Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sheffield Gardens and Giants

Wednesday, May 18
     Sheffield Park Gardens is one of many parks held by the National Trust, similar to National Parks in the United States. Originally the gardens were part of the Sheffield estate. Today the manor house at the edge of the gardens is still privately owned, but the grounds have been conveyed to and are maintained by the National Trust. They are open for the public to enjoy. The extensive gardens include an incredible variety of plantings that include hundreds and hundreds of rhododendrons of all shades growing in clusters twenty to thirty feet tall along the banks of four lakes. I was startled to discover giant redwood trees! Here is a fascinating connection between the Sheffield Park Gardens and Calaveras County in California.
     In 1853, William Lobb, a salaried "plant hunter" for the Veitch Nurseries in England, was in San Francisco, California, attending a meeting of the newly formed California Academy of Sciences when the Academy’s founder, Dr. Albert Kellogg, introduced a woodsman who had been hunting in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains for game to supply a canal-digging crew. He had shot and wounded a grizzly bear, and while tracking it had discovered a grove of trees that were enormous beyond all belief. The hunter was astounded, and abandoning his pursuit of the bear hurried back to camp with his tale, where he was derided and even accused of drunkenness when he recounted his experience in the forest of giant trees. Luckily the scientific community proved more liberal-minded, and the crowd at the California Academy of Sciences greeted the specimen produced by Dr. Kellogg with excitement.
     The amazing story filled Lobb with the determination to see the remarkable trees in their native habitat, but his hurried flight to the Sierra foothills was largely fueled by thoughts of riches. He knew these "monster trees" would trigger an equally enormous craze in British horticultural circles, and he was determined to provide the owners of the Veitch Nurseries with the plant material needed to corner the market.
     Reaching the grove in Calaveras County, he collected seed, shoots, and seedlings. In fewer than two years’ time these would give rise to thousands of saplings, snatched up by wealthy Victorians to adorn great British estates. The larger-than-life conifer, so symbolic of the vast American wilderness, suddenly became a status symbol, rising boldly from expensive and highly groomed landscapes an ocean away.
In England it was proposed to name the newly discovered species "Wellingtonia" in honor of the Duke of Wellington who had died recently. The name was rejected however, when it was determined that there already was a completely unrelated plant that already had that name, and the botanical name of Sequoiadendron Gigantea was assigned to acknowledge the biological connection to the coast redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens. In England, however, these giant redwoods are still referred to as "Wellingtonia", and the specimens in Sheffield Park Gardens, more than 150 years old now have massive trunks almost 40 feet in circumference.
     We ate dinner at the Mark Cross Inn in the village of Mark Cross, Crowborough before calling it a full day and heading back to Heathfield.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea there were giant redwoods in England! Thanks for sharing.