As I drive around if I notice a monkey puzzle, I’ll make a mental note of it, and then write it in my ‘spottings’ notebook. (Yes, I have a specially made hard back notebook for all things monkey puzzle and related). At a later date, I’ll go and visit the tree so I can write about it.
These trees are in West Kirby on the Wirral. They are situated on along the drive of a house set back from the road, on Grange Road which descends into the village.
And a closer look – without going beyond the gate of course – and you can see there are three fine monkey puzzles forming an avenue along the drive to that rather nice brick house at the far end.
And a closer view from down the side of the wall to the garden.
As I’m having a look at these, I can’t help but notice that across the other side of the drive is an enclosed paddock, with an ancient metal fence, and a very rough patch of ground where sheep are grazing.
And, I can’t help wondering why. And why an avenue of monkey puzzles?
What I do know, is that there is an impressive avenue of monkey puzzles at Bicton College in Devon. You can see photographs of it here. There’s also a three minute video here, with two Countryside Rangers explaining the history of the monkey puzzle avenue, claiming to be one of the longest in Europe, and also the largest tree in the avenue which is designated a ‘Champion’ tree.
Champion trees are trees that are notable specimens which are kept on The Tree Register. The champion monkey puzzle at Bicton is 27m tall, and 4m in girth.
Of more interest to me is the explanation for the avenue of monkey puzzles. I already knew that planting a single specimen tree of new ‘exotic’ trees that were being discovered in the 1800s was a way of showing off, so planting a whole avenue of trees was a real statement of wealth and your position. So, even more showing off.
But, the very attractive brick house at the end of this drive in West Kirby doesn’t look like a Victorian mansion. So, a bit of research tells me that there is a larger, grander house, further up the hill, called Grove Hill House. There is a link here to a website about West Kirby in 1841 and the house and its gardens, saying:
“Coaches approaching the house would have enjoyed a ride through the gardens and unusual trees, as was the tradition at the time for the wealthy to impress their visiting guests via the driveway approach.”
So perhaps the monkey puzzle trees are from one of the approaches to the house? Assuming they are around 150 years old then they are remnants of the Victorian planting and showing off.
So when we find an old monkey puzzle tree – one that is over 100 years old – then we can start to read the story of the past and what was here before, which only increases my fascination with them.