For the most part the woodland garden at Mount Congreve is a very democratic and equal-opportunity location where trees and shrubs are intermingled and each left to fend for itself in company and competition with its neighbours. Occasionally, a tree has been given special status and space to grow unfettered by the encroachment of neighbours so that it can show off its form and beauty. One such specimen was a fern-leafed beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’), planted just a short distance off the Bell Gate Lawn at the beginning of the Fragrant Walk.
Each March the area around the base of the tree was covered in a planting of crocus in mixed colours, a display which provided one of the first big colour splashes of the year and coaxed the visitor to stop for a moment and admire the magnificent beech tree overhead. Of course, it was later in the year when it came into leaf that we could see that it was not an ordinary beech tree but the fern-leafed variety which has slender and cut leaves, and it was in the autumn that we enjoyed the wonderful colour transformation of its foliage which later carpeted the area and walkway underneath.
Unfortunately, after gracing the gardens for well over a century this wonderful tree has had to be felled recently, an even which is a big loss to the garden and to those who have worked there over the years. Michael White has been at Mount Congreve Gardens since he was a teenager, worked under the guidance of Mr. Ambrose Congreve for many years, and is now the Garden Curator. He is without doubt the person with the deepest knowledge of the gardens and of the plants there. He wrote this short note to me yesterday regarding the fern-leafed beech:
Lament for an Old Arboreal Friend – Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’
The spring of 2015 saw the garden lose a cherished old resident, a beautiful tree that was planted by John Congreve, we suspect, in the late eighteenth century. It bade us farewell as it succumbed to a malady that it bore and fought for a decade. It did hint at its demise in 2005 when we noticed a weeping from its trunk. Last year sadly it wore its golden autumnal dress for the last time. I had hoped its leaves would dance in the autumn breeze for one or two more years. Yet, rather than lament the loss of this old friend its removal opened up a vista that hadn’t been seen for over a century and allowed a very rare Magnolia officinalis that had lived in its shadow to show off again. Now, all is not lost as the Garden Director, Mr. Herman Dool, had the foresight to propagate from this tree and its progeny grows happily on the Beech Lawn today.
Michael White with Paddy Tobin