Until then, you can admire the more unusually coloured cones which start to develop by March on some of our rare and special conifer trees. One of the most colourful is the bright pink cone of the tamarack larch which gradually turns brown as it matures.
In the summer the place really rocks! Literally, if you consider that there are normally two pop concerts on the site each June! In nature terms, this is when Bedgebury truly comes into its own. The unusual mix of conifer and broadleaf tree varieties that grow side by side, and the underlying acidic soils provide a rich and varied habitat for rare and beautiful flora and fauna. Bedgebury boasts plants such as the endemic English eyebright, the lemon scented fern and the parasitic wildflower, dodder, that grows on heather, all of which are uncommon in the south east. You can also find more common wildflower beauties such as bluebells, goldenrod, devil’s bit scabious, tormentil, heath milkwort, bee orchids and common spotted orchids.
Bedgebury is probably the only place in the south east where you can find 6 different species of bat! Given that there are only 18 species in the UK, that’s considered pretty good going. The same is true of our butterflies… in the summer up to 25 of the 59 UK species can be spotted, including the rare grizzled skipper. Regular bat and butterfly walks on site give experts and the uninitiated alike a chance to see some of Bedgebury’s wildlife show-stoppers.
On sunny weekends, in summer and winter, parts of the site can be very busy. Some come for the children’s play trails, others for the bike hire and mixed-ability mountain bike trails. Others prefer to enjoy tree top adventures with Go Ape. Day trippers and annual members walk the seasonal trails, and picnic blankets can always be found dotted on the grass banks. Fitness fanatics rub shoulders with dog walkers and everyone converges in the café for refreshments and to enjoy its beautiful lakeside views. Yet there is always space and peace to be found on this 2,500 acre site.
My favourite time, when I can pretend that the Pinetum is all mine, is midweek during term-time at around 2.30pm when the pre-schoolers have gone home with their parents to collect elder siblings. For a couple of hours, the place is devoid of people. Once again, I can sit on one of many strategically placed benches around the site and breathe in the calm.
Autumn comes again too soon, and the trees start to change colour spectacularly. Bedgebury has an amazing autumn display because of its mix of conifer and broadleaf trees. Yes, even some of the conifers change colour and drop their needles for the winter! The most spectacular of these are the swamp cypresses and dawn redwoods that turn the most amazing bronze and rust colours in readiness for the winter storms which finally strip their needles. Marshal’s Lake reflects a glorious melange of reds, golds and browns before it settles again for the calm of quieter winter days.
A year, made up of the four seasons, across twelve months, is still not enough to take in all that Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest has to offer. Thankfully, it all starts again every January! This year again, I know that Bedgebury will be unique in every season.
Mina McPhee, The Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum
The Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum is a charity that supports the Forestry Commission in its management of Bedgebury as a world-class centre of conifer research, conservation and education, as a landscape of rare and endangered flora and fauna, and as a site for high quality, healthy recreation. It is funded by membership subscriptions, sponsorship activities and donations. For more information about the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum visit www.bedgeburypinetum.org.uk
Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest, Lady Oak Lane, Goudhurst TN17 2SL. Tel: 01580 879842