IT’S more than 300 years old, has been hailed one of the finest in Britain and is so significant that it even has its own place in national heritage.
And now, thanks to an exciting partnership between King’s Ely and Barcham Trees, the largest tree nursery of its type in Europe, the legacy of the Great London Plane Tree of Ely looks set to live on for hundreds, if not thousands, more years.
Tree enthusiasts from across the globe visit King’s Ely, sometimes on a weekly basis, to get up close to the stunning Plane Tree in the gardens of the Old Palace, which is home to the school’s Sixth Form Centre. Following the ravages of the Civil War, restoration projects in Cambridgeshire included the Bishop's Palace, and it was following the Palace’s refurbishment in 1674 that the tree was gifted to and planted by the Bishop of Ely at the time, Peter Gunning.
In June 2002 and in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, the Tree Council designated the Great London Plane Tree of Ely as one of the ‘Top 50 British Trees’ and it even has its place in national heritage. In 2012, King’s Ely took over custody of the tree and it is thanks to the expertise and care of the school’s Grounds Team, with support from Barcham Trees, based just south of Ely, that the magnificent specimen continues to flourish as the largest and oldest living example of the London Plane Tree in the UK.
In 2013, King’s Ely launched a project with Barcham Trees to take cuttings from the Plane Tree and to nurture and grow them on as a direct strain of the original UK trees. With the support of East Cambridgeshire District Council’s trees officer, Cathy White, the first cuttings were taken in 2014 by Craig Norman, who was working for Barcham Trees at the time but is now a member of the King’s Ely Grounds Team.
To everyone’s relief, the cuttings took hold and the young Plane Trees started to grow under the watchful eye of arborists at Barcham Trees. In October, one of those young Plane Trees was planted in the Old Palace Gardens – not far from its ‘parent’- and last week, during National Tree Week, two of the young Plane Trees were delivered to London’s Kew Gardens and Norfolk’s Sandringham Estate. The young trees will be named and recorded as the Ely Plane, with origin directed back to the original tree.
Grounds and Gardens Manager at King's Ely, Will Temple, said: “When King’s Ely first took over the Old Palace, becoming custodian of a tree of this magnitude and historical importance was somewhat daunting. Since then however, it has become an integral part of my working life and something which I truly care for - a tree of which has to be the most stunning London Plane tree still growing today which never fails to leave people in awe. We’re now making our own history with the tree, working to preserve it in many ways, and seeing it continue to grow through the seasons is such a privilege. So when the project was hatched with Barcham Trees, it seemed only fitting that a tree of this importance would be able to live on well beyond our years and for generations to come, with its legacy now planted not only beside it, but in other beautiful gardens and soon to be arboretums for people to enjoy.”
Sales Executive and Planting Consultant at Barcham Trees, David Johnson, said: “You cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of this tree, and Barcham Trees are delighted to be working alongside King’s Ely and Cathy White at the district council in the successful propagation of cuttings for this historically important London Plane Tree. Further planting of the young trees will take place at Barcham’s planned arboretum and visitors’ centre, and it is hoped that stock of the young trees will be available to purchase in the near future.”