Colesbourne Park

'England's Greatest Snowdrop Garden'

Henry John Elwes, FRS (1846-1922) is a name well known to foresters and dendrologists through his work The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland written between 1906 and 1913 with the help of Augustine Henry, the botanist noted for his exploration of the Chinese flora.

During a lifetime of travel Henry Elwes devoted his attention variously to ornithology, lepidoptery, agriculture with particular reference to sheep breeding, horticulture and latterly to forestry, writing an enormous amount of valuable material on each subject. He founded the Quarterly Journal of Forestry in 1907 and was instrumental in making it possible for the Royal Horticultural Society to buy the copyright of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine when it was threatened with extinction.

When he inherited Colesbourne from his father in 1891 he became keenly interested in forestry, eventually planting 700 acres, much of it experimentally. On his extensive travels he collected many species of trees not previously grown in Great Britain and gradually built up an arboretum of rare trees added to by purchases from commercial nurseries and other estate owners. The tree collection is principally situated in the meadows below the house and church, including the Ring Meadow on the east side of the Hilcot Brook (so-named as its hay crop was formerly used to fund the ring of bells in the church), but extends throughout the gardens as well. Many interesting specimens dating to HJE’s time are also to be found throughout the village and further afield on the estate.

After a break of fifty years the major part of the arboretum was re-catalogued in the 1970s with the kind help of Alan Mitchell who found many rare specimens. In 2004 the arboretum was visited by Owen Johnson of the Tree Register of the British Isles, who measured many of the most notable specimens found that eight of our trees were British champions, though as is the way with such things, several of these are now superseded by later discoveries. They include the tallest fastigiate hornbeam, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ at 24 m, black oak, Quercus velutina (28 m), both in the Ring Neadow, and the beautiful Thuja plicata ‘Semperaurescens’ (23 m) by the lake steps.

The policy is to care for this unique collection of trees and to improve upon it by the addition of new specimens each year. In recent years the arboretum has been augmented by trees acquired by John Grimshaw in the course of his dendrological studies and several specimens were planted in 2010 to mark the retirement of Sir Henry Elwes as Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire. The Arboretum is grazed by sheep, often the traditional local Cotswold breed, with distinctive long fleeces and large size.

A list of trees in the arboretum is available for purchase.