Wood you be-leaf it: Argyll grows the UK’s tallest tree (almost)

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As autumn appears, leaf colours will begin to change and Scotland’s woodlands will put on a stunning seasonal show.

From September 28 until December 1, the Scottish Tree Festival is celebrating the importance of these giants of nature to our lives and our landscape.

Ardkinglas Woodland Garden near Loch Fyne will be one of the locations where visitors can explore some of the finest tree collections, and enjoy the spectacle as the canopy changes from green to gold and scarlet.

Ardkinglas is home to a number of Champion Trees, the tallest or broadest of their species in Britain.

‘Ardkinglas’ favourable growing conditions lead to the exceptional size and longevity exhibited by many of the coniferous species introduced to this area of the garden via the 19th century plant-hunters,’ explains the estate’s website.

‘The Champion Trees at Ardkinglas also include ‘the mightiest conifer in Europe’, a remarkable European Silver Fir (Abies alba) with a girth of nearly 10 metres.’

The gardens’ Grand Fir (Abies grandis) was once the tallest tree in Britain for a number of years, but has now been overtaken.

‘The tree was planted as a sapling 135 years ago, around 1875,’ the estate says: ‘Other events around that time include the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrating his telephone to Queen Victoria, and Tchaikovsky completing the music for Swan Lake.

‘It regained the title when it was climbed in 2010 and measured at 64.28m, but has recently lost it again.

‘The title of Britain’s tallest tree has changed hands three times in the last year.

‘Currently a Douglas Fir in Reelig Glen Wood west of Inverness holds the crown, and is the tallest tree found in Northern Europe. Measured in November, it is agreed to be 66.4m tall, which is 217 feet and 10 inches.’

Dozens of gardens and estates, from Wester Ross to the Borders, are taking part in the festival including Armadale Castle on Skye.

The 40-acre garden surrounding Armadale Castle, once the ancestral seat of the Macdonalds of Sleat and home  to the Museum of the Isles, is recognised for its exotic and historic collection of trees.

This year the south Skye garden is playing a new role, fitting for the 21st century, by helping to support the conservation of endangered tree species around the world.

Through a new collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Armadale’s gardens will be linked with the International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) as a satellite garden for threatened plant material.

Armadale will become part of a network of ‘safe sites’ where endangered tree species are able to flourish.

‘Conifers are of major importance worldwide, and over 34 per cent of all conifer species are threatened,’ Armadale’s website said.

‘This living collection of endangered species will contribute to the ICCP’s vital research about endangered species, and potentially be used for conifer restoration programmes.

‘Armadale Castle is set to receive over 100 young conifers this year, and several dozen shrubs, all of which are under threat of extinction.

‘Many of the plants originate from material collected in Chile. Among them are Fitzroya cupressoides, a large and long lived cypress-like conifer, and Saxegothaea conspicua, ‘Prince Albert’s yew’, an attractive conifer from Chile’s forests.

‘Others include Abies firma, ‘Japanese fir’; Abies pinsapo var. marocana, ‘Spanish fir’; and Pinus koraiensis, ‘Korean pine’.’

Joanna Macpherson, director of Discover Scottish Gardens, said: ‘Against the backdrop of COP26 taking place in Glasgow, trees have never been more important and Scotland not only has a unique legacy of historic trees, but through careful conservation and replanting, this country’s tree cover is increasing once again.

‘The festival allows us to celebrate the place of trees in our lives, to enjoy their beauty and to explore how we can make more of them in our own gardens.’

A full list of events is available from discoverscottishgardens.org

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Caption: One of Ardkinglas’ monumental trees: a European Silver Fir (Abies alba) with a girth at the waist/narrowest point of nearly 10 metres.