The elms of Preston Park

Do you love the trees in Preston Park? Of course you do, and a fair few of them are wonderful elms of different varieties. We’ve had some fascinating information from Peter Bourne who is Brighton and Hove’s National Elm Collection Volunteer Curator. See below and read about our special link with Amsterdam and how the poor old damaged Preston Twin lives on . . .

Dear Members

This small newsletter points to the fundamental importance of elms in Preston Park and indeed throughout our Brighton and Hove. 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 (Arborist for the city and last Arborist for Hove Borough before its unification with Brighton). You may remember seeing Alister at a special tree presentation last November for the Friends group. Ronnie was accompanied by his assistant Koos and they collected small 30cm long cuttings in bundles for propagating at their Noordplant Nurseries in Holland. One of the cuttings they took came from what was the larger of the two Preston Twins which, after its horrifying branch drop last September, is now the smaller of the two trees as the gaping hole left from the tree wound on the right facing the tree removed 40cm from its girth circumference.

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 have meant that many cuttings he has taken have been propagated into sizeable saplings of which a few have ended up in tree collections in Europe; some in streets and parks in Amsterdam and a few have been 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 most valid 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.

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 between Brighton and Hove and Amsterdam. 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 in the city here. Some of our elms are extremely rare worldwide of which Preston Park is one of the showpieces of the collection. In all there are 120 sites in Brighton and Hove which show rare and endangered elms within 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 B&H 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, like myself, wishes to see a continuing propagation of our elms for future generations.

Below are pictures sent by Ronnie showing the process from taking the cuttings in Preston Park through to the sapling being planted by Amsterdam City Council. Ronnie wishes to meet with Friends of Preston Park and perhaps we can convince him to make a presentation for you all in the near future.

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

Koos adjusting long arm secateurs to prune off a cutting for Noordplant propagation back in Holland. 2007. With Alister Peters (then Brighton & Hove City Council Arborist and now working for Connicks Tree Care)
Koos removing the cutting for Noordplant from what was then the champion Preston Twin, English elm (Ulmus procera) in Europe in 2007
Debora (and a local Dutch character) 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