeded, lopped, pruned and chopped, swept and raked through rain, hail, sleet, snow and sunshine to try and restore some order to the neglected gardens but there is still much to do, especially in terms of tree care. So, we recently submitted a bid for funding from a group called ‘Paths for All’ and successfully received money in September to pay for some initial professional forestry work to be done in the grounds.

Laurel Bushes

There are a lot of Laurel bushes growing at the entrance to the house and our Victorian or Edwardian residents are probably responsible for planting them. Laurel was popularly grown as a useful, low maintenance shrub with hedging and screening being the bulk of its use and it is still used extensively nowadays for landscaping. We originally considered pruning the Laurel, but we quickly realised that it was beyond saving and would have to be cut down.

Maintenance is Key!

Unfortunately, our bushes had not received regular maintenance and as a result they kept growing until such time as the long, heavy branches cracked under their own weight allowing fungi and bacteria to gain access and decay to set in. These limbs then fell against other shrubs causing them to break and fall over. Add to that the dead branches that have fallen off trees growing in the canopy above them and you begin to get some idea of the jungle of debris contained within these dark, tangled Laurel forests, hidden behind the bright, shiny green foliage. Thankfully some of the broken branches have touched the soil and rooted so we will have some new young shrubs to replace the vintage bushes.

Finding the Woodland Walk

According to the early Ordnance Survey maps, this section of the garden contained a woodland walk and it must have been quite a pretty section to walk around as there are rhododendron bushes mixed in with a selection of various evergreen trees, most originating in North America, which would have been sheltered and green all year round. We thought it would be worthwhile to find and restore this path, but we also knew it would be challenging as the passage of many windy winter storms and general neglect have caused damage to the trees and some are lying on their sides blocking any way through. Many are still alive, and they continue to grow from this horizontal position having adjusted themselves to appear to be growing upright!

The Giant Redwoods

Another reason to clear the bushes was the wish to reveal our five stunning ‘Giant Redwood’ trees – already fondly referred to as ‘The Five Sisters’ – which were all but invisible from road level. The ‘Big Trees’ (Sequoiadendron giganteum) hail from California and they grow to be among the tallest and oldest trees on the planet. As they grow taller their lower branches to drop off as this helps them to withstand high winds so you will find that most Giant Redwood trees over 100 years old have no branches on their lower trunk. This accentuates their height and makes them all the more awe-inspiring.

California to Scotland

The ‘Redwood Tree’ was introduced into Scotland in 1853 after Patrick Matthew’s son, John, sent seeds home to grow in their nursery in Perth and the resulting young trees were quickly spread across the Parklands and Estates of Scotland where still they can be seen today.  Our trees may have been planted in the 1880’s when many changes were introduced to the House and gardens, so they could be 150 years old but in Redwood terms that means they are just ‘toddlers’.

Gardener John McLaren

In 1860 a young Bannockburn laddie called John McLaren began his working life as an apprentice gardener at Bannockburn House. John enjoyed this work so much that he decided to train as a professional gardener at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh where he would meet his future wife. They decided to emigrate to the USA and John became very famous as the gardener who created the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. John planted over two million trees in his lifetime, but we believe that his favourite tree was the Giant Redwood.

The Origins of the Five Sisters

Did he ever see the five trees growing at Bannockburn House? Did he send over seed that was planted to create our ‘Five Sisters’?  We don’t know the origin of our trees yet, but it is fitting that we have five of these amazing trees growing in the garden that formed the cradle of one of America’s great gardeners.

John’s words of advice to his son were: “if you have nothing to do, go plant a tree and it will grow while you sleep.”

The Tallest Scottish Tree

Keep your eyes open as you drive around, and you may be surprised by how many of these tall, elegant trees you can spot. The tallest Scottish tree is at Benmore in southwest Scotland, reaching 56.4 metres (185 ft) in 2014 at age 150 years. Contrast this with the tallest tree measured so far in the Redwood National Park. It is called ‘Hyperion’ and the most recent measurement showed it stood at 115 metres (379 ft).

Closer to home, if you visit Gargunnock House you will find that the approach drive is lined with several of these stately, mature trees, a quite beautiful sight.  

Redwood World

If you want to know more about ‘Redwood’ trees you can read about this family of trees on the Redwood World website by clicking here.  Have a look at the ‘locations and pictures’ section and find the entries for Stirlingshire, click on the photo titled ‘Stirling – Pirnhall Road’ and you will see a photo of our trees taken some years ago.

Benmore Botanic Garden