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] The construction of Western Avenue in the early 1930s crossed this avenue, with a short stretch continuing on to Llandaff.[4] That section of the avenue was still present in the 1950s, but the 1960s Ordnance Survey map shows the Llandaff Technical College occupying the site.

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 'New Horizon' Elms were planted to form a new avenue in Pontcanna Fields to mark Cardiff's centenary as a city and its Golden Jubilee as the capital of Wales. The majority of these trees were donated by Hillers Nurseries as part of Cardiff's designation as European City of the Elm 2005.[5] The Cathays Park Elms have been replaced with Caucasian lime trees (Tilia x euchlora).

Other notable tree avenues in Cardiff include:

  • Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse chestnut) Llandaff Fields: Cathedral Road to Western Avenue

  • Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) towards the Penylan Road end of Colchester Avenue

  • Corylus colurna (Turkish hazel) in St Augustine Road, Heath

  • Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) an avenue of 37 trees leading from Bute Park to Castle Mews. Girth measurements for the trees are here.

  • Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) an avenue of 10 trees in Linden Avenue, on the north east side of Roath Park Recreation Ground. The date of planting is uncertain but this avenue of trees was not shown on 1952 Ordnance Survey map. However the 1962 map showed five trees on the north west side of the avenue and three at the top end of the south east. In 2018 there were five trees on each side of the road. Girth measurements for the trees are here.

  • Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweet gum) in Aberporth Road, Gabalfa

  • Magnolia kobus (Kobushi) in King George V Drive East, Heath Park

  • Malus hupehensis (Hupeh crab) Rhydelig Avenue, Heath

  • Platanus x hispanica (London Plane) Heathwood Road, Heath

  • Platanus x hispanica (London Plane) Lower end of Waterloo Road, outside St Margarets Church, Roath

  • Quercus robur Fastigiata Group (Cypress or Fastigiate) Clive Street, Grangetown

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.[6]

Some of the information in this section is taken from the Tree Register Handbook,[7] 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 of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) 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. TROBI also records Remarkable Trees, those outstanding in size, rarity or history, though not the greatest in height or girth in their locality.

Cardiff City Council has a Cardiff Council Horticultural Database (2003-2010), also known 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.

In September 2018 the RHS published in its journal The Plantsman (now named The Pant Review), an article which discusses the extraordinary tree life in and around Cardiff.[8]

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. Western Mail & South Wales News Wednesday July 12 1933 page 7
  5. Wales Online 16th December 2004: Elm turns over a new leaf
  6. Owen Johnson, Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland: The Tree Register Handbook. Kew Publishing, 2011, page 15
  7. Owen Johnson, as above, pages 316-317
  8. Owen Johnson, Trees in Lavish Variety, The Plantsman, volume 17 part 3 September 2018, pages 168 to 171