Broadcaster Henry Kelly discovers Royal link to Hampstead Heath tree project

Gardener Sean Dillon at the new Golders Hill Park 'stumpery' inspired by a similar project of Prince

Gardener Sean Dillon at the new Golders Hill Park 'stumpery' inspired by a similar project of Prince Charles' at Highgrove. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A project to transform huge tree roots in Golders Hill Park into Victorian-style flower gardens was inspired by a similar garden feature at Prince Charles’ country home Highgrove, presenter Henry Kelly discovers

The huge tree roots will be transformed into Victorian-style flower gardens. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The huge tree roots will be transformed into Victorian-style flower gardens. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Forget for a moment the Ashes (I know it’s hard, but when we’re finished we can all go back to cheering on the team in the Old Trafford Test which starts today) and concentrate instead on a different kind of stump. They are stumps of dead trees which are being turned into an open-air flowerpot garden of a type much loved by Victorian England.

TV presenter Henry Kelly

TV presenter Henry Kelly - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

And it’s all happening in Golders Hill Park on a woodland path near the butterfly house. The idea for this woody, open-air ‘rockery’ came when Simon Lee, the superintendent of the park, arranged, as he often does, for two of his gardeners to visit famous parks and gardens.

Earlier this year, they visited Highgrove and there they saw the flourishing, splendid stumpery – originally an idea of Prince Charles. Simon’s two colleagues came back full of enthusiasm for what they had seen and asked if they could have one in Golders Hill. It was agreed and the work started. Because the City of London Corporation also runs Epping Forest, it was there that the two gardeners, Sean Dillon and Ciaran O’Keeffe, found their raw materials.

Work is well under way and if you walk beside what will eventually be the finished stumpery – some time next year – you can see these enormous dead stumps. They are the huge, fascinatingly contorted remains of the stumps and roots of dead oaks, sweet chestnuts and yews. They will be planted with native ferns and woodland plants and mosses, just as the Victorians did. It is certain that, with damp weather, the stumps will also attract fungi, of which the park already has many varieties.


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There will be, if all goes well, a hedge at one end of the stumpery, which the gardeners hope will attract and become a haven for small wildlife, such as hedgehogs. Exploring on behalf of the Ham&High, our photographer and I were able to go down the woodland path. It looks just like a film set – it’s perfect for leprechauns or other species of little people, elves say, or even the odd nymph and satyr. Its wondrous mystery lets the imagination fly.

There are also plans for what you might describe as a water feature, a stream flowing through, with a pond. Might this idea eventually go to the Chelsea Flower Show next year? Who knows, but if there is a sponsor out there, they know where to come.

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Planting and final touches will begin in December and January, and Simon Lee hopes to have the stumpery ready and open by May next year.

So here’s a suggestion. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the City of London Corporation taking over the running of the park. Why not arrange for an opening ceremony for the stumpery to mark this silver year with Sean Dillon and Ciaran O’Keeffe, the men who had the vision and the enthusiasm to make sure it was realised, as the guests of honour?

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