Trees in Cardiff

Cardiff has an exceptional number of rare and champion trees as well as some historic tree avenues planted in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Two such notable avenues were planted in 1879-80 by Andrew Pettigrew, Head Gardener to the Marquis of Bute, and father of W.W. and A.A. Pettigrew. One was in Cathays Park, described by A.A. Pettigrew[1] as follows:

The four-lined avenue of trees (Elms) which had been planted by the Marquis in the Winter of 1879-80, was utilised in the course of development to flank the road which came to be known as King Edward VII Avenue. The line of direction of this avenue had been taken as between Nazareth House and the ruins of the Herbert Mansion on the site of Grey Friars. It is interesting to note that this avenue of trees in due course dictated the lay-out of Cardiff’s “civic centre”.

When he sold Cathays Park to the Cardiff Corporation in 1898 the Marquis of Bute stipulated in the purchase agreement that this tree avenue be preserved. A.A. Pettigrew also wrote that:

in 1898 or 1899, on the occasion of his last visit to Cardiff, - shortly after the sale to the Corp, had been effected, - the (third) marquis, with my father, who had been in charge of the planting of the trees, strolled together through the grounds, and so into Cathays Park. Pausing in the avenue, & with a wave of his hand along the rows of trees, his Lordship remarked:-“There, Pettigrew, there’s something that will stand as our monument, your and mine for many generations after we have departed."

Other trees in Cathays Park were also protected by the agreement, the relevant terms of which were:[2]

The second tree avenue planted in 1879-80 was in Pontcanna Fields, an avenue of elms and limes that still runs north-south the length of the park. Another lime avenue runs through the park roughly east-west from the River Taff to Western Avenue. This used to continue to Llandaff Cathedral cemetery, ending in a star formation, before Western Avenue was built. The Marquis of Bute's plan for this avenue was described in 1880 in The Weekly Mail: "Leading from the public ground [Sophia Gardens Field], Lord Bute has planned a private avenue leading towards Llandaff. This avenue, which will be in a direct and straight line from the Castle ... will consist of four rows of trees, a mile in length. This avenue will terminate in an octagon having a radius of 60 feet, which will be planted around with short avenues of trees - each comprising two lines of firs and two of elms - forming the design of the "Union Jack".[3]

A hundred years later during the 1970s Cardiff lost over 1,000 elm trees to dutch elm disease, including those forming the historic avenues in Cathays Park and Pontcanna Fields. In December 2004 100 disease-resistant elm saplings ('New Horizon' Elms) were planted to form a new avenue in Pontcanna Fields as part of Cardiff's designation as European City of the Elm 2005.[4] The Cathays Park elms have been replaced with Caucasian lime trees (Tilia x euchlora).

Other notable tree avenues in Cardiff include:

Many rare individual trees are to be found in Cardiff's parks, primarily because of the close connection that the Pettigrews and their successor William Nelmes senior created with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Cardiff's position as a busy sea port also probably aided the acquisition of trees from abroad. The main locations of these rare trees are Bute Park and Roath Park / Roath Mill Gardens but there are one or two notable or champion trees in other parks, including Parc Cefn Onn, Sophia Gardens, Victoria Park, Cathays Park, Insole Court and Llandaff Fields. A champion tree is considered the best of its kind in its area, for height, trunk diameter, age or beauty.[5]

Some of the information in this section is taken from the Tree Register Handbook,[6] which states that the Bute Park Arboretum is "the foremost municipal collection in Britain" and that Roath Park, together with Roath Mill Gardens, is "second in Britain only to Bute Park for the rare and exceptional trees planted here over the last hundred years". In the Tree Register a tree is described as "rare" if there are probably fewer than 250 examples in Britain and Ireland. For some trees only one or two examples are recorded - this is the case for one of the trees listed in Bute Park.

Cardiff City Council has a Horticultural Database, also know as the Cardiff Council Plant Guide, which refers to 25 locations. The data was gathered between 2003 and 2010 by Terry Davies and contains some 5000 photos of 2000 plants together with textual descriptions.

Sources of Information

  1. A. A. Pettigrew, The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff, Volume 2, chapter on Street Trees
  2. Evening Express Monday 8th February 1897 page 3
  3. The Weekly Mail Saturday. May 1st 1880 page 6
  4. Wales Online 16th December 2004: Elm turns over a new leaf
  5. Owen Johnson, Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland: The Tree Register Handbook. Kew Publishing, 2011, page 15
  6. Owen Johnson, as above, pages 316-317