Maintaining the Clinton-Baker Pinetum at Bayfordbury
PUBLISHED: 15:19 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013
The Clinton-Baker Pinetum at Bayfordbury is being restored and maintained with the help of volunteers. Philippa Pearson finds out about the important collection of historic conifers
IN 1755, Sir William Baker, a prosperous draper in London, bought the Bayfordbury Estate near Hertford and indulged his love of horticulture and arboriculture by planting many fine trees across the estate. Sir William particularly liked conifers and planted some stately Lebanese Cedars first; these were soon followed by a circular group of firs in 1767, planted on a gently sloping hillside.
When his grandson, William Robert Baker inherited the estate in the early 19th century, he added to the conifer collection and the Pinetum expanded in 1837 with the help of the great Victorian landscape gardener, John Claudius Loudon. By 1848, the Pinetum covered 4.2 hectares and included a grotto and fernery. Future generations extended the site as conifers were fashionable gardening plants in these times. William's grandson Henry Clinton-Baker made extensive additions and published four volumes of his renowned 'Illustrations in Conifers' in the early 20th century.
Today the Pinetum can claim several conifers of considerable stature and importance in the UK. These include the tallest Western Larch in Britain, stately Ponderosa Pines, substantial Giant and Coastal Redwoods and there's a lovely collection of Monkey Puzzle trees, Araucaria arucana, situated in their own dell. More than 150 different species of conifers are now found in this remarkable woodland due to the efforts of volunteers and many others over the last few decades to restore the site.
The estate was sold from out of the family in the 1940s to the John Innes Horticultural Institute, famous for their bags of compost and soil trials but the current owner is the University of Hertfordshire. Dr Edward Eastwood, now the Pinetum's curator, joined the University in the mid 1990s and recognised the importance of this collection of conifers. With the help of the university, he set up a new initiative to restore the Pinetum. The site was devastated by the great gales in 1987 and was quite overgrown but volunteers from far and wide began to clear the site of fallen trees and brambles. Other organisations, including the National Conifer Collection at Bedgebury in Kent, Kew Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, became involved with advice, help and supply of trees for replenishing the Pinetum.
In 1999, the Friends Association of the Clinton-Baker Pinetum was inaugurated and continues today in its quest to continue with the restoration and maintenance of the site. Pathways and vistas have been cleared and rebuilt, brambles and unwanted saplings removed and the grotto has been reclaimed from the wild. This thriving group of volunteers meet regularly In the Pinetum every Wednesday and one Saturday morning a month but it's not all work for the Friends', as their general Secretary Colin Metherall explains. 'We always start with coffee in the morning before going off to the Pinetum to work on a range of outdoor activities.
'There are lots of social events throughout the year including lectures, a summer barbecue, in-house courses, visits to other arboretums and a party at Christmas.'
Membership of the Friends' is open to everyone, including families, and it's an excellent way to meet friends and get involved with some enjoyable, rewarding outdoor work.
Get in touch
The Friends Association of the
University of Hertfordshire
General Secretary: Colin Metherell
Telephone: 01992 422052
Membership fees per annum: individuals 5.00
All are welcome to attend, but children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Public access to the Pinetum is by appointment only. Friends of the Clinton-Baker Pinetum may access the Pinetum during daylight hours.