Matthew Burns

Sedbergh School groundsmen to the rescue at Queen’s Memorial Garden

A Covid-secure “bubble” of Sedbergh School groundsmen saved the day by helping to plant Sedbergh Parish Council’s new arboretum just in the nick of time.

With 12 large trees ready for delivery, coronavirus restrictions still in place and the end of the planting season fast approaching, parish councillors were worried they might not be able to get the trees into the ground at Queen’s Garden in time, because of social distancing preventing local volunteers from working in pairs.

Fortunately, Sedbergh School came to the rescue with a generous offer for two of its grounds team working in a Covid-secure “bubble” to do the spadework at the 120-year-old garden, designed by Edwardian landscape genius Thomas Mawson in memory of Queen Victoria.

“It’s really brilliant we’ve been able to do this,” said Janey Hassam, Clerk of Sedbergh Parish Council.

“Under normal circumstances we would have just put a call out for volunteers and the trees would have been in the ground. But because we’ve still got restrictions we were mindful of the fact that certain people wouldn’t be able to work together, and if you’re lifting a large tree you can’t be socially distanced.”

Dan Harrison, Headmaster of Sedbergh School, said: “We are delighted that here at Sedbergh School we are able to offer the services of our grounds team to help with the tree planting at Queen’s Garden. We are really keen to continue to work with the local community on a number of projects and look forwards to strengthening these links in the future.”

Measuring six or seven feet high, the 12 trees comprise red maple, snakebark maple, Himalayan birch, Tibetan cherry, sweet gum and paper bark maple.

The varieties have been chosen to bring year-round interest to Queen’s Garden thanks to their autumn leaf cover, flowers, fruit and bark characteristics. Nicola Child, Trees and Woodlands Officer at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) brought her expert knowledge to the project and has also helped Sedbergh Parish Council draw up a full management plan for the royal memorial garden.

Meanwhile, 28 smaller hedgerow varieties – hawthorn, hazel, guelder rose and honeysuckle – were manageable enough for planting by the parish handyman and volunteers from the Friends of Queen’s Garden group, working individually.

Mrs Hassam described the project as a “brilliant” team effort. She said members were also grateful to South Lakeland District Council for covering the £968 project cost and to SLDC’s Arboriculture Specialist Graham Nicholson.

The planting scheme at Queen’s Garden comes after several noteworthy “Thuja” evergreens had to be felled due to disease.

Nicola Child of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said: “Although we would normally encourage native trees, it was felt a small number of more unusual, beautiful, arboretum-type trees would be in keeping with the previous period planting design and bring arboricultural interest to the site.”

The leafy enclave at Station Road was designed and laid out by renowned Lake District landscape gardener Thomas Mawson after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, on a plot of land given by Mrs Upton-Cottrell-Dormer of Ingmire Hall.

A tall Celtic stone cross towers over the centre of Mawson’s symmetrical layout, a watercolour of which is preserved at Kendal Archive Centre.

Queen’s Garden was formally opened in October 1902 and was handed over to Sedbergh Parish Council and the people of the town in 1906. The site merits a Grade II listing in Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

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Thomas Mawson’s original design for Queen’s Garden, Sedbergh (Picture courtesy of Sedbergh & District History Society)

Thomas Mawson’s illustrious career included garden commissions at Holker Hall, Rydal Hall, and Brockhole and Holehird near Windermere. He is widely regarded as the founder of modern landscape architecture and garden design.

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