Tag Archives: trees

A Spring Trip To Asia (and the rest of the world) via Roath ( Part One) 

We are well into June – so this is a bit of a retrospective – in fact exactly a month ago today! – but as with all walks in the company of Terry Davies and Malcolm Fraser, their annual Tree Walks are very memorable and should  be compulsory in everybody’s diary! 

Notice of Spring Walk

Having spent the week prior to this immersed in my daughter’s offer of a permanent job in Hong Kong it was appropriate that Asia featured highly on the agenda.

It was a chance to de-stress with these two horticultural therapists whose in depth knowledge of trees and shrubs in Roath Park’s botanic gardens is both stimulating and soothing.

Running late as usual I caught up with them standing in the sunshine pointing out the aptly named Chilean Lantern tree from South America. Its’ beautiful perfectly formed red lantern-like flowers are bountiful and you immediately feel a sense of satisfaction at the privilege of seeing it in all its beauty hidden away in the borders opposite the cherries and rose garden. 

Chilean Lantern Tree

Its’ neighbour, dressed in another bright primary colour – is the yellow-flowered Barberry from Turkey – a country which straddles the continents of Europe and Asia. 

Yellow flowering Barberry

Alleged to have come from Judea in Asia minor is a tall willowy Judas tree covered in bright pink. With its perfectly formed heart shape leaves it is not surprising that it is also known as a Love’ tree. 

Judas Tree

Some say its’ name ‘Judas tree’ derives from the myth that it was the tree from which judas iscariot hanged himself.  

Looking very cool in the background nearby and coming from from cooler central China is a large leaved architectural plant called the Loquat. It fills a space in the border quite unobtrusively. It has white flowers in late Summer and would normally fruit later in the year but not in this country.

The leaves are about a foot long and a gorgeous rich dark green with a white slightly furry underside.


Turning to walk alongside the borders of the rose garden we pass 50 year old bushes with their roots surfacing in the poor soil. Andy and Anne Bell’s website is such a treat – read here about the –  Rose Garden history with photos

My favourite roses are two red climbers – Ena Harkness & Dublin Bay, both of which are at the far end of the rose garden.

Ena Harness – heavily scented tea rose

Moving further along the border is another thorny plant –  a hardy spiky shrub from Uraguay and Brazil, called Colletia Paradoxa Which is alsoknown by the descriptive names of ‘crucifixian thorn’ And ‘jet plane ‘ plant! 

Beware spikes!
Jet plane plant

We learn that they grow strongly and are never damaged by frost. Their white flowers in September and October are strongly scented and are useful for insect pollinators. 

Within sight of this rare ‘leave me alone’ type of plant is the beautiful feathery ‘look at me’ pink of the Tamarisk Tree from North Africa- it is gales resistant and often found near the seashore as it can be used to stabilise sand dunes, enjoying a high salt content soil.

It is a lot to take in and Terry speeds up the process by mentioning  three trees in one breath….the first is the from Asia –  the white Himalayan Birch from China standing next to two trees from the USA – the Kentucky Coffee Tree and the large leavedMagnolia Maceophylla  which can have leaves of up to 3 feet long and white flowers up to 14 inches across.

Kentucky Coffee Tree f/g, Magnolia Macrophylla b/g
Himalayan Birch

Further along on the corner is the Kaki tree – also known as the Chinese ( or Japanese) persimmon. It is native to China, Burma and India and this particular tree was planted in memory of the Italian Head Gardener of Roath Park – Giovanni. Terry remembers him well and his stories of his home town near Naples. He used to enjoy relating the tradition of how when someone got married in Italy two trees would be planted either side of the new couple’s home – a peach and a persimmon. He loved eating the orangey fruit which were always best when allowed to riped fully on a warm windowsill. They are quite astringent and not to everyone’s taste. The trade name for the non-astringent variety is sharon fruit.

Chinese persimmon
The beds near the rose garden really should be named Magnolia Heaven as including the champion tree –  the Magnolia  Virginiana (also known as Sweetbay Magnolia) from North America  – which flowers May to June followed by a fruit which ripens to show bright red seeds which lasts until February, there is a vast array of different other types. 

The Friends of Roath Park facebook page – fRiends of Roath Park has a picture of the Magnolia Denudata – or Lily Tree in all its’ March glory. Its’ flowers were regarded as a symbol of purity in the Chinese Tang Dynasty. It was planted in the grounds of the Emperor’s palace and is the official flower of Shanghai. 

Another tree nearby is the Magnolia Acuminata  from the USA which is also known as the Cucumber Tree due to the shape of its fruit.

So onwards and with leaves similar to a Mountain Ash, the Yellowhorn is  a very attractive bush, or small tree. It bears sprays of elegant white flowers on bare branches in May or June. 

Yellowhorn in flower
Reading more about this plant from the Kew website it says how the director at Kew in 1897 described it as Xanthoceras sorbifolium ‘…one of the most attractive and interesting hardy garden shrubs that has been introduced for many years’. It was originally collected near Beijing in about 1830 by the botanist Alexander von Bunge (1803–1890), when he was accompanying an overland mission to the capital from St Petersburg. It was brought into cultivation in Europe in 1868, when the botanist and missionary Père David (1826–1900) sent seeds and live plants to the Jardin des Plante, which is the main botanical garden in France.Roath Botanic Gardens  isn’t quite the 28 hectares of the French gardens but in such a small space you get a real taste of World nature.


Cardiff’s Bute Park – National Tree Week, Nov 2016

What immediately comes to mind when you attempt to  distinguish Cardiff as a city? Maybe its’ Victorian shopping arcades, bay and barrage, resplendent castle (currently adorned  with a hideous Christmas tree)  hallowed rugby ground or renowned civic centre? The fact that it has the largest collection of trees – or Arboretum – in a municipal park in the UK is not at the forefront – yet it should be . Cardiff is a true tree mecca for trees and Bute park’s tree collection – although not comparable to the enormity of Westonbirt arboretum in England is certainly worth visiting for its superb variety. Why aren’t Cardiff Council tweeting it from the treetops?

The tower blocks of Nature that are our trees in Cardiff parks are in part thanks to the building work (or rather planting work) of two men who led the recent walk in Bute Park as part of National Tree Week founded in 1975 by the Tree Council –  http://www.treecouncil.org.uk. Malcolm Frazer and Terry Davies are welcoming and inspirational and keen to share their deep knowledge of trees and shrubs with anyone who is prepared to listen  – often indulging in a bit of playful banter that would make Laurel and Hardy proud.

As a complete tree novice  I am embarrassed to admit that I often won’t recognise the most common British trees which surround our daily travels on foot through our parks or by car along our city streets. (By the way – Terry informs us – Did you know that Cardiff has quite a reputation for experimenting with roadside tree planting? )

Terry And Malcolm hope that by explaining the importance of our trees they  will lay new foundations to them being treasured and replenished so their lifelong work will continue for the next generations. In these times of council budget cuts, traffic congestion, air pollution and fast-paced city life it is vital that we preserve our green spaces. The trees and parks offer us true mindfulness and deserve nurture and respect. I have  recently come across this Greek proverb  – A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’ which makes you think. We all need to take responsibility and contribute to the continuation of planting for the future by supporting local ‘ friends’ groups such as the Friends of Bute Park – https://friendsofbutepark.com and  Roath Park – http://friendsofroathpark.weebly.com. to name just a couple. The knowledge is there if you look for it and no more so than amongst the pages of the fantastic web resource continually enhanced and developed by Anne and Andy Bell – Cardiffparks.org.uk

Terry and Malcolm’s genuine enthusiasm is catching and once you have been on one of their walks you will want to join them every time.This Spring and Autumn their walks focused on Roath Park and the bright sunny Autumn brought a huge crowd. Narional Tree Week is a bit more wintry but the Autumn colours still remain and some of the UK and Welsh champions they have planted still look magnificent.

Terry (L) Malcolm (R)
They explain that a tree earns the title of ‘champion’ if it is taller or if the girth of its’ trunk is bigger than any other tree of its kind. We learn that in Bute park there are more than 2000 trees, 43 UK champions and 176 Welsh champions.

The journey begins as we cross the Millenium Bridge into the park. Either side, like two sentries is the the Swamp Cypress(Taxodium Distichum) on the right and the Caucasian Wingnut (Pterocarya) on the left.  The Wingnut is from the Walnut family but Terry explains that unlike the walnut, the wood of the Wingnut is too light for joinery. Tended by Terry, this particular one, although a good size, is less than 60 years old. He explains that its’ girth will continue to increase year on year but it has reached its’ maximum height.

The outstretched branches of the Caucasian Wingnut

Swamp Cypress – a tall deciduous conifer
We stop to look at the champion birch tree ‘Betula fetisowii’  planted in 1967 by Terry  – Malcolm explains that this area is known as the ‘Birch collection.’

Betula ‘fetisowii’ ( Betula = birch)
The self renewing white, copper and silvery bark of these almost unassuming ghostly birch trees glisten in the winter sunshine and offer good contrasting winter colour. We learn that the ‘River Birch’ bark has been used used in the past for making parchment and the papier mache-like waterproof lining of canoes.

The grouped plantings of trees are impressive in the park – there are apple trees with tiny red crab apples still in fruit, a line of curvy-trunked magnolias and an array beautifully coloured rowans.

Trees have much history and myths attached to them and we look up in awe at the shimmering golden Gingko with its perfect fan like leaves clinging on proudly. Famed for their wellbeing properties, Terry explains that the Gingko tree’s make-up is a complicated chemical one – so much so even insects tend to give its’ leaves a wide berth!

The bright yellow Gingko leaves of Autumn
Trees are grouped into classes and we learn that the Gingko trees are in a class of their own – they are ‘monotypic’. Their remains have been found in fossils 270 million years ago at the time of the dinosaurs and they were the only survivors of nature following the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
Originating in China, Gingko is revered in Asia and is planted around the temples of Japan. In Cardiff both male and female Gingkos thrive.  They attract foragers who scoop up their leaves to infuse and drink as tea or gather their fallen berries to use in stir fries or soups. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.  A Chinese lady I met in Roathmill gardens explained how this year has been particularly good for the Gingko nuts ( the berries) . She believed in their health enhancing properties but warned me to check on the internet before I consider adding them to my diet as consuming too many can poison you!

There is a fantastic range of trees from all around the world in Cardiff – and here in Bute Park we are shown the Chinese ‘handkerchief’ tree (latin – Davidia involucrata) I love its’ name which aptly describes the hanging papery leaves in Spring. It has yellow balls of fruit on it now. We are told that there are four of these trees in Bute Park and two in Roath Park. There is a memorial stone in front of this one and it reads – ‘given by American born Chinese to British born Chinese’ which reflects the diversity of Cardiff.

Handkerchief tree (right)
There are many varieties of beautiful Japanese Acers in the park and the Autumn bright orange of this Acer palmatum shishigara stands out –

Acer shishigara
We head on past a great Yew tree and Malcolm explains that in the past churches grew around Yews ( not the other way around!)as religious buildings often took over pagan sites. There are hundreds of ancient yew trees dating back at least 600 years across Britain, but the 60-foot-wide giant at St Cynog’s in Wales is believed to be the most ancient at 3000 years old. Terry remembers the hard work he undertook as an apprentice gardener in Insole Court trimming the Yew hedges.  They used to have to load up Yew trimmings as they would be collected by a local pharmaceutical company for ‘taxol’ a chemical founf in the Yew tree and used today in chemotherapy cancer treatment.

As we pass a variegated Holly  – an ilex aquifolium – Malcolm points out two holly tree ‘champions’ and explains that in pagan times holly (together with yew and ivy) represented  Life in the darkness of Winter. Holly wreaths would ward off evil spirits.

I am getting to recognise some of the Latin names – at least the first word of a tree’s name as it is the name of the group to which it belongs. A holly’s name always starts with the word ‘ilex’ There are so many varieties and Malcolm  points out lovely variegated leaves.

Variegated holly
Terry and Malcolm are experts in tree family history and, as a learner, one of the most surprising families to me – is the the ‘legumes’ family. (why French? ) The question is – how can trees be vegetables??!

More on that next time……