Blooming Valentines set to beat the winter blues with 17 per cent more flowers

This year’s milder, calmer and less wet winter has been much kinder to gardens as gardeners and volunteers have found in the Trust’s annual Valentines Flower Count. Continue reading


South West gardens blooming despite the weather for Valentine’s flower count

  • Rare rhododendron in flower for second time in 30 years
  • Snowdrop voted top spring bloom

Surprisingly, the recent unprecedented wet weather seems to have had very little affect so far on National Trust gardens in the South West with the annual spring spectacular already under way.  

Volunteer Hayley Jones helps out at the National Trust's annual valentine's day flower count. Credit Steve Haywood

Volunteer Hayley Jones helps out at the National Trust’s annual valentine’s day flower count. Credit Steve Haywood

Gardeners and volunteers at 23 National Trust places across the South West took part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which first started in Devon and Cornwall in 2006. Continue reading

Weekly Witter: Pests and pestilence at the Chelsea Flower Show

Stop the Spread

No it’s not about butter…but tree pests, diseases and invasive species in general. This is the subject of a ground breaking garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

“The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.”

The National Trust has joined other organisations as a partner in the  Food and Environment Research Agencies  (FERA) garden designed by Jo Thompson to help raise the profile about the increasing threats we face but more importantly what we can all do about them.

The modern world we live in and our globe-trotting lifestyles combined with our increasing desire for ever more exotic food and plants is only increasing the chance of new pests and diseases and non-native species threatening our countryside, woodlands, forests and gardens.

“be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!”

Since 2003 the National Trust has had to spend around £1m to deal with one disease alone, Phytophthora ramorum no small amount for a charity in these challenging financial times. But add in another 14 or so tree pests and diseases including the dreaded news making ‘Ash dieback‘ and the constant battle to keep our waterways and countryside clear of non-native species which sucks in vast amounts of staff time dealing with what is often a ‘fire fighting’ exercise, you can start to see why the Trust wants to help make a difference.

So was born the idea of working with others to raise the profile of these issues at the most famous garden show in the world, which in it’s centenary year is set to be a media show stopper.  But, be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!  If you don’t believe me and you can’t go in person, check out our videos of the garden at or tune in to watch some of the television coverage which will be on BBC2 every evening of Chelsea week.  The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.

But there is beauty as well as we know that this is not a lost cause and we can all do things to help prevent the spread of plant pests and disease.

Here are my top tips of some things we can all do to help ‘Stop the Spread’:

 Taking some simple steps when gardening or buying and planting new trees, can help reduce the risk:

Ask your nursery/garden centre for help: Wherever possible, buy home-grown trees and plants; they’re more likely to be “acclimatised” to our conditions and less likely to be a home for new pests and diseases or non native species. Don’t bring plant material home from holidays abroad.

Buy small and watch it grow.  Semi-mature trees often grown overseas pose a higher risk of introducing pests and diseases. So be patient and plant smaller trees instead – they’ll often establish quicker too.

Right plant; right place.  A healthy tree or plant is less likely to succumb to disease – try to match a tree to its preferred location, type and size of tree, soil type, available space.

Help it to establish itself.  Feed your tree but avoid over-feeding which can lead to vulnerable soft growth. Consider a mycorrhizal fungi planting treatment to encourage healthy root growth. Use a good stake and tie, but don’t strangle your tree!  Lower leaves in contact with the soil risk picking up disease, so remove them when you plant or use a good mulch.

Give it room to grow.  Space trees as widely as possible to ensure good air movement and reduce humidity.  Prune out any dead and diseased branches and dispose of the waste sensibly.

Keep clean.  Pests and disease are easily spread on soil and plant debris attached to footwear or on tools like secateurs and saws, so clean mud and leaves off regularly.

Don’t stop planting. The worst thing we can do is to stop planting trees. Simple measures like those above will help protect our beautiful woodlands and forests in these difficult times.

 Dispose of garden waste responsibly. Compost your waste properly or dispose of in a responsible way. Don’t dump garden or pond waste in the countryside or water courses

Top tip: When buying look for: healthy, vigorous trees and plants, not pot bound, not too much soft growth. Avoid signs of dieback, leaf spotting, insect infestation and mould growth. Look out for other non -native species species hitching a ride.

The team hard at work

The team hard at work

  • Ian Wright is the National Trust’s Gardens Adviser based in the South West of England.  He advises on all things horticultural at the 30 great gardens in the South West. He has built up an extensive knowledge of plant and tree pests and diseases over his 26 years working for the Trust and in more recent times produced guidance for staff aimed at preventing the spread of pests and disease.  Ian describes himself as ‘almost a tender perennial’ and now ‘lacking the appetite for true British winters’ after working in the favoured climate of the South West for so many years.  Potential sponsors take note… Ian’s greatest dream is to design a ‘Gold winning’ show garden for the National Trust at Chelsea…..any offers?
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news, current affairs, and what’s on their minds at the moment.

Valentine’s Day flower count – Late snow pauses spring, but great displays still to come


It comes as no surprise that the recent cold, snowy weather has put a pause on spring as flowering plants and bulbs hold back for warmer temperatures.

Gardeners at 54 National Trust properties across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which first started in Devon and Cornwall in 2006.

In among the snowdrops for this year's flower count at Lanhydrock. Credit Steven HaywoodIt is the South West which is usually the furthest advanced with early spring blooms, but numbers have dropped significantly at several gardens, although there are some encouraging signs of spring with bountiful displays of snowdrops and Camelias at Saltram and masses of spring bulbs at Killerton as well as some stunning displays of magnolias in bloom at Trelissick in Cornwall.

Ian Wright, one of the National Trust’s Gardens Consultant, said:

“It’s the first time since the survey began that some of our gardeners have been out counting flowers in the snow! Temperatures of near freezing didn’t put off our hardy gardeners as they set about the annual flower count.

“In the far West of Cornwall, the Magnolias have started to deliver their spring spectacular, whereas in some high areas of the Cotswolds, few flowers could be seen due to a covering of snow.

The flower count at Hidcote, Gloucestershire

“We are greatly encouraged that this year will see some great snowdrop spectaculars as at Saltram near Plymouth in Devon, and Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge, some fantastic displays are already out.

“Spring therefore is back to a more ‘normal’ time of year, unlike previously when it has been much earlier.

“On the evidence of our count I think that the Magnolias and Rhododendrons may well again be the big success stories this spring due in part to the wet autumn, with fantastic displays expected at Bodnant, Lanhydrock, Trelissick, Trengwainton and Killerton in the coming weeks.”

This year 1,198 plants in bloom were recorded in 17 gardens in Devon and Cornwall compared to 1,745 in 17 gardens in 2012 – a reduction of nearly 46 per cent. In 2008 3,335 plants in flower were recorded, marking the earliest spring so far recorded.

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens & Parks at the National Trust, said:

“On the back of one of the wettest years on record, this past month of icy temperatures and snow followed in some areas by a thaw, have certainly slowed things down in our gardens.

The flower count at Lanhydrock 2. Credit Steven Haywood

“Although the count is down for Valentine’s Day, we can confidently look forward to spectacular displays as time moves on and temperatures gradually start to rise.    

“Comparing the number of plants across our gardens on a set day every year gives us a real insight into how our gardens respond to weather patterns, and is a useful ‘barometer’ for the season ahead.”

The highest number of flowers recorded was at Anglesey Abbey with 234 blooms, while Lanhydrock and Cotehele in Cornwall saw the biggest drop in numbers of bloom (down from 248 to 136 and 228 to 102 respectively).

First case of ash dieback Chalara fraxinea confirmed on National Trust land

The National Trust has confirmed that the first case of ash dieback Chalara fraxinea has been found in new plantings on a four hectare site of its land in the Borrowdale area of Cumbria. 

The conservation charity is one of hundreds of landowners that have confirmed the presence of the disease on its land over the past couple of weeks.

Ian Wright, plant health specialist at the National Trust, said: “Unfortunately ash dieback has now been found at Watendlath in the NorthLakes. 

“This is the first of several sites where suspected cases have been found on Trust land over the past couple of weeks, with the others mainly in the east and south-east of the country.

“Our tree and woodland experts across the country have been working closely with the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) to survey the country looking for signs of the disease, and sadly, it was only a matter of time before we had a case confirmed.

“As a precautionary measure, we started to remove and destroy the 1,000 new plantings, which were less than a metre tall, ahead of diagnosis, to try and safeguard nearby veteran ash pollards – some of which are over 400 years old. 

“The ash trees will be replaced with other species, but our main objective is to do everything possible to try to protect as many of the ash trees as we can in the woods, parks, gardens and farmland that we care for.”

The National Trust cares for 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland and forest throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland with many special places, beautiful woods and ancient trees at risk because of this disease. 

Mr Wright added: “Many of our wooded landscapes may well be dramatically changed by this disease, and we are particularly concerned about the loss of the some of the hundreds of veteran ash trees that we have in our woods and parkland.

“We will continue to implement best practice, as advised by The Forestry Commission and Fera. 

“All the places we look after remain open to the public as normal, but like other landowners we’re advising visitors to follow some simple steps that may help reduce spread of the disease.

“This includes keeping to marked paths when walking through woodland and cleaning mud and leaves from footwear and bike tyres after visiting the countryside.

“Thankfully during the winter and spring the spores are least likely to spread, so we have some breathing space.  We are investigating whether there is any other action we can take to limit the spread next spring or whether there are ways of increasing the resilience of our trees.“

National Trust reaction to the Government’s action plan for tackling ash dieback Chalara fraxinea

Commenting on the Government’s action plan for tackling ash dieback Dr Simon Pryor, Director of Natural Environment at the National Trust, said: “This disease poses a major threat to special places throughout the country and is potentially more devastating to the landscape than the loss of Elm in the 1970s.

“We welcome the Government’s action plan, particularly in identifying clear objectives that will help reduce the spread of the disease.  

“We agree with their immediate commitment to destroy infected young plants and to reduce the rate of spread.  But we are surprised that the Government is saying that it will not be possible to eradicate the disease. 

“Given our limited understanding of this disease in this country, we believe we should keep an open mind as to whether it may be possible to eradicate it, or at least contain it within the core area in the east.  

“Even if we only delay the spread of the disease this will buy us valuable time to establish the next generation of trees and also investigate other means of increasing resistance of mature trees.

“Although the National Trust relies mainly on natural restocking of the 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland in our care, we are putting in place a rapid programme of tracing, checking and destroying any infected newly planted stock that may have been brought in.

“We welcome the protection for veteran ash trees as they provide immensely important habitats for a huge range of plants and animals and are an important part of the UK landscape.  We are pleased to hear the Government stating that it will not require felling of such mature trees at this stage.

“As part of this process we will help identify signs of resistance in ash trees and welcome the opportunity to work with scientists in identifying resistance that may be possible to build up in the UK stock. 

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to further research, but it is vital that funding for these new actions is not simply diverted from existing research on plant health. 

“This is a major new national disaster for our countryside and it will require new resources to tackle it effectively.”

For more information, images, or to request interviews with Dr Simon Pryor, Director of Natural Environment or Ian Wright, Plant Health Specialist please contact Jeannette Heard in the National Trust press office on 01793 817706 or 07884 473396 or email

National Trust statement on Ash Dieback Chalara fraxinea

Following the discovery of the deadly Ash Dieback Chalara fraxinea disease in the East of the country, the National Trust welcomes the fact that the Government has now introduced the ban on the importation of ash trees into the UK which came into force yesterday. 

The Trust is also pointing to the need to provide sufficient investment into tree disease research and more restrictions on plant movement.

It is also working closely with other key organisations and is prioritising the checking of ash trees thought to be currently the most at risk in the South East and East of the country.

Ian Wright, plant health specialist at the National Trust said: “We welcome the Government’s ban on the import of ash trees into the UK.  We are very concerned about what effect this disease will have on a key historic species – and on our landscapes. 

“As well as the threat to ash trees and woods across the country, we are particularly concerned about the risk to some of the magnificent old ash trees in our parkland and ancient woods. We have at least 300 of these on our register of veteran trees and many are over 300 years old. If this devastating disease took hold it would radically change some of our most special landscapes and places forever. These ash trees are also incredibly important for the rich flora and fauna only found on such ancient trees, which includes rare lichens, mosses and wood boring insects.

“A high level focus on tree disease is needed with more funding made available by Government for urgent work on how diseases spread and how to develop greater resilience in our woods.  We also believe there may be a need to put greater restrictions on International European trade in plants to reduce the risk of such disease spread.

“We are working closely with the Forestry Commission (FC), the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) and the Woodland Trust among many others to keep abreast of developments, and will take on board any guidance that is issued.

“We are currently checking the sites we believe to be at most risk in the South East and East of the country, prioritising where our most important ash trees are.

“We have already halted any planned ash tree planting on our land and are now weighing up the risk to ash trees of planting of other species that might be carrying the disease.  Our outdoor teams are already undertaking surveys of their ash trees while leaves are still on them to see if any are showing signs of the disease.  We will be referring any suspected cases to Fera and FC.

“We hope the Government will respond to the calls for an urgent summit to discuss ash dieback.”

Press wishing to interview Ian Wright should contact Jeannette Heard in the National Trust press office on 01793 817706 or 07884 473396 or email


1.  There is an estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK – a third of our entire tree population.  Ash is found throughout the country and grows in most soil types.  It regenerates profusely, and as climate changes, oak and beech woods are likely to become more dependant on ash in the future.

2.   In the early 1990s severe dieback of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) was noted in north-eastern Poland.  Trees of all ages were affected and typically displayed small necrotic patches on their stems and branches which later developed into girdling lesions resulting in wilting of leaves, tip dieback of branches and mortality of trees.   Initially, the cause(s) of the dieback were unclear but a species of Chalara was frequently isolated from lesions on symptomatic trees and by the mid-2000s this was recognised as both a new fungal species Chalara fraxinea and as the primary pathogen involved in the causation of ash dieback.

3.   Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in Britain is the third most commonly recorded broadleaved species highlighted in the most recent Census of Woodlands and Trees, and is the second most widely planted broadleaved tree. Ash is found on a huge variety of site types, calcareous/acid, lowland/upland and throughout the UK.  Ash is an important tree in terms of its timber value and a key component of many habitats and feature of most landscapes.  It is also thought that ash will become a much more extensive and important element of many existing woods as it regenerates profusely and does not appear to suffer serious bark stripping by grey squirrels as do many other native broadleaved species. Because of these valuable characteristics, existing beech woodlands, PAWS restoration areas and even oak woods are likely to become more dependant on ash to survive as healthy and productive broadleaved woodlands.

4.   Since the early 2000s, Chalara fraxinea has spread rapidly across continental Europe with ash dieback now reported from the majority of European countries.  During 2012 interceptions of ash saplings infected with C. fraxinea, were found both in a number of key UK nurseries and shortly after out-planting. The outbreaks/original infection might have occurred as far back as 2009.

5.   Despite the detection of ash dieback in out-planted ash saplings, the pest is not yet considered to be established in the natural environment in the UK, since the infected plants are likely to have harboured the disease prior to planting and there is currently no evidence to indicate that transmission to other trees has occurred. However, the rapid establishment of the pest throughout many European countries, and the existence of appropriate growth conditions for the pest suggest that in the UK the potential for establishment is high and therefore the risk very high.

6.   The National Trust looks after 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland and forest. We also conserve historic parks, gardens, commons and pasture-woodlands, where individual ancient ash trees are a highly prized resource – for their beauty and for the plants and animals growing on them – many of them direct descendants from the original Wildwood. The loss of these individual ash trees would mean the entire loss of these species from a site and even a region.