Amsterdam plants a piece of the Preston Twins

In 2007, a Dutch nurseryman started what would be a series of frequent visits to this city in order to propagate some of the most outstanding elms in our city. His name is Ronnie Nijboer and he is one of the co-owners of a large nursery in eastern Holland, near the town of Groningen.

On his first visit he was shown a few sites in the city by Alister Peters, previously Arborist for the city (you may remember seeing Alister present at a Friends of Preston Park AGM). Ronnie was accompanied by his assistant Koos and they collected small, 30cm long cuttings in bundles for propagating at their Noordplant Nurseries in Holland.

Koos adjusting long arm secateurs to prune off a cutting for Noordplant propagation back in Holland in 2007. Koos is with Alister Peters, then Brighton & Hove City Council Arborist

One of the cuttings they took came from what was the larger of the two Preston Twins which, after its horrifying branch drop, was now the smaller of the two trees, as the gaping hole left from the tree wound removed 40cm from its girth circumference. Sadly, this tree has now been diagnosed with Elm Disease.

Koos, in 2007, removing the cutting for Noordplant from what was then the champion Preston Twin, English elm (Ulmus procera) in Europe

The cutting was taken back to Groningen where it was grafted onto a root stock of Ulmus minor (Field elm). Ronnie’s excellent grafting methods meant that many cuttings he has taken (sometimes with and sometimes without Koos) have been propagated into sizeable saplings, some of which have ended up in tree collections in Europe, some in streets and parks in Amsterdam and a few returned for planting here.

The cutting from the Preston Twin became a striking 3m tall sapling with a girth of around 40cm in diameter. It was acquired by Amsterdam City Council for a farewell ceremony for one of their Elm Disease Tree Officers, Debora, on November 9th 2017, and planted on November 30th 2017 on a grass verge, alongside the Bernard Zweerskade, opposite Rossinistraat in Amsterdam. The tree is visible on Google Maps Street View.

Debora admiring the rapidly-grown Preston Twin cutting on the day of presentation, November 9th 2017
Debora with her tree after planting at the end of November, 2017 along the Bernard Zweerskade, opposite Rossinistraat, Amsterdam, Holland

On the same day, a Belgian elm (Ulmus x hollandica ‘Belgica’) was also planted by the City Council of Amsterdam, making a rather symbolic gesture of unity with Brighton and Hove. Amsterdam City Council is very keen on twinning Brighton and Hove with their city and the idea is already in the pipeline here.

Ronnie is still collecting cuttings from trees here and as I already said he has returned some as saplings for later planting here in the city. Some of our elms are extremely rare worldwide and Preston Park is one of the show pieces of the collection. In all there are 120 sites in Brighton and Hove which show rare and endangered elms with a population of over 40,000 trees.

Ronnie has stated in his recent email to me that “In my opinion it is important to rejuvenate the Brighton and Hove elm collection. The City has many magnificent specimens of rare elm types and historic elm clones.”

In 2010 and 2011, experts from Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy visited elms in Preston Park and elsewhere in the city area and stated the importance of our collection both nationally and to the international community. Ronnie wishes, like myself, to see a continuing propagation of our elms for future generations.

Peter Bourne, National Elm Collection Volunteer Curator, Brighton and Hove, UK