We have some marvellous old trees on the estate and, arguably, king among them is the oak. We love to see their twisted, gnarled shapes, where they have been struck by lightning, or rotted away almost entirely, leaving just a hollow trunk, from which a new tree has miraculously sprouted.
However, like all things, they do eventually come to the end of their life and recently we had to cut down one growing in the gardens. It had lost its canopy and died in 2017 and more recently had started to drop branches, which was dangerous, as there is a path nearby.
The arboriculturalists cut a slice from the trunk from which this sample was made. The age of a tree may be determined by its rings, as each year most trees add an extra layer of growth to their trunks. These rings are visible on this sample.
We had the sample analysed and verified by a dendrologist in a laboratory and his findings were very interesting. He told us the acorn from which the tree grew, germinated in 1545.
We’ve added some further dates to the rings and made a timeline through Woburn history:
1547 Sir John Russell is given Woburn Abbey by Edward VI
1550 following the instruction in the will of his father, (Henry VIII) John is created 1st Earl of Bedford.
1620s Francis, 4th Earl, moves his family into Woburn Abbey.
1683 William, Lord Russell is executed for his involvement in the Rye House Plot. Posthumously pardoned by William III and Mary II, his father is granted the Dukedom of Bedford in 1694.
1763 The Duke negotiates the Treaty of Paris, which ends the Seven Years’ War. Louis XV gifts a Sèvres porcelain service in appreciation.
1805 Commissioned by John, the 6th Duke, Humphy Repton created his Red Book for Woburn. He used watercolours to show his ideas for landscaping the gardens and surrounding park. This oak tree would have formed part of the backdrop to the pleasure gardens.
1817 The Abbey Gardens is the site of the world’s first ecological experiments whose results later influence Darwin’s argument on the origin of species.
1840 Afternoon Tea is said to have been popularised by Duchess Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke, who entertained her friends at Woburn Abbey.
2017 The gardens are half-way through their 25-year restoration and the most realised of Repton’s works.
2020 Tree planting is still taking place within the Abbey Gardens, with trees that have associations with Woburn being selected. These include Acer davidii commonly known as Snakebark Maple or Père David's Maple; Pinus strobus (Weymouth pine); Cunninghamia lanceolata (Chinese fir); Picea breweriana (Brewer’s Spruce); Pinus sylvestris (Scotch Pine); Taxodium distichum (Swamp cypress) which is planted by the Bog Garden and loves to get its feet wet and Pinus radiate (Monterey Pine).