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Bedgebury Pinetum

Author:  Michael Sankus
Last Updated:  13/08/2018
Conifer identification at Bedgebury Pinetum using a key compiled by the pinetum’s collections manager, Dan Lucombe.

Conifer identification at Bedgebury Pinetum using a key compiled by the pinetum’s collections manager, Dan Lucombe.

A conifer masterclass with Dan Luscombe and Tony Kirkham

On 25 May the South-East Branch met in Kent to run a conifer masterclass at the Bedgebury National Pinetum in collaboration with the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Given the opportunity to learn from Dan Luscombe, the Collections Manager at Bedgebury National Pinetum, and Tony Kirkham, the Head of the Arboretum, Gardens and Horticultural Services at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, all available tickets were sold and the day was a great success as expected.

After registration and a selection of light refreshments, Dan gave a brief overview of Bedgebury Pinetum and plant taxonomy aided by a series of photographs, many of which had been taken during his travels. We then went on the first of two guided walks around the pinetum. During the walk delegates had the opportunity to test their conifer identification skills with a little help from Dan and Tony, who were also more than happy to answer questions about anything from the suitability of trees to particular sites to the rarity of some plants and the restrictions imposed on their propagation or sale by the countries they were collected from. Everyone agreed that both the pallet of conifer trees available for planting in our towns and cities and the range of plants normally specified was far too narrow and that something should be done to rectify this.

Refreshed from our stroll around the pinetum looking at some beautiful trees, we broke for lunch. There was the opportunity to buy something to eat in the excellent café on site, which I would thoroughly recommend, or for delegates to eat their own packed lunch. Sitting on the benches around the pond most people seized the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues or to simply take in the wonderful landscape.

The afternoon started with delegates being split into small groups to test their skills and to demonstrate the value in using a tree identification key. Armed with copies of a key and a selection of cuttings, both provided by Dan, delegates set about identifying the samples. It was an informal identification and we had the benefit of being able to ask questions of Dan or Tony who were both on hand to assist. I think we all managed to identify the cuttings, but it was clear that our skills were a bit rusty so it was handy having the excellent key, as well as Dan and Tony, to call upon. I for one will save a copy of the key so I can use it whenever I’m struggling to identify a conifer in the future.

After a quick break for light refreshments we went for a second walk around a different part of the pinetum. During the walk Dan and Tony continued to share their experiences and knowledge of the trees as we looked at some splendid specimens, many of which are rarely seen outside the pinetum. We continued the conversations around issues such as vulnerability, tolerance or resistance to pests and diseases and the ability of particular trees to cope with predicted climate change. We also listened to Tony and Dan as they recounted the lengths that people will go to in order to be the first to collect new plants and make sure their competitors know they got there first.

At the end of the day everyone thanked Tony and Dan for their time and I’m sure that, like me, they went home feeling they had learnt a lot about conifers, their identification and their use in the urban landscape.

Since the event took place we have made a donation to the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum on behalf of Dan and also to Perennial on behalf of Tony. As numbers were limited to 25, plans are afoot to run a second conifer masterclass at Bedgebury Pinetum later in the year, so watch this space if you missed out first time around.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for an event, or want to get involved, please let us know by emailing the branch at or by contacting HQ –