Little Friars Arboretum in Buckinghamshire is a collection of nearly 200 trees from all over the world planted since 1992.
It was created by Merelene Davis, who many readers will know either from her dedicated and tireless work for the Association in the 1980s and ’90s, when she edited and wrote for the predecessor of this magazine, or as a result of her other projects connected with trees, including the Bucks Tree Club.
Now, Little Friars Arboretum needs your help to maintain and develop the site as a resource for future generations.
Merelene said, ‘Little Friars began for me in 1992 when there was a threat of development opposite our home, so like other neighbours I bought a hectare of land to protect the outlook and planted the majority of it with Christmas fir trees, to recoup the cost. Meanwhile, when I was obtaining trees for the renovation of Petersfield Arboretum (a site I was involved with for many years), in an impromptu moment I would often buy another one for myself and then sometimes found I could not find a suitable spot in our garden and so it ended up where a Christmas tree had been sold!’
In 2009, the Christmas tree venture showed an overall profit so Merelene and her husband Andrew brought in contractors to remove the stumps and, she says, found there were now more than 100 different taxa in what a local magazine dubbed their ‘Accidental Arboretum’.
‘The site is small, so this is never going to be a beautiful, grand collection but I have been content in collecting as interesting a range of genera of trees as possible, which often means they are smaller and slower growing ones too,’ Merelene said.
‘The soil is an unenviable mix of clay with flints laid down in the Cretaceous Period and occasional chalk pockets are encountered on this north facing slope of a valley that runs west to east, so it is rather a wind tunnel for the prevailing wind. In the somewhat Spartan conditions at Little Friars, the trees that have surprised me with their vigour are Malus hupehensis, the Prunus species generally, Parrotia persica, Phellodendron chinense and particularly Phellodendron amurense var. sachalinense and a magnificent Zelkova serrata, which in the early days had to be propped against the prevailing wind.
‘Little Friars has proved an interesting open-air classroom for me in so many ways and developing the tree collection is really fascinating. We hold a Dendro Day every March during which we plant a rare tree at Little Friars, and I hope we can offer the arboretum as a learning resource to many more people, but to do that we now need help from other tree enthusiasts in the Chesham area.’
Can you offer occasional practical help with the maintenance of Little Friars? Merelene would welcome support from any Association members. Please email the Association at email@example.com and we will pass your details on.
Much of the information here is from an article Merelene wrote for The Dendrologist. Read more at www.dendrology.org/publications/gardens-and-arboreta/little-friars-arboretum-2015.
This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.