February 26, 2024

The Redwood

Driving down the hill in the middle of the park towards the crossroads, a stately spreading Cedar of Lebanon marks the place where visitors turn left and make their way up the drive eagerly looking for a glimpse of turrets and towers. For those of us more accustomed to the view, the natural landscape of cedars and oaks is equally admirable. The cedars were brought back from the Middle East in the 18th century, trees of myth and stature yet those who planted them never saw them – just dreamt of them as their gift to the future. Look to your other side however and there is a Redwood Tree.

A century later, another Englishman, William Lobb, was travelling in the USA. He worked for the famed nursery James Veitch & Sons which was the largest family-owned plant nursery business in Europe in the 19th century. Lobb had heard stories of towering trees in California’s Sierra Nevada range and was determined to see them for himself.

On exploring the area, he found ninety immense trees and reported back that one of the felled trees had once stood 300ft high with a girth of 29ft. They may not be the tallest but they are the heaviest and it is thought some may live to be 3000 years old. Lobb was certain that there was a potential market for such exceptional trees among Veitch’s clients in England and he thus collected seeds, specimens and two small living saplings and returned in haste to England.


Arriving back in December 1853, Lobb took his samples and sketches to John Lindley of the Horticultural Society who named the new introduction Wellingtonia gigantea to commemorate the lately deceased Duke of Wellington. This “giant amongst trees” was considered an appropriate memorial for such an important British historical figure.

The 4th Earl of Carnarvon enthusiastically planted this new species both in the parkland and to form part of an avenue which was to lead from the little cemetery chapel towards the church through rather wet ancient woodland.

Meanwhile Dr Albert Kellogg, the founder of the California Academy of Sciences, had thought to name the tree the ‘Washingtonia’ in honour of America’s revered first President but had not yet completed a set of herbarium specimens to register the newly named species. He was too late for this particular tree but nevertheless he was a key figure in recognising and naming the diverse genus of his country. An accomplished illustrator of botanical specimens, he published “The Forest Trees of California” in 1882.

In the spirit of botanical compromise, a Latin name was proposed instead: Sequoia gigantea. In 1847 a German botanist named Stephen Endlicher had named the coastal redwood trees Sequoia sempervirens in honour of Cherokee Chief Sequoya.  In the 20th century, however, botanists concluded the coastal redwood and giant redwood were not one genus and a variation, Sequoiadendron giganteum, was chosen to link and differentiate the species.

Geordie and I have also planted a new sequoia/ Wellingtonia / Washingtonia in the parkland not far from the one planted 150 years ago. We have done it in memory of and to support a USA charity called TAPS which helps bereaved serving families. Hopefully in another 200 years it too might begin to touch the sky.

In any case these extraordinary trees were part of the landscape long before human kind either lived, named or wrote about them.