Ten things you didn't know about Harcourt Arboretum

The best collection of trees in Oxfordshire

By Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

1 | Harcourt

Nuneham Park Estate was purchased by the Harcourt family in 1712. The Harcourt family first came to England following the Norman Conquest of 1066. 

Giant redwood (2018)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

2 | Building an Arboretum

The first trees were planted in 1835. At this time, many exotic species were being imported to Britain from across the globe. Harcourt manuscripts give us an idea of the scale of planting that took place. In 1837 an order was sent for ‘three hundred each of spruce, larch, Scots pine and English oak’. The giant redwoods, planted in the 1850s, are among the oldest trees at the Arboretum.  

The Serpentine RideOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

3 | The pinetum

In 1835 Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt (1757-1847), Archbishop of York, commissioned landscape designer William Sawrey Gilpin (c.1761-1843) to design an eight-acre pinetum. Gilpin is responsible for the ‘Picturesque’ style of the Arboretum with grassy glades lined by rhododendrons separated and defined by shrub plantings and punctuated by newly introduced conifers.      

Palmer's Leys MeadowOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

4 | Became part of Oxford Botanic Garden

The Oxford Botanic Garden had been looking for an Arboretum for some time and eventually got its wish when Oxford University handed over 4.6 acres of the Nuneham Park estate in 1963. The Arboretum grew slowly over time as more land was acquired. The modern 130-acre Arboretum was finally established in 2006 when an additional 50 acres was purchased with the help of the Friends of the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum. 

The Sheldonian Theatre Emperor Heads (2019)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

5 | Retired Emperor Heads

The Arboretum is home to several ‘retired’ carved figures known as the Emperor Heads. These heads once sat outside the Sheldonian Theatre in the heart of Oxford and were first commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren when the Sheldonian Theatre was built between 1664 and 1669. 

Perfect partnersOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

6 | Perfect partners

The Arboretum has acidic soil, the opposite to that of the Botanic Garden just a few miles away. This is useful as many specimens that would struggle to grow at the Botanic Garden flourish at the Arboretum and vice versa, making them perfect complementary partners. 

7 | Arboretum d’Harcourt

Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire has a twin in France. One of the oldest arboreta in France, it is located on the grounds of the 14th century Chateau d’Harcourt in the commune of Harcourt, in Eure, Normandy.   

Local conservationOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

8 | Local conservation importance

The Arboretum comprises 57 acres of semi-natural, lowland grassland on acidic soil.  Acidic grassland in Oxfordshire is rare, and therefore the meadows at the Arboretum are of local conservation importance. Almost 40 species have been recorded in the meadows, including notable species such as marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor).      

PeafowlOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

9 | Peafowl

If you have visited the Arboretum you may have spotted the peacocks showing off their spectacular plumage. These birds are not domesticated and have been here ever since their ancestors were introduced from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century. The Harcourt family coat of arms features a peacock.

A living fossil (2018)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

10 | Providing a home for species from around the world

The Arboretum is home to trees and shrubs from six different continents. Some of these include a juniper (Juniperus procera) from East Africa, an oak from the USA (Quercus alba), a large-leaved magnolia from Japan (Magnolia obovata), and a recently discovered rarity from Australia, the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis).      

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