Professor P of Cambridge has wondered what we might plant instead of Elm and has gone so far as to propose using Field Maple (Acer campestre).
Surely for the tall straight boled forms that we find in Huntingdon Elm the answer is a hybrid lime such as Tilia x europea ‘Svartelinde’. Of course I agree that the colour is too dark and the leave too reflective – but what can one do? The more picturesque forms that one finds in Ulmus media might be replanted with English oak (Quercus robor), and one might still use Professor P’s maple in a thicket with ash. As regards Wych elm (U. glabra) whose form hanging ‘more negligently’ gave so much delight to the Rev. William Gilpin, I hardly know what to suggest. I have perhaps found a pendulence perceptible in beech trees and hornbeam, when put near water, but the habit of those trees is otherwise entirely different.
Should I be concerned if I fail to answer a question? I think not, let me instead recall the use of elm in the ornamentation of Wimpole. First, it was chosen by Bridgeman for the great South Avenue. This consisted of roughly 60% English elm (U. media), presumably brought up from London, and 40% clones of the local smooth-leaved elm (U. carpinifolia).
Elm was also very common in the woodland belts at Wimpole, all planted with U. carpinifolia, but of a dozen or more clones, as if the local woods and hedgerows had been scoured for plants. However the local Wimpole village clone survived as a parkland tree around the old road and village, east of the lakes.
Wimpole also had Wych elm. This might have been planted by Humphry Repton, who followed Capability Brown at Wimpole, but we do know that Brown used Huntingdon elm both in clumps and as a parkland tree. This is a superb hybrid, vigorous, clean-limbed with a high arching form and it came from his friend, if not patron, the Earl of Sandwich at Hinchinbrooke. It could have made a good case for Brown’s use of form and colour in selecting trees, but alas all are gone and Wimpole is not what it was.