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No more ‘Monkeying’ around

2020 was a difficult year for us all and unfortunately, it was also the final year for the iconic Monkey Puzzle tree located within Holker’s Gardens.

The Monkey Puzzle was first planted 176 years ago, back in 1844 by William Lobb for Joseph Paxton when it was a mere seed brought back from Chile. Unbelievably 40 years later, the very same tree blew down in a storm and was re-erected with the help of seven shire horses before its roots were embedded in concrete! It has since stood firm for another 136 years.

Partly due to the unscheduled fell in 1888 and the age of the tree, it has been subject to Honey Fungus at its base. On top of this and also incredibly rare for Monkey Puzzles, it has suffered from something called Ganoderma fungus. This fungus will decay the heartwood (the innermost part of the tree) and can kill a tree in as little as three years. The Ganoderma fungus will ultimately damage the structural integrity of the tree, leading to the possibility of strong wind or storms uprooting it.

Therefore after all those many years, the decision was recently made by the family and gardeners to fell the much-beloved Monkey Puzzle before any serious damage could be done.

At the end of 2020, an experienced team, led by our Head Gardener, Glyn Sherratt, set to work ready to fell the tree in three stages:

Step one – Dismantle the leafy crown. Due to the base being the compromised section of the tree, this involved hiring in cranes so tree surgeons were able to reach the top. Essentially the 176-year-old tree was getting a long-overdue haircut!

Step two – Reduce to felling height. This isn’t just any Monkey Puzzle, this is the enormous Monkey Puzzle found in Holker’s Gardens. If it were to be felled at its full height, it would potentially land on top of the Hall itself. The safest way was to reduce its height by chopping metre sections from the top and dropping them down to ground level.

Step three – Felling. This was a very difficult fell because of how effected the base of the tree was, however, our Forestry expert, Sam Thompson, made the job look effortless due to his years of training. The tree was felled in one painless swoop in exactly the location laid out for it.

With the tree on the ground, Glyn and his team set to work breaking it down further before moving it into storage where it will be dried then planked, and eventually put back to use across the estate. We hope to create another 200 years of life here at Holker from the unique and valuable timber.

But it’s far from the end of the monkey puzzle dynasty. The stump of the tree still remains in the Gardens as a reminder of the many years of joy the tree gave to the Cavendish family and visitors but more importantly, seedlings were taken from the tree many years ago and planted at the top of the Gardens and it’s there you will find a full grove of Monkey Puzzles to enjoy!