THORP Perrow is seen as being a unique setting as it was created and developed by one man. In doing so, Sir Leonard Ropner did it in a way that suited him – it was what he wanted, rather than being directed by outside influences.

He was meticulous in his record-keeping of tree plantings, mapping out each one and keeping photographs. However, it took until the 1970s and Sir Leonard’s passing before this hidden gem became better known to the public.

The trees he collected in the garden surrounding his family home had been planted with no great system from an arboricultural point of view but just in a manner that he liked.
The garden had become overgrown and in need of attention and it was Sir Leonard’s son, Sir John Ropner, who sought expert opinion as to what to do with it. The advice he was given was to ensure the garden with its tree collection was protected and preserved at all costs, such was the importance of it.

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This goal was achieved with a grant from the Department of the Environment and an agreement that the garden, its trees and the ancient woodland were opened up to allow public access. Sir John and his wife along with team at Thorp Perrow worked tirelessly to build on his father’s legacy and increased the size of the arboretum to 100 acres. During the 1980s many new trees and shrubs were planted and added to the existing trees.

It is recorded that the 1,750th tree planting at Thorp Perrow was completed in July 2006 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arboretum. It is now home to five National Plant Collections and 50 Champion Trees. Sadly, Sir John died in 2016 but the work continues at Thorp Perrow through his son Henry, his wife and Sir John’s widow.

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The arboretum is laid out in a number of sections, with each being connected by a series of pathways, walks and tree-lined avenues. There are trees from right across the world and these, depending on the time of year, offer a wonderful colour vista to visitors. In autumn, when you walk down the main avenue, you see the stunning red colours of Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ trees set against the green of Italian alders (Alnus cordata).

To maximise the impact of autumnal colours, there are a series of ‘autumn bays’. Autumn bay 1 has a series of Cotinus (smoke) trees, which are part of the National Collection of this species. Autumn bay 2 contains Acer griseum trees, which offer visitors a chance to see both colours and peeling bark. Autumn bay 3 has Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ trees and autumn bay 4 has more examples of Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ trees.

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I visited Thorp Perrow in October last year and was able to witness this first-hand. The purchasing of the tree catalogue, which is available at the entrance to the arboretum, is a necessary purchase if you wish to identify the various trees on show.

There are five National Plant Collections at Thorp Perrow. These include: ash (Fraxinus) with 26 species, eight cultivars, and 44 taxa; walnut (Juglans) with eight species, six cultivars, and 14 taxa; lime (Tilia) with 32 species, 12 cultivars, and 44 taxa. Each of these three have been held in the collection since 1991. To this, a Laburnum collection of four species, 12 cultivars and 21 taxa was added in 2001 and, a year later, Cotinus (smoke bush) with two species, 15 cultivars, and 27 taxa was added to complete the five.

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12 of the trees to be found within these collections are also Champion Trees as defined by the Tree Register, a charity that collects and records details of such trees throughout the United Kingdom. A Champion Tree Trail is marked out with examples of some of these trees. The first to be found is just down from the tearoom.
Tree one on this trail is Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’, which was formed as a result of a graft hybrid between a Laburnum and Cytisus, with characteristics of both. Interestingly, it flowers with both yellow flowers from the Laburnum and purple flowers from the Cytisus. It is the largest and tallest of this tree type in the country.

Tree number eight was a Champion Tree on my list to find – a Ligustrum sinense, also a champion for being the tallest of its kind in the country. It was really this tree’s appearance, with its contorted stem, that I wanted to see up close. Apparently, from what I have read, this does not occur naturally with this tree species but rather has happened to this particular tree at Thorp Perrow. This species originates from China and is covered in white flowers during the summer. Walking on, you go through the lime avenue with many trees that were planted in 1931.

Two lime trees, just at the end of the avenue, are recorded as Champion Trees. Numbered 9 and 10 on the trail, both come from China. The first is a Tilia Paucicostata tree and the second a Tilia tuan. Three walnut trees come next, including Juglans regia subsp. Fallax, a tree noted for producing very hard walnuts. Beech and ash trees come next before Champion Tree 17, a pumpkin ash (Fraxinus tomentosa), comes into view.

This tree is a native to eastern North America and I was struck by its size and shape.

Next to this is a Siberian or dwarf Elm (Ulmus pumila), which represents one of the few members of the species resistant to Dutch elm disease. Other trees on the trail that I found particularly interesting included a big-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata), a fast-growing but short-lived tree species from North America, and a big-coned dragon spruce (Picea asperata var ponderosa), which is an extremely endangered Chinese species.

The Populus ‘North West’ tree towards the end on the Champion Tree Trail is the tallest and largest in the country. This is the last of the Populus trees planted in the 1800s. 30 of the 50 Champion Trees are highlighted in the Thorp Perrow Tree Trails booklet, which is another purchase worth making before exploring this wonderful arboretum. Each tree has a numbered plastic tag for identification purposes, while each champion tree is identified with a blue plaque.

These trees and those identified in the other two trails in this booklet, the National Collection’s Tree Trail and the Veteran Tree Trail, are all to be found growing side by side as you walk through the arboretum. Those selected for inclusion in this booklet certainly offer visitors a real cross-section of the trees at Thorp Perrow.


The first of the National Tree Collections the visitors come across is the Laburnum Collection, with some of the trees having been planted in the 1930s but also one that was planted as recently as 2006. Laburnum alpinum ‘Newryensis’ was grown from propagation materials from another collection, with the suggestion in the Tree Trails booklet that this donor ‘mother’ tree may have subsequently died, making this the only one of its kind in the country.

The timing of my visit was certainly opportune to view the National Collection of Cotinus or smoke bushes, which have stunning autumnal foliage. They are planted mostly together in autumn bays so the glory of the colours can be enjoyed to the fullest. Following on from the Cotinus Collection is the Ash National Collection with the most striking to view, by visitors, perhaps being the Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’, a tall tree with red and purple flowers, stunning in the autumn.

The National Collection of Walnuts contains a number of rare species, with plantings back to the 1980s. There are two large examples of this species to be found growing in the arboretum, a black walnut (Juglans nigra) and a California black walnut (Juglans californica). The first is an example of the walnut family that is commercially grown for its wood and fruit but, as a species, is under threat from cankers disease. The second is under pressure in its natural environment from both overdevelopment by man and overgrazing by animals.

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The final of the five collections on view to visitors is the National Collection of Limes.

Some of the collection form part of the lime tree avenue while others are found at its end. Many of this collection were planted in the 1930s. One of the rarest is a Tilia tuan, which has reached a height of around 30 metres and has been growing at Thorp Perrow since 1936.

The Veteran Tree Trail at Thorp Perrow contains some special trees, all of which are identified by a brown plaque. The first on this trail is a yew tree (Taxus baccata). Examples of this species are normally quite aged wherever they are found. The tree here is an example of a multi-stemmed yew. While the Tree Trails booklet does not mention its age it does inform readers that the area of the arboretum where it grows dates back to medieval times.

The second tree demonstrates the work that is undertaken to protect these veteran trees at this arboretum. The Fagus sylvatica var. heterophylla has a brace high up in its crown to help stabilise its various stems. There has been selective pruning carried out to allow the wind, which could cause fatal damage, to pass through the crown with more ease. Two 19th-century-planted pine trees, big in all respects of girth and height, come next.
Interestingly, a dead tree has been included on the Veteran Tree Trail. Now just a large stump, it dates to the 16th century. Although it has succumbed to Armillaria (honey fungus disease), it still provides a home to a wide variety of small insects and plants. It certainly makes you stop and look at it as you wander along the trail. Even though it is dead it is still full of life.

Not surprisingly, the Milbank Pinetum, which was created in the 1800s with a large collection of imported seeds from North America, has two striking and towering veteran trees which form part of the trail. There is a multi-stemmed coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) with a girth of approaching five metres which was planted in the 1850s. The other is a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) of a slightly wider girth that was planted at the same time.

Three English oaks (Quercus robur) are of veteran status. Of the three, the Catherine Parr oak has a long history attached to it. This tree, which grows serenely nearby the Millennium Lake, has a planting date of 1534. This is an original parkland tree planting, planted in the same year that Catherine Parr married local landowner Baron Latimer of Snape.

After his death, she married King Henry VIII and was the wife that outlived this famous Tudor king. This tree is quite young compared to the age that some of this species can live to. The girth of it though is an impressive 12 metres. The tree’s future is being managed to ensure its survival. Its crown has been reduced through carrying out retrenchment pruning, the purpose of which is to allow the tree to naturally regenerate itself.

There is another dead tree, a beech (Fagus sylvatica), that succumbed due to disease and weather in 2011. It is now a 5-metre-tall stump which has become home to plant life including a rare fungus, once again demonstrating how even a dead veteran tree is worthy of a place on the tree trail. Two Japanese cherry trees from the 1930s can also be found on the trail. One is an Oshima cherry (Prunus speciosa), a very rare tree to find in Great Britain. The other is a weeping cherry (Prunus X subhirtella var. ascendens), which offers a wonderful spring-flowering display.

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Finally, there are three Jubilee oaks, each with a royal connection. The oldest was planted to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V, while the other two are associated with Queen Elizabeth II – one commemorating her Golden Jubilee and the other her Diamond Jubilee. There is also an example of a weeping giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘pendulum’) which was planted in 1991 by the Royal Forestry Society.

It is not hard to see why the tree collection at Thorp Perrow is considered one of the most important in the United Kingdom. It also has more to offer visitors with a bird of prey and mammal centre offering daily flying displays and an interesting collection of animals to see. This shows that Thorp Perrow is more than just an arboretum. It is an all-round family visitor attraction and definitely worth the visit.