RECORD: Webster, A. D. 1888. Darwin's garden. Gardeners' Chronicle (24 March): 359-360.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 7.2008. RN1
THE grounds at Down House, the residence of the late Charles Darwin, have not only-been laid out with taste and care, but planted with a rich assortment of rare trees and shrubs, a few notes on which latter we jotted down the other day when on a long-wished-for visit to that remarkable place—remarkable as having for many years been the home of that once much-maligned but greatest of modern naturalists—and which may be opportune, particularly at a time when that great name has again been brought prominently forward by the publication of his life and letters.
Some of the finest and largest of our forest trees, particularly the Oak and Beech, are growing alongside the "sand walk" — a favourite resort of Darwin's, and near the shrubbery, which is a small wood, composed principally of Oak, Elm, Beech, Birch, and Ash, with an undergrowth of Privet.
Opposite to the stile which conducts one from the little park to the walk above-mentioned, and with its buttressed roots extending for a considerable length, is growing an old and gnarled Oak, whose stem at a yard from the ground girths fully 16 feet, the well-branched head having a spread of 39 feet in diameter. Not far from this giant specimen, and growing on the same side of the path, is one of the Beech whose lofty head and noble proportions indicate great age, combined with a most suitable soil and situation for its perfect development. At a yard from the ground the deeply furrowed stem girths 14 feet 7 inches, and the far-reaching branches cover a ground space of no less than 84 feet in diameter. The total height of this fine tree is nearly 80 feet, and, judging from the well-rounded and twiggy head, as likewise sound and glossy trunk, it is in perfect health, and will yet, should no accident befal, attain to much larger dimensions than those here recorded. A twin-stemmed Ash, of great size and natural beauty, ornaments the path nigh where it enters the woodland, while
goodly-sized specimens of many other trees are freely scattered about. The shrubbery, with its well-kept green walk, Holly hedge, and Ivy-clad summer seat, is such a place as anyone might well be forgiven did they covet, and must have been such a secluded spot as was well suited to the taste of its illustrious owner.
Two remarkable Scotch Firs, not remarkable for their great size, but for their peculiarly rounded and weeping heads—this latter is particularly noticeable in one of the specimens—stand in the park just outside the lawn. These trees are certainly well matched both in size and shape, although the head of one is more rounded and weeping, though of the same height as the other; indeed, the umbrella-like head of one is as peculiar as it is unusual.
Of that interesting Conifer, Thuiopsis dolabrata, we noticed at least two well-grown and flourishing plants; while the true Thuia plicata was represented by a goodly sized fan-branched specimen of some 25 feet in height.
Growing at some distance from the latter is a fine and rapid-growing Sequoia gigantea, the stem of which measures 6 feet 10 inches in girth at 3 feet from the ground, while the branches have a spread of fully 20 feet. This and the latter Conifer are growing in too close contiguity for either ever to become perfectly developed. Lambert's Cypress (Cupressus Lambertiana) shows off its true character to perfection, and the specimen here recorded is not only the best finished but brightest foliaged specimen that I have seen for some years. It is 38 feet in height, has a branch spread of 5 yards diameter, and a stem which, on measuring, we found to be 37 inches in circumference at 3 feet up.
Prince Albert's Fir (Abies Albertiana), judging from a specimen in the grounds here, seems to be well suited for the particular soil of the locality, and being an ornamental tree of no mean degree, is well worthy of more extended culture than it has yet received at the hands of the British arboriculturist. The specimen under notice is of neat upright habit, not dumpy and carrot-stemmed as we too often see, rather sparsely branched—this being usually noticeable in fast-growing trees of Prince Albert's Fir—and about 27 feet in height.
Almost opposite to this tree is growing a fairly perfect specimen of the Japan Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), a fine bushy-headed, fan-branched plant of nearly 40 feet in height, and with a trunk of good shape, and which reveals in a very decided manner the beautiful warm buff-brown of the bark, and which colour is frequently noticeable in healthy free-growing trees of this peculiarly distinct Conifer. Conspicuous not only for its size, but for its wealth of deep bluish-green foliage, is a well-balanced and upright habited specimen of Lawson's Cypress (Cupressus Lawsoniana), this associating nicely and affording a perfect contrast to the mass of round-headed trees in its close environment. It is 42 feet in height, well furnished throughout, and of an easy and pleasing outline.
On the lawn are numerous well-arranged tree-groups, one in which a far-spreading evergreen Oak, of some 56 feet in height, is conspicuous, being very effective when viewed from the house, the rich dark green of the Oak just mentioned harmonising so pleasantly with the lighter tints afforded by the numerous other evergreens which constitute the clump. At a respectable distance from this tree group grow three large Yews, these also, from their close proximity forming a group of imposing grandeur, and doing much to lighten up and diversify the mass of hard-woods by which they are backed up. There is, likewise, a goodly specimen of the Mulberry, and one which from the numerous props and girders with which it is held together and saved from destruction, must be highly valued by the members of the family. It is truly a picturesque tree, with large and shapely limbs, and a far-spreading and well-branched head, one side of which has, however, been considerably marred by the wind divesting it of one of the largest branches. Amongst other trees of interest we noted a Walnut, a young and rapid-growing tree, of about 50 feet in height, and from which annually, we were told, a large quantity of superior fruit is obtained. Growing hard by it is a fine example of the Stag's-horn Sumach (Rhus typhina), with thick, supple branches, and a well-formed stem, which shoots upwards for about 25 feet. Seldom, indeed, have we noted a more healthy-looking plant of this Sumach than that just recorded.
Of shrubs worthy of note, by far the most remarkable are two plants of the Wig tree, or Venetian Sumach (Rhus cotinus), and which, even during the dull January days, were full of interest, and highly conspicuous from the feathery inflorescence with which nearly every shoot was well provided. Although the flowers of this rarely-seen shrub are small, and, may be, inconspicuous, yet the transformation of pedicels and hairs into white feathery awns, not unlike that of the Old Man's Beard (Clematis vitalba), imparts a most distinct and peculiar appearance to the inflorescence, and renders the plant one of great interest during the autumn and winter months. The plants in question were growing one on either side of the neatly-kept walk that leads from the house to the garden and conservatory, and from their large size and great branch-spread—for these extended for fully 9 feet—must have been planted for several years, and in a position and soil well suited for their most perfect development. In passing it might just be noticed, that to anyone in search of a distinct and curious plant, this Sumach is worthy of attention.
Darwin's Barberry (Berberis Darwinii) is here represented by at least one noble specimen, it being 10 feet in height, and with branches extending for fully 9 feet in diameter. The thick gnarled stems of this plant indicate great age, and a luxuriance of growth that we have rarely seen excelled. Proud must its owner have been of so fine a specimen of his Barberry; indeed, it is not hard to fancy how pretty a sight would be revealed by so magnificent a plant when in full bloom. Hydrangea hortensis looked happy and flourishing in this Kentish garden, quite as much so as we have ever noticed even when fanned by the warm and gentle breezes of the Menai Straits. Many other shrubs were noticed, all in the most luxuriant health, while a line of far-spreading Limes afforded just the protection necessary for the numerous specimens of our native Ferns, amongst which we could not help noticing several fine examples of that most distinct and pretty evergreen species— Polyatichum angulare. A. D. Webster.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012