Arlington Court landscape ‘changed forever’

Joseph Bulmer

Deadly plant disease takes its toll of National Trust estate’s rhododendron population.

GARDENERS at Arlington Court near Barnstaple are mourning the destruction of ancient rhododendrons whose loss has changed the face of the National Trust estate forever.

A virulent plant disease called Phytophthora ramorum which has plagued the estate before has once again been confirmed on more of the eye-catching plants, including a group which form an iconic and very well known view of the pond and St James’ Church.

Acting on the advice of the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA,) trust staff are in the process of removing the infected rhododendron, most of which is located by the pond by the church and can be clearly seen in early images of the estate, a view which many visitors will have photographed.

In their battle with the fungus-like disease, over the past eight years the Arlington gardens team have removed some three acres of rhododendron from the garden and a further 40 from the wider estate, leaving vast areas of empty space where once these spring flowering plants bloomed.

The disease also affects larch trees and an additional 30 acres of larch have been lost from the Arlington landscape in the last year.

“It is a terrible shame to have to remove these plants and goes against our intuitive guardianship of the garden and its iconic views,” said Sue Luker a gardener for the National Trust who has worked at the site for six years.

“It is devastating that we will never see these plants flower again but it does provide us with new opportunities to refresh parts of the garden.”

The disease was confirmed at sites in North and West Devon in 2009 and since then at others in Lancashire, Cumbria Derbyshire and in parts of Scotland.

Landowners must inform the authorities when a suspected case of Phytophthora is found and immediate removal and burning is currently being used as the swiftest means of preventing further outbreaks.