Today, Highclere Castle is surrounded by green parkland studded with trees, a landscape drawn and defined by the hand of both Geordie’s ancestor, the 1st Earl of Carnarvon and the famous 18th century landscape architect, “Capability” Brown. It is not exactly as nature originally intended, but it is still natural.
The views and trees are carefully placed, the topography nudged and shaped to maximise its potential, to be pleasing to the eye and provide careful views and vistas. Less visually pleasing agriculture was pushed away from the “Arcadia”, leaving sheep to graze the 1000 acre parkland. Given the scale, wildlife have freedom to roam with few fences and sites of special scientific interest are carefully protected.
Before this whole scale “renovation”, the gardens were more contained and the house was surrounded by pasture, hay meadows and woodland. Some fields here still grow hay but they are now further away from the house.
Last week, I spent a few days in Transylvania for a dear friend’s birthday learning a little about a landscape in which nature is, in the main, largely untrammelled and where wildlife is free to roam. It has been referred to as one of most original and oldest landscapes in Europe, much wilder than other places and far more diverse than that of England for example.
Transylvania lies in Romania, very much in the heart of Europe. Walking with and listening to a brilliant botanist, we stood on a plateau in a forest in the middle of an oak pasture. It was beautiful but this too was man made – in this case by the Saxons who settled here over 1,200 years ago. It is therefore an ancient but nevertheless cultured landscape. Oaks from within the old forests were left standing by the Saxons whilst other trees were cut down to open up the land for grazing. This was done with care and a thought for the future: the oaks were continuously replaced with new planting, each tree some 10 metres apart from another. The settlers took the long view.
The oaks we were looking at were therefore a multiplicity of ages – some were, 100 years old, or 300 years old, some 500 years old, ancient ones – natures’s veterans.
Originally, pigs fed on the acorns, sheep and buffalo grazed and wildflowers flourished and the experience and innate knowledge of the early Saxons meant that a harmony was achieved. The forest, in terms on encroaching hornbeam for example, was kept back and mulched down, the soil around the oaks was partly turned in pannage. Sadly that degree of care is not happening today, the forests are once again encroaching and the old oak pastures are disappearing.
It is impossible to overstate the value of these old oaks. They are slow growing, gradually gaining strength, resilience and immunity which they then share with a host of other life forms both as habitats for hundreds of other creatures and through mycelia running under the earth from their roots, even passing their immunity to the younger trees to help them grow.
When their leaves fall, they release their minerals back into the earth which again helps grazing animals and ultimately man too. You don’t need to walk very far to see just how many animals, insects, birds, fungi and wild flowers depend on these trees. It may have been a cultured landscape all those centuries ago but today it is an extraordinary eco system. However, the next generation of oaks is too slight and without care and attention much of this diversity will sadly be lost.
Highclere also has some veteran oaks which we value and take care of. When branches fall, we leave them if we can so that they become part of the eco system around the oak. Geordie and I have always planted oaks, perhaps initially by instinct and love rather then any knowledge but now much more with serious intent and understanding of the importance of what we are doing. Since 1945 England has lost 50 % of its ancient woodland and I really think it is time to stop.
Autumn is an excellent time to plant so perhaps everyone should be encouraged to plant a tree whether it is an oak tree or an apple tree.
To Lady Carnarvon
I really find your blogs exceptionally interesting, this one is of no exception, I love trees and like wandering around Kew Gardens
Also I like the way Highclere was featured in Downton Abbey, not only great entertainment and a historic look on life, very educational
Like reading about cultural landscapes
All the best
Professor James Knight
Wonderful – thank you!
Dear Professor Knight, dear Lady Carnarvon,
I am a very very keen gardener, at present in Suffolk I have a small Arboretum of my own in Australia and I wonder is there anything the international community of Gardeners can do to help preserve the heritage of the Oaks in Transylvania, this area has incredible ecological value! Has anyone alerted David Attenborough?
Good Afternoon, it is their country and I am sure they are very proud of their landscape.. I think I am trying to say there is a balance between doing too much and not doing enough
Lovely reading Thank you.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
the landscape around Highclere is very beautiful. My husband and I have just been lucky enough to buy a patch of land adjoining our garden, which has eight beautiful oak trees on it. The land was earmarked for development, so although significantly cash poorer, we are richer in the beauty of our trees beyond our wildest dreams. We plan to plant bluebells around the trees once the tree surgeons have made the dead branches safe. Its landscapes like Highclere that inspired us to preserve the trees. Thank you for the inspiration.
Oak trees are beautiful
I enjoyed reading this wealth of information about the trees and forests, and have been inspired. In the past we’ve planted native evergreens and apple trees, and now when we remove the invasive Mimosa, we will replace it with an oak sapling. Thank you!
Fascinating information. Thank you so much for your research and ability to compose into such a dynamic report.
Lady Carnarvon lovely pictures of cultural landscapes and did you and lord Carnarvon have a lovely weekend and l love to visit highcelere castle and l am fan of Downton abbey calendars l get Downton abbey calendars for my birthday at Christmas is on Boxing Day 26 December thank you for send your blog
I am blessed to have four majestic oak trees on the front part of my property. They provide shelter and food for a variety of God’s creatures, and welcoming shade during the blistering hot summer months here in Texas. Trees represent life and beauty. It is appalling how many times I have been advised to have the branches “thinned out” in order to provide more light for the lawns. Neighbors fell for this advice, ending up with weakened structures, and large limbs crashing down on their vehicles and fencing. Through personal observation, humans often cause more damage to trees than storms and diseases.
Good afternoon lady Carnarvon and lord Carnarvon and lovely the pictures of the cultural landscapes and lovely to visit highcelere castle and l am fan of Downton abbey videos
Bless you! People have forgotten about how important oak forests were, not only for the ecology but, for commerce as well. Branches of oak trees were tied down to conform them for certain shapes for ship timber; they were essential to the cooper’s trade….the crafting of barrels….which were the “containers” of yesteryear; groves were dedicated to far-future timber replacements in the structures of universities, collegiate and monastic structures.
These trees were planted and trained by people who knew that they were not going to be harvested for four or more future generations…..Aye, there’s the rub that conflicts with our modern modern insistence of instant gratification.
“People make fun of me because I’m grafting apple trees at my age. I have eaten a lot of good men’s apples and have determined to leave some for those who come after me.”
Lisbon Falls, Maine, U.S.A
Today seems very full of very short term pronouncements!
Another interesting and thought provoking read for my Monday morning, thank you! Have you come across the book “The Mother Tree” written by a female Canadian forester/botanist and her discoveries about cutting trees, forests, and what the fungal bodies entwined in the root systems of trees that you mentioned in today’s essay are doing? A fascinating read and with writing like yours and hers, I hope the world starts waking up to what we need to do to keep nature doing what she does best for us and the planet. I would love to walk in that old world oak forest!
Trees talk … it is up to us to listen
I am sure you enjoyed your holiday in Transylvania! What a lovely place to be surrounded by long-ago planning by Saxons. We honor the mighty oak in Raleigh (North Carolina) by its name, the City of Oaks. We live in Cary, next to Raleigh. Both cities with ancestry in lovely England. Thanks for another interesting history lesson.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
A fascinating story, and I find it incredibly humbling to think of the Saxon wisdom all those eons ago. Truly a people spiritually connected with the land and it’s needs. Oak trees are precious on so many levels, above and below the land. Fallen limbs, too, have their purpose.
Another wonderful blog. Thank you!
Charlotte Merriam Cole
Good morning from America!
What a wonderful reading to start my day. And beautiful pictures! My husband’s doctor is from Romania and has spoken about the beauty of the natural landscape there. That’s a place , along with England, that I would love to visit. Autumn is my favorite time of year as the leaves change to such pretty colors. Rich reds and golds with green still peeking through.
There is a place in the state of New Jersey that preserves a natural habitat of trees and woodland. It’s called the Pine Barrens. I have wandered through it and driven through on the main roads all of my life. It’s kind of spooky sometimes, especially at night, but is a great example of nature and definitely needs preservation. Just like how you are saving and nurturing those wonderful oak trees.
Have a lovely week!
Highclere in the Autumn is beautiful
Thank you – it is such a season of colour
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
GOOD AFTERNOON FROM BRAZIL,
MILADY, I AM READING THE BOOK “THE ARCADIAN FRIENDS INVENTING THE ENGLISH LANDSCAPE” BY TIM RICHARDSON AND I REMENBERING THE HISTORY OF MANY LANDSCASPE OF ENGLAND, THERE ARE MANY DELIGHTE HERE. AHHHHHHH LOVELY GARDENS, VERY GOOD, WONDERFUL.THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS UNFORGETABLE PLACE FOR ALL THE PERSONS. YOUR BLOG IS VERY,VERY,VERY INTERESTING I LOVE TREES.
GOOD WEEK FOR YOU.
RIO CLARO – SP
We’re contemplating how to make our yard more earth friendly in Texas. We recently attended a presentation by a husband-wife landscape architecture business who introduced the audience to the history of mowed lawns by showing a picture of Highclere Castle and its lawn, because “everybody knows Downton Abbey.” The information that mowed lawns were something only the wealthy could first afford and therefore a status symbol to have one was not new to me. The ability to have mowed lawns in the US proliferated after the 2nd World War. Probably most of us know by now that due to water scarcity, air pollution/carbon emissions from gas lawnmowers, and the decline of indigenous habitat we should be looking for ways to do “lawn” differently by incorporating less water thirsty plant choices and more wildscape while reducing maintenance-created carbon emissions. Their suggestion was to “flip” the yard by removing the foundation plantings and bringing planting beds out along the street side to provide more privacy while creating patio space for dining and relaxing closer to the house. By choosing native plants, you would increase wildlife benefits as well as reduce water needs, and although you might still maintain a bit of lawn, it would be reduced compared to what’s typically seen. And your front yard becomes something that you would use instead of just something you maintain for the sake of public viewing. Another consideration these days is to design landscape to provide a defense from wildfires, so bringing plants away from the house and keeping the near perimeter of the house hardscaped, gravel mulched, or with short vegetation helps that way as well. We’re lucky to have a a little over an acre with a number of mature oaks, pecans, cedar elms, and cedars, and we have added more oaks and other native trees and plantings, but we still have much of the front lawn put in in the 1970s by former owners. I’ve long wondered about the absence of plantings closer to the castle walls at Highclere, but it would seem ahead of its time and perhaps coming full circle as the rest of the landscape world catches up. I love how you have maintained and cultivated so many wild spaces there while keeping it a functioning agribusiness, and that you promote sustainability in your blogs. While the scale you work with is much grander than the typical homeowners’, finding enjoyment in working with the earth and harmonizing with the nature that surrounds you are goals we all can and many do share. Thanks for using your public platform to inform, entertain, and encourage your readers. Your writing is so relatable and a treat to read.
Thank you very much. I think diversity equates to a harmony …
I felt transported to another place and time reading your blog today. How we sometimes under-rate our predecessors on their expertise and knowledge. We planted an oak sapling 15 years ago and enjoy watching its (slow) progress, even in a relatively small garden. Looking forward to walking through an arboretum this autumn.
I think slow is good!
I had the privileged to be at Highclere on September 4th. I have known of Highclere, the Carnarvon family and of family’s very important connection with Tutankhamun LONG before Downton Abbey. What I was not prepared for was the INCREDIBLE BEAUTY of Highclere’s landscape. My daughter and I sat outside for a very long time enjoying the landscape in complete wonder and enjoyment!!! I would like to add, the refreshments offered were excellent (especially the cakes).
Next, I hope Lady Fiona someone on your staff will alert you to my following comments. I purchased your book entitled, “Egypt at Highclere.” WOW! I have almost two shelves of books regarding Egyptian excavations and I felt your book was exceptional! It gives such an excellent overview of all the aspects of Highclere and Tutankhamun. Your organization, your topics, information, photos, the quality of the printing and most important – the details on the 5th Lord Carnarvon were outstanding, BRAVO. I so enjoyed it. It was pure joy for me.
I believe I have now all the books you have published. You are a very talented and prolific writer. I look forwarded to your next book.
United States of America
You are very kind. I have just finished recording the audio book for the Earl and the Pharaoh – a first for me!!! It has been days … of reading. A really interesting new project for me which I really enjoyed
Congratulations on your very interesting description! Trees and oaks are important and awesome characters in the landscape. “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” ( Napoleon Hill) I hope you didn’t meet Mr Dracula in Transylvania …Enjoy Autumn! Best wishes
I ate very well – that is my other memory|!!!
Lady Carnarvon, the mighty Oak and all trees we must look after and cherish them. We might not get a second chance to do so. Cheryl.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
There is nothing as beautiful as nature no matter the season. It’s interesting, before I read your article this morning, I was staring out the window looking at the large pear trees in the yard and watching two deer frolick about. It’s amazing all the things you notice when you take the time to observe or walk the landscape, woods, or garden.
Thank you for your blog today it was very interesting. We will be planting a few new trees this fall, not oaks, but apricot trees.
Have an enjoyable day,
Approximately 17 years ago, my son conducted his Eagle Scout project at a local park.
I found a partially sprouted acorn from a red oak. I potted it until developed enough to plant outside, in front of our house. It now reaches the second story. I have since moved from that house, but it was so exciting to see it grow from a small acorn. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge.
Lady Carnavon …. many thanks for such an interesting article. I too love oak trees, and this is the time of the year when I collect acorns when I walk through the woods, and plant in pots to grow little trees, which I either give away after two years or I plant back in the woods !! I regularly walk past two oaks I grew and planted out about 30 years ago which are thriving …. very satisfactory !
Now that sounds very cool!
You and the Earl(s) have been intentional about how to preserve the landscape surrounding Highclere. Do you have any specific projects for this next autumn season?
We tend to walk round and see what has and has not worked and make a plan …
This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
September is my fav time to travel to England! Really planning on seeing you again – was our highlight of the trip across the pond!
Dear Lady Carnarvon, I enjoy your posts with so much information that you have researched. I live in the United States but I feel my heart belongs to Europe. I feel each and every time that I read your post that you hav included a part of yourself in them. Thank you for your time and the wonderful information you share. Teresa
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
The beauty of Highclere is on going. The Castle is awesome and the lands show the love and caring for the Estate. Nature is the most wonderful thing we mere humans have. The sad thing is how we are destroying forests that protect and give us so much. The list of things tropical forests give us is amazing. When forests are depleted the homes for so many animals are gone. My home, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, has many many acres of untouched forest but as cities and communities expand these areas are lost forever.
Thank you so much for taking care of what Mothr Nature has let us. Your home is beautiful and enchanting. I hope to be able to visit one day.
Newfoundland and Labrador
What a wonderful story! My husband and I went for a ride and picnic in our Rocky Mountains last Sunday and the colors of the trees were amazing! Fall is my favorite time of year and I love enjoying nature in her finest as so many trees shout out in brilliance. We hope we can enjoy fall at Highclere one day as well!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon!
Those oaks are magnificent and very beautiful indeed. And, apparently, very well looked after. Such a joy. Lovely.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I enjoy your posts very much, this one in particular because I two beautiful oak trees on my property in central California. One is of heritage status (150-200 yrs. old) and the other a mere 50+ yrs. old. At times I get concerned when the wind is high as they both sway so. But they both support a host of urban wildlife and I appreciate them. Wise old guardians of my property.
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for your Monday blog and for taking the time to research and record such an interesting article about oak trees.
I agree with you, people today do not give much thought to maintaining and restoring an oak or any other forest. Seems all they want to do is cut them down to make way for office buildings, residential housing, and shopping centers. Such a waste. Oh well, maybe someday we will realize that we are only harming ourselves and our living environment.
Until next week, keep planting those oak trees.
P.S. You picked a great time to visit Transylvania, with Halloween just around the corner. Sooo, scarry!