Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Wild services at Kew Gardens

In November 2009, three wild service trees (Sorbus torminalis) were planted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to mark the institution's 250th anniversary.  The trees were a gift from Henry Girling, who had grown them from seed, on behalf of the Arboricultural Association.

Details of the event and some background to the tree are given in a case study from Parkwood here: http://www.parkwoodconsultancyservices.co.uk/CaseStudy.aspx?casestudyid=26

The reason for choosing wild services (which I am sure are already flourishing at Kew and their Sussex outstation Wakehurst Place) seems to be that they are one of the less well-known native trees and they are described as having "long, but often forgotten, links to Britain's past."  There are many far rarer trees native to Britain, but it is good to see the wild service getting a high profile as it has often done in the past 40 years or so.

Parkwood explain the tree's links with Chequers pubs and the uses of the fruit in drinks and for desert and they say that "in the past, many wild service trees were coppiced ... to produce a fresh crop pf poles used to make everything from tools to houses to charcoal."  I have come across coppiced wild services from time to time, but I think there was no intent with this to produce wood with particular qualities - they could simply have been cut along with everything else in the wood that could be coppiced.  Special uses of wild service wood like making the striking portion of flails, crossbow and gun stocks, combs, musical instruments, harpsichord jacks and suchlike would normally have been taken from timber from mature trees.

Some of the other notions, such as Parkwood's explanation of the species' poor reproductive abilities are, in my view, rather wide of the mark, but the account of the tree is better than many I have seen and the three planted at Kew will certainly help to keep the species in the public eye during their lifetime.

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