The grounds at Greys Court near Henley contain trees which are some of the Chilterns' finest hidden treasures.
The remains of 14th-century medieval manor fortifications form a series of charming walled gardens around Greys Court which is a 16th-century mansion. Within these older walls, the white garden features magnolias, lilies and peonies. The rose garden, planted with old-fashioned roses, leads to a circular walled garden enclosing ancient wisterias.
The gardens are home to some wonderful trees including a large mulberry near the tennis court, a splendid weeping liquidamber at Moon Bridge, a Catalpa (or Indian bean tree), a false acacia and two strawberry trees near the house..
Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) are native to the Mediterranean and parts of southern Ireland. They only occur in southern England where they were planted and they are quite rare. As their name suggests, their fruit looks a bit like a strawberry, but is unpalatable. The Latin word unedo translates as "I eat one" ... only! The bark of strawberry trees makes them unmissable even when they are not fruiting - it is dark red at first, shredding and soon obscured by grey-brown scaling ridges.
As with most of our historic properties, there are many 'working' trees in the gardens and grounds. The wall of the medieval tithe barn partly encloses a walk of Japanese cherry trees. The kitchen garden is planted with espaliered fruit trees and vegetables. There are some ancient cox apple trees, planted in 1900. A hazelnut walk, which dates from 1776, is along the eastern wall of the kitchen garden.
Beyond the kitchen garden is the Archbishop's Maze. Close to the maze are a huge old yew (measuring 5.3m at ground level), and magnificent specimens of sweet chestnut (nearly 5m), lime (5.6m) and western red cedar (4.6m at ground level).
Outside the Dower House is an impressive tulip tree, planted in 1750 by Willaim Stapleton of Greys Court. While large, this tree is outclassed by a tree in Taplow.
There is an impressive double avenue of 54 scots pine trees which follow a hollow way footpath from the car park to Broadplat. This hollow way was once the road to Henley, but the road was moved away from the house towards the end of the 18th century.
If you walk along the hollow way, look out for the Jubilee Oak. It bears a plaque - "Jubilee Oak CFMS 1887". However the tree came first and is much older than that as demonstrated by the impressive 6.8m girth.
A more recent commemorative tree is a young copper beech planted in 1989 to commemorate Lady Brunner's long association with the Oxfordshire Federation of the WI and their 70th anniversary. This tree is in a field at the north-west corner of the kitchen garden.
Greys Court is now owned by the National Trust.
All pictures by Hilary and Martin Beck Burridge.
Follow the brown tourist signs
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