Professor R of Cambridge has asked whether Brown used a wider range of trees than the few survivors of his planting would indicate. His question builds quite neatly from the last note, on fruit trees.
By way of reply here are notes on a selection of British natives that are now under-represented in parkland:
Birch had its uses, not least because it coppices well and can be used for fencing, and the Rev. William Gilpin regarded the weeping silver birch as at least as picturesque as a weeping willow. It barely survives in parkland, and where it does, as at Ampthill, it has usually come up from seed in a period of neglect. However we do know that it was planted extensively at Burton Constable, perhaps as a nurse, but I am tempted to believe it was used on the Moor, north of the house.
Hazel was to became the standard understorey plant in the 19th century and it was clearly used for this in the 18th. It was also highly valued for its nuts, at a time when that whole villages would decamp to the woods to collect them. In parkland however thorn has survived much better than hazel – perhaps because the park is relished by farm animals when there is little else to eat.
It is mysterious that Hornbeam is seen so little in 18th century parkland. Indeed William Marshall commented in Brown’s day that ‘as an ornamental in modern gardening it stands low; and its present uses are few.’ The Rev. William Gilpin noticed that it was ‘generally seen only in clipped hedges’, though it was valued for charcoal, and its suitability for parkland planting was recognised, particularly ‘because it will be secure from the teeth of the deer, who will leave this tree unmolested, whilst they will tear off the bark and destroy most others’. There are good examples in woodland, and these may have been planted in Brown’s time: the Cherrycot Belt at Highclere, the belt at Wimpole. Mediaeval trees also survive, from coppiced stocks, particularly in the pleasure ground at Wrotham, and of course in Hatfield Forest at Hallingbury.
Field maple is typically a small tree, little noticed and generally dismissed. Though it had a place in mid-18th century design, and was acknowledged to be ‘when well trained, a very handsome Tree’, it had by the end of the century fallen by the wayside and was to be found ‘filling up its part in a hedge, in company with thorns, briars, and other ditch trumpery’. You can find it today in the belt at Wimpole – in fact it has become established in its natural habitat on the fringes of the woodland in many of Brown’s landscapes – yet it should survive more widely, particularly as a pollard.
Similar comments were made about the suitability of rowan, though the Rev. William Gilpin could hardly praise it too highly and William Pitt planted it as a signal tree to pick out points of interest at Radway Grange.
Joseph Spence regarded ‘Black poplar one of the best thickeners for the solids: because it is spiral, grows very fast, and may be cut away whenever better things grow up and spread, without any regret or loss’. I suppose he meant that it was a useful nurse tree for plantations. However the species had little commercial value and may therefore have been cut down young, wherever it was planted.
Of service trees Thomas Hale had to acknowledge that ‘`tis great Pity that it is not more frequent’ . Its ‘Beauty should be an Inducement to the Gentleman, and its quick Growth and valuable Wood to the Husbandman’ and Lady Luxborough grew it in her garden walk at the Barrels. Why then were these small trees not planted?
Willow and Ozier
On the other hand willows and osiers seem to have been too common to be appreciated, so William Marshall had to admit of white willow that ‘The silvery elegance of its leaves would render it very ornamental, were it not for its too great commonness…’
‘The willow, in yon vale,
Its silver lining to the breeze upturns,
And rustling aspens shiver by the brook.’
Willows are easily overlooked in parkland, and were not always thought of as attractive, though Brown did plant weeping willows near the water, and marked them as such on some of his plans.
In addition he would provide ozier grounds. These are customarily found below lakes, cut every year, highly valued and constantly useful for basket-work and hurdles. These had to be fenced off into plantations, often called Withy Grounds, because all willows are so liable to be eaten – it is for this reason that they are so often found as pollards, or, as Laurence Rawstorne put it: ‘Hares and rabbits [are] extremely partial to a willow bed’.