Ar­bore­tums: Find sweet so­lace among the trees

There are times when we all need to cast off the stresses of mod­ern life, and au­tumn is the per­fect sea­son for a restora­tive walk in the woods, writes Jo Jukes

In the Moment - - CONTENTS -

If you go down to the woods to­day, you’re sure for a big sur­prise…” The cheer­ful voices carry through the ar­bore­tum as a young fam­ily walk hand in hand. Their singing is hushed, as though the tow­er­ing trees are sa­cred, like the arches of a cathe­dral. The ‘big’ sur­prise isn’t ground-break­ing though – nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown that for­est bathing, the prac­tice of be­ing and breath­ing in the air around trees, re­duces stress and in­creases our ‘happy hor­mone’, oxy­tocin. In his re­cent study, Ur­ban Mind, Dr An­drea Mechelli of King’s Col­lege Lon­don dis­cov­ered that those who ex­pe­ri­enced a sin­gle ex­po­sure to na­ture dur­ing their day showed an in­crease in their men­tal well­be­ing that lasted for over seven hours.

Af­ter work­ing abroad for sev­eral years, I’m yearn­ing to swap sky­scraper shad­ows for the com­fort­ing shade of trees and ex­pe­ri­ence the e ects for my­self. An in­for­ma­tion board wel­comes me to Black­wa­ter Ar­bore­tum in New For­est Na­tional Park (the­new­for­, Hamp­shire – my first step to­wards re­con­nect­ing with the for­est I once called home. It dis­plays words from well­ness writer, Ka­t­rina Mayer: ‘Time spent amongst trees is never wasted time.’ I know she’s right.

Ar­bore­tums – a term first used by Vic­to­rian botanist John Claudius Loudon – are botan­i­cal gar­dens de­voted to grow­ing trees either for con­ser­va­tion or re­search. Though the name came later, the process of col­lect­ing and car­ing for trees has a long his­tory that stretches back cen­turies. Black­wa­ter was orig­i­nally an oak crop planted in

1850, be­fore the first ar­bore­tum plant­ings were ini­ti­ated in 1960 by the New For­est’s deputy sur­veyor Arthur Cad­man. In the decades since, it has been care­fully main­tained and re­gen­er­ated.

Black­wa­ter Ar­bore­tum and the ad­ja­cent Tall

Trees Trail are home to both na­tive and ex­otic trees, in­clud­ing some of the tallest and old­est red­wood and Dou­glas firs in Bri­tain. It’s man­aged by Forestry Eng­land, which cares for around 20 per­cent of the coun­try’s wood­lands, and forestryen­g­ is a great re­source for find­ing lo­cal wood­land to ex­plore.

A sec­ond board maps out the half-mile sen­sory walk­ing trail, en­cour­ag­ing me to touch, smell and lis­ten to the sounds of the for­est. Never one to ig­nore a well-placed sign, I breathe in the crisp air, in­hal­ing deep earthy smells of soil, bark and damp moss.

There’s a good rea­son the air feels fresher out here. Trees breathe in pesky pol­lu­tants and re­place them with oxy­gen, pu­ri­fy­ing our at­mos­phere. Over the course of one year, one acre of trees can ab­sorb the same amount of car­bon diox­ide re­leased by a car driven 26,000 miles – that’s fur­ther than driv­ing once around the earth! Ever­greens like pine and conifers also re­lease pun­gent es­sen­tial oils called phy­ton­cides, shown to stim­u­late the ac­tiv­ity of our virus-fight­ing cells, strength­en­ing the im­mune sys­tem.

Fallen leaves crunch be­neath my wellies, like corn­flakes un­der­foot, as I ven­ture be­neath a canopy of trees from across the globe, from a Cana­dian red oak to an Aus­tralian snow gum and Euro­pean sil­ver firs. Each of the 114 species is la­belled with its name and coun­try of ori­gin to guide vis­i­tors around the ar­bore­tum.

Through dap­pled sun­light the for­est be­comes a nat­u­ral fash­ion show. Trees of all kinds model this sea­son’s au­tumn/win­ter colours: warm reds, spiced or­anges and burnt yel­lows. As I rest on one of sev­eral shaded benches, I’m taken back to the wa­ter­colour

land­scapes of a Beatrix Pot­ter story book, half ex­pect­ing to stum­ble across wood­land crea­tures in waist­coats and bon­nets. From the branches over­head comes the high-pitched ‘zeee’ of a gold­crest.

Small black boards dot­ted around the ar­bore­tum are in­scribed with in­spir­ing quotes from writ­ers such as William Wordsworth and F. Scott Fitzger­ald. Like an Easter egg hunt, it be­comes a game to spot the next del­i­cately painted board tucked between low tree branches. More sen­sory boards o er facts about the plants, en­cour­ag­ing in­ter­ac­tion with the en­vi­ron­ment. In­spired, I search for conifer cones be­neath fallen leaves, run­ning my fin­gers across their scaly sur­face. I learn that the cones house tiny winged seeds, wait­ing for an op­por­tune mo­ment to open so that the breeze can carry them to the per­fect place to grow.

To­day, the track is mostly de­serted. With the New For­est spread across 219 square miles – an area al­most the size of the city of Chicago – there’s no short­age of walk­ing routes. The only other per­son I come across is a woman in well-trod­den wellies with a mud-splat­tered Labrador bounc­ing at her heels. She smiles. “He loves it here, all the smells and sounds, he thinks Christ­mas came early.”

Dog walk­ing is a pop­u­lar past-time at the ar­bore­tum. Rosetta Plowright is joint-owner of the For­est Side Guest­house (forest­sideguest­ in the lo­cal vil­lage of Lyn­d­hurst. Once her guests are

Plan­ning a visit?

set­tled in, Rosetta and her Gold­en­doo­dle, Archie, love to spend a peace­ful af­ter­noon in Black­wa­ter. “It’s one of my favourite places,” she says. “We live in such a fast-paced world nowa­days, so for me, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to step back and reconnect with na­ture.”

Rosetta has cre­ated a walk­ing map of Black­wa­ter, the Tall Trees Trail and nearby Bold­er­wood Ar­bore­tum for her guests. “They love it,” she says. “Ev­ery­one is sur­prised – they pull into a busy car park and think they’re go­ing to see a lot of peo­ple, but you just don’t. You can re­ally lose your­self here, it wraps it­self around you and it’s a beau­ti­ful, peace­ful place to be.”

Ex­plor­ing fur­ther, I spot over­sized sculp­tures of acorns and fir cones. Th­ese sculp­tures, by lo­cal artist Richard Austin, are part of a con­ser­va­tion project, ‘Our Past, Our Fu­ture’, de­signed to re­store wood­land and in­spire new gen­er­a­tions to care for the for­est.

To­day, I’m in no doubt that the restora­tive e ects of my walk will linger. My shoul­ders feel looser, my mind clearer. No dis­trac­tions; no phone sig­nal, no noisy café or gift shop. Just me, my­self and na­ture. Here among the trees, I feel like I’ve come home, in more ways than one. For more in­for­ma­tion on the New For­est and Black­wa­ter Ar­bore­tum visit the­new­for­

The New For­est is a riot of colour come au­tumn. Below: Jo ad­mires a beau­ti­ful Grey Birch at Black­wa­ter Ar­bore­tum.

In­spir­ing quotes are nes­tled in the un­der­growth at Black­wa­ter –find­ing them be­comes some­thing of a game.

Com­ing across an­other soul in the ex­pan­sive New For­est is rare, but not al­ways un­wel­come.

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