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Explore ‘secret histories’ of exotic plants and trees at our Calderstones Park HQ with the launch of our new map

Written by Lily Kehoe, 31st May 2024

The Reader, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and four cultural identity groups in Liverpool collaborate to create a new park trail and poetry collection celebrating plants and trees from around the world at Calderstones Park.

A new map shines a light on rare and exotic trees from around the world growing in one of Liverpool’s loveliest parks and botanical gardens.

We've worked closely with Liverpool Irish Centre, Japan Society North West, Chinese Wellbeing Society and international students from Liverpool Hope University as part of Making Meaning, a two-year heritage project, bringing to life the histories, hidden stories and cultural significance of these trees.

Visitors are encouraged to explore the park with the new map and spot exotic species from China (Bamboo, Gingko, Handkerchief tree, Dawn Redwood, Magnolia and Cornelian Cherry), Japan (Sugi, Cherry and Umbrella Pine) and North America (the Tulip tree, Coast Redwood and Giant Sequoia, sacred to indigenous American peoples).

The project has also resulted in a new book, Around the World with the Trees of Calderstones Park, bringing together the findings with poetry and prose celebrating the wonder, beauty and mystery of trees. It features works of poets and authors including Hermann Hesse, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Joy Harjo, Derek Walcott and John Clare.

A major theme of the 2024 Chelsea Flower Show this month was the impact a garden can have on our wellbeing. Ula Maria was awarded a gold medal for her immersive Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Yard. Guests can also enjoy some tips on ‘forest bathing’, while walking around Calderstones Park. Known in Japan as shinrin-yoku, it is based on the idea that spending time among trees is helpful for mental wellbeing.

Another fascinating focal point of the tree trail is the ancient 1,000-year-old Allerton Oak, an Irish oak, and one of the oldest trees in North West England. It was the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year in 2019 and came seventh in the European Tree of the Year 2020. It is said the force of an explosion on a ship called the Lottie Sleigh, moored on the River Mersey in 1864, caused a split in the trunk. During the Second World War local soldiers were sent acorns and leaves from the Allerton Oak in Christmas cards.

Annie Bowden, Programme and Participation manager at The Reader, said: “This May half term we are celebrating a new way to explore Calderstones Park through its plants and trees from across the world.

“Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund The Reader has worked with cultural identity groups in Liverpool. Their knowledge and enthusiasm allowed us to unearth the hidden stories and cultures behind the trees and forage for the global stories entwined in the park’s branches.

“This work has resulted in this new anthology and park map bringing alive the secret histories of trees from all over the world that call Calderstones Park their home.”

This latest research is part of the bigger Making Meaning at Calderstones project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to uncover and celebrate untold stories across the Mansion House and surrounding park.

It has included an oral history project and exhibition about the 1940s Art-Deco style Garden Theatre, which underwent huge renovation in 2019 amid a £5m three-year refurbishment of the Grade II Mansion House. The stage was added to the back of the property in 1947, designed by Liverpool’s City Architect Sir Lancelot Keay. The findings were published in a book containing old photographs and memories from local residents, alongside selected poems and literary extracts.

And in February 2024 a newly commissioned painting, Now We Sit With It, by artist and illustrator Sumuyya Khader was unveiled at the Mansion House responding to new research examining links between Calderstones and the transatlantic slave trade.

A special episode of The Reader podcast on this newest guide to Calderstones’ plants and trees from across the globe will be released this week and features interviews with representatives from Japan Society North West and the Chinese Wellbeing Society, as well as music and poetry from around the world.

Frances Macmillan, Head of Literary Content at The Reader, said: “This latest episode weaves together literature and stories about the wonderful trees surrounding Calderstones Mansion House.” For more information and to listen online visit here.

TIMELINE: Collecting plants and trees for Calderstones

  • Calderstones Mansion House was built in 1828 as the family home of Joseph Need Walker, a successful lead shot manufacturer. The house and gardens were designed to signal the status of the Walker family and showcase their wealth and fashionable taste.
  • We can trace the popularity of landscape gardening and exotic flora back a century and more before Joseph’s birth in 1790; as soon as European ships began to travel further afield and land in new countries, seeds and plants had been brought back to Britain. But during the 18th and 19th century botany and plant collecting became popular pursuits of the British upper classes.
  • When Joseph Need Walker’s son Henry put Calderstones Mansion up for sale in 1872, the grounds featured almost as prominently in the description as the house. Joseph had built up an impressive collection of specimen trees and shrubs and employed a talented gardener, Alexander Morton, to nurture the exotic fruits and flowers.
  • The Mansion House was bought in 1875 by Charles MacIver, a Liverpool shipping magnate who, with his partner Samuel Cunard, established the British and North American Royal Steam Packet Company, later known as the Cunard line. The MacIver family were to continue plant collecting, with perhaps even more enthusiasm, adding many of the trees that shape Calderstones landscape today.
  • The Calderstones estate was sold to the Liverpool Corporation in 1902. During the First and Second World Wars the park land was used to grow crops and help feed Britain's population.
  • In 1951 Calderstones Park housed Liverpool Botanic Garden, and its collection of rare plants and trees from around the world was enlarged by additions from private and professional plant collectors from Kew, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

(Extract: The Reader’s Around the World with the Trees of Calderstones Park heritage anthology)

The ‘Plants and Trees Around the World’ map is free and available across the Calderstones Park Mansion House site and in The Reader Bookshop.

Copies of ‘Around the World with the Trees of Calderstones Park’ book cost £3 or pay what you can and are available at the Welcome Desk at The Mansion House and in The Reader Bookshop, Calderstones Park, Liverpool.

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