Our gardens in the 1990's shortly after being planted

Creating your own Arboretum or Woodland Garden

An arboretum or woodland garden is a peaceful haven giving enjoyment and interest for decades and can be a surprisingly inexpensive project.

Over the years we have created many woodland gardens, including the nine acre arboretum surrounding our nursery (an RHS recommended garden and open to the public if you would like to visit it).

We are able to give expert advice on planting your own woodland area, from turning a small garden into a tree filled glade to planting up much larger areas for a striking woodland garden many acres in size.

If you would like our assistance, we can visit your garden or grounds to advise on preparing the site and recommend trees and shrubs which will suit your particular area and grow well. We can then even deliver and stand the trees out for you in the final position, to create the display.

Prices for this service vary depending upon the size of the project and if you are interested, telephone our office on (01530) 413700 and ask to speak to Robert (the owner) for further information.


A detailed article about Bluebell Nursery creating new arboreta by Robin Lane Fox was featured in April 2005 in the Financial Times: 'Get a nursery education' - please read below

Robin Lane Fox on Gardening

Right now it is very easy to want an arboretum. An arboretum is a dedicated plantation of trees. Why not choose carefully, plant them in quantity and sit back, killing the weeds with chemicals around them until they reach maturity.

In an arboretum mood, I have just made an expedition to Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the Midlands. There are plenty of grand arboreta around the UK, many of which were planted about a hundred years ago, but what do you get if you start off with an acre or so and want results within 12 years? Showgoers will know that one of Britain's outstanding sources of rare trees and shrubs is Bluebell Nursery at Smisby, but they may not realise it is open 10:30am daily, including Sundays, during the growing season.

Bluebell Nursery has been planted and stocked by a notable family team. Robert Vernon trained way back at Hilliers Nursery in Hampshire, where he met his wife, Suzette. They did three years of specialised study and Suzette then diverted to work with the Ministry of Agriculture.

.....at Bluebell nowadays .. are six acres of trees in tractor-mown grass, most of which leave me scrambling for a reference book. The nursery began 26 years ago but the arboretum is about 11 years old.

The soil is heavy, lime-free and exposed to a cold Midlands winter at 500ft. Nothing, except the staff and owners, has done it any favours. So the Vernons really know what you can achieve without an army of estate workers or a favoured site in south Cornwall, where trees from south Asia will grow like weeds.

Even an expert plants an arboretum too closely for the longer term. It needs extreme discipline to observe the eventual widths that books predict for trees. It is almost impossible to know how wide a rare or recent discovery will really grow. Even the Bluebell Arboretum is fairly closely spaced but at least the owners have the invaluable experience of having run one and seen what scores of trees will do. They do not claim to be designers but their own plantation is extremely pleasant, the sort of thing that you or I might come up with because we prefer plants to style.

If you are going to plant Chinese rarities such as Maackia or the unusual white variegated chestnut called Wisselink you really do not know how much space to allow them on the borders between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Robert Vernon now offers an advisory service where he will visit prospective planters of an arboretum, large or small, and work with them on suitable planting, much of it very unusual. His fee is 250 pounds for the day, plus travelling costs, and if I were setting out on a project from an acre upwards, I would count a visit as exceptional value. He then returns with a suitable range of high class trees and shrubs from the nursery, lays them out and advises on cultivation.

If you have the space and can keep the grass down, a well planned arboretum is a fascinating investment across 12 to twenty years or more. The initial choices are so important and so much more fun if you stray away from the obvious. Robert Vernon would certainly be my choice if I were not so obstinate about following my own intuition, backed up by an informed use of catalogues like his own.

In his own tree patch, I made dozens of notes and learnt about all sorts of varieties that are so hard to see in readily repeatable conditions. On a lime free soil, perhaps you would know already that a fast growing oak with the most brilliant autumn red colour is Quercus ellipsoidalis 'Hemelrijk'. If so, you might perhaps know that the best 'snake-bark' maple with a pink flush is Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix', which is a hybrid between an American and a Chinese Acer, and is quite spectacular.

Maybe you have seen a purple-leaved walnut but I doubt if you really knew the leaves grow up to 3ft long and that even the opening foliage has a delicious walnut scent when you finger it. I had no idea, but I discovered its exceptional beauty on a specimen at Bluebell after taking notes on several of their excellent white barked and yellow/white barked forms of birch tree. It is such a help to see trees in unusual forms at an age of about twelve years and to realise that, with patience, you will be enjoying something significant when the next decade has slipped by.

More simply, Bluebell Nursery is a good place at which to buy the lovely Paper Bark Maple, Acer griseum, which has that wonderful peeling bark and flaming autumn colour. It is also an excellent source of unusual shrubs, including some types of Cotoneaster that I could not possibly identify.

The best time of all for a visit is autumn. Meanwhile, you have the mail order service, friendly advice without charge if you want an unusual single tree or shrub for the new garden and a catalogue that makes wonderful evening reading. It is nearly 26 years since Bluebell sold their first plants to a customer, on the day when their eldest son was born. The anniversary boy has been spending a year in Holland learning from the ultimate experts how to graft and propagate rare trees for customers.

Like the arboretum, Bluebell Nursery looks set for a distinguished life in the second generation.