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Cliveden Special Trees

Cliveden was originally built in 1664 for the second Duke of Buckingham. The house took on its current Italianate form in 1850 during the ownership of the Duke of Sutherland, and was bought and embellished by its most notable owner - Lord Astor - in 1893. Now it belongs to the National Trust.

Canning Oak - photo by Janet PullenCanning Oak

The most famous tree on the estate is the Canning Oak. Lord Canning who became Prime Minister in 1827 was a frequent visitor and is said to have spent hours seated beneath this tree enjoying the view of the Thames. Sadly the Canning Oak is now an ex-tree. It finally fell in 2004 nearly 200 years after his visits but its trunk is still there and the view is still breath-taking.

Boathouse Sycamore

Boathouse Sycamore - photo by Janet PullenThis tree grows to the south-west of the hotel, just off the free tourist site map.
A long way from the sophisticated splendour of the house, in maybe the most idyllic part of Cliveden, right next to the boathouse; the tree has unusually shaped branches which add to its grandeur. It towers to 28m and its girth is 6.4m, not ranking as a Champion, but it is a great beauty.

The painter Sir Stanley Spencer who spent most of his life in Cookham, on the far side of the river, said of this area:

"You can't walk by the river at Cliveden Reach and not believe in God".

Sassafras Sassafras - photo by Janet Pullen

Like the Boathouse Sycamore the Sassafras trees are off the edge of Cliveden's site map, this time behind the Gas Yard, lurking in the centre of the over-flow car park to your left as you drive through.

This North American species has many medicinal and culinary uses, including the flavouring of root beer and Gumbo. More sinisterly Sassafras oil is used in the manufacture of the drug Ecstasy and in Cambodia wholesale uprooting of Sassafras trees and tree-felling to fuel illegal factories are a real threat to the rainforest.
Sassafras leaves - photo by Janet Pullen

The special feature of this tree is that its leaves are not all alike. There may well be leaves with 1, 2, or 3 lobes on a single branch.

Chimney Tree - photo by Janet Pullen

Chimney Tree

In the Gas Yard, at the far end on the right, is a very peculiar tree. This area was built to accommodate wagons bringing coal for the gas plant. The chimney was disguised as a tree trunk as part of Lord Astor's innovations of 1893 and is still fooling the casual observer in 2009. On first sight, in winter, it had project volunteer Janet fooled!

Battle Trees

There is a story in historic reconstruction circles that Lord Orkney planted trees at Cliveden which reflect the battle order at the battle of Blenheim. The Earl of Orkney was second in command to Lord Marlborough at Blenheim, where in 1704 theFrench were "masterfully defeated" and Orkney certainly revelled in this great victory. At Cliveden which was then his home, he built The Blenheim Pavilion in commemoration. This remains a major attraction within the grounds. It is also documented that Lord Orkney spent a lot of time and energy on his garden.

Map & frame - photo by Janet PullenFinding these trees promised to be difficult, not only because they would be 300 years old by now, but also because Lord Astor had remodelled the whole garden in the early 1900s. What has been uncovered is a map of the estate, dated 1749, which clearly shows trees in a most peculiar arrangement. There are 5 square sets of 16 trees each, along the line of the higher ground. They may be a pattern used by the arch-tactician Marlborough at Blenheim or they may not, but it's difficult to think of another explanation for them.

There is little to show that these trees ever existed. Only one rank is within Cliveden's current boundaries - on your right as you approach the pay point.

On the historic map north is to the right.

Is this the biggest picnic table in the Chilterns?

Redwood Table - photo by Janet PullenThis Giant Sequoia lived its life a long way from the Chilterns. What we have at Cliveden is a slice of Redwood imported by Lord Astor. Bringing it from North America can't have been easy but positioning it on the slopes above the river would have been trickier. The whole exercise was undertaken to win a bet. Lord Astor wagered that a slab cut from a redwood could seat 40 people for dinner. The cross-section has a circumference of over 15m so 40 was indeed possible. The Astors are said to have used it for eating in the woods.

The site where the redwood slab lies is called the Half Moon, which is close to the statue of the Duke of Sutherland. Turn about-face when you've viewed the statue for an unusual view of the house.

Cliveden is home to a fine collection of trees from all around the world. These photos are of some of the rarer and unusual species that can be found in the grounds of Cliveden.

Snowdrop tree

Snowdrop Tree - photo by Malcolm Wiles

The Snowdrop tree (Halesia monticola) has white flowers which hang in clusters of three. The shape of the flower is more like a crocus than a snowdrop and flowers in late May.

Snowdrop tree flowers by Malcolm Wiles

Handkerchief tree

This Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) is the favourite tree of many of the National Trust volunteers. It is native to central China and is a moderately fast-growing tree, reaching about 20-25 m in height.

Handkerchief Tree - photo by Malcolm Wiles

The genus Davidia is named after Father Armand David (1826-1900). Father David was a French Franciscan missionary and a keen naturalist who lived in China.

Handkerchief tree fruits - photo by Malcolm WilesThe tree is best known for its flowers which form a tight cluster and are reddish in colour. The tree is known as the Handkerchief tree because the white bracts can be seen to resemble a folded handkerchief around flower heads. Sometimes the tree is called a Dove tree as on a breezy day, the bracts flutter in the wind like a big flock of white doves.


These trees are found within the National Trust's grounds at Cliveden


Cliveden, near Taplow

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