Back in the 1870’s when the original designs were being finalised for the Atholl Hydropathic Hotel’s 50 odd acres of grounds it’s tempting to speculate on what the surrounding area might have looked like. Black spout wood would certainly have had some sort of tree canopy and the triangle of land between the hotel, the bothy and Highways is classified as ancient woodland so it would have had some trees as well. The lower slopes of what is now the Palace gardens would possibly have been grazing ground but whatever it’s use it most certainly wasn’t designed landscape as it has been since the hotel was finished.
A gardening team with vision (led by a Mr Simpson we think) sculpted the banks and planted what was described in 2008 as “an undiscovered arboreteum”. The trees they planted were the same as many of the big houses and estates were planting (Atholl, Murthly, Dunkeld House) as we were at the tail end of the period of returning Scottish collectors like David Douglas and Archibald Menzies bringing back exotic trees and shrubs and anyone who was anyone (with money) wanted a selection of the newest species to impress their neighbours.
But time moves on and trees grow and get old. Some trees like the Giant Redwood, beech and oak, to name a few, live to great age and after 150yrs or so they are mere young things in tree terms. Other’s, the pioneering type of tree, only live for 60 to 100yrs then they die and another generation takes over. Birch and rowan come to mind in this category. And straddling all these types we get trees, which get hit by disease and die. Various fungi hit the roots and stems and eventually these trees become weak and blow over. In an good biodiverse woodland it’s suggested that the ideal structure is 60% living, 20% dead but standing and 20% dead and fallen. That is fine in a natural woodland but in most designed landscapes the dead and the dying need to be removed for safety and aesthetics…..and so to the whole point of this month’s diary.
Over the last couple of years we have had to remove the lime avenue of 25 or so trees. For whatever reason these trees had become infected by a fungus affecting their roots and were dangerous. The few that had already blown over had virtually no root system to anchor them. Following on from that we removed an avenue of rhododendrons which had reverted from their original Victorian colour to rootstock, ponticum purple. So the view from the hotel looks more open. Ben Vrackie can be seen again, the front banks look less shaded, different shrubs will now be able to grow in the lighter atmosphere. But we are not ransacking the grounds for firewood as one walker suggested, far from it. We have a plan to replant the driveway avenue over the next few years. We are constantly planting species trees throughout the grounds but it will take time to see these trees at their best….long after the present team have gone. In 30yrs time there will still be many grand trees from the early plantings (hardly a wink in their timespan) but there will be many more species rowans, birches and flowering cherries which we are planting in good numbers every year. There will also be a new driveway avenue but the species for that has not yet been finalised. The Palace grounds are changing and evolving. They always have been.