Making my mark in the Stream Garden Field

Join horticulturist Alex Davis as he adds structural interest to one of the less-used parts of the garden

The Stream Garden Field, in my opinion, is an area of Rosemoor that is underrated and often overlooked - but I’m hoping to change all that! I’ve just completed the first step, which was to plant groups of mahogany-stemmed birch trees with pink/red polished stems (as opposed to the typical white).

In early January this year, I went to Stone Lane Nursery (on the edge of Dartmoor, near Chagford) where you can find the National Plant Collection of birches and alders. I picked up several bare-root birch trees (Betula utilis 'Bhutan Sienna', B. albosinensis 'Pink Champagne' and Betula albosinensis 'China Rose' AGM). At the time, they were only little whippy things about 30-45cm (12 -18”) high, but after being allowed to grow on in our nursery, the trees now stand at about 1.2m (5ft).

The planting

Planting birch treesAs with most jobs, prior planning and preparation is key to success and in this case, it's making sure tree positioning is good from most angles. Setting out plants can take a long time to get right, and luckily for me I was working with my garden manager Helen, and so between us we managed to work it out. Then it was time to make a start at getting them in the ground; using an iron road pin; a length of baler twine; a half moon and a turf lifting iron; I cut and lifted the turf to make the tree pits.

In Stream Garden Field the soil has had very little cultivation and soil improvement, which is evident by the solid pan of orange-yellow clay and a layer of stone 8cm (3in) down. The general rule of thumb when planting trees is to not add any organic matter to the planting hole as it can sometimes do more harm than good. However, we all have to make exceptions, and given the soil conditions, I mixed a small amount of our homemade compost in with the topsoil (if you can call it that!) ready to backfill.

Giving the new plants a good start

I used a fork to open up the sides and base of the holes to help relieve compaction and to aid root growth, and sprinkled a little bonemeal and mycorrhizal fungi granules in the holes and over the backfill, again to aid root growth.

Newly planted birch treesThe Stream Garden Field is very wet, with natural springs popping up all over the place during the wetter months. This meant mound planting the trees to avoid the roots sitting in a sump of water so I partially backfilled the holes before setting the trees into place; ensuring that once planted, the base of the trees were above ground level and that the back filled soil sloped away from the main stem.

All that’s left to do now is to stake the trees and possibly get some tree guards to protect them from wind and animal damage. Fingers crossed they will make it!

More information

What to see at Rosemoor
Plants with ornamental bark
Tree planting tips


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