Barcham – where trees, like people, are individuals

Sandy Felton talks to Mike Glover, Managing Director at Barcham Trees, about his passion for trees, the importance of plant bio-security and plans for the new arboretum at their Ely nursery.

Mike Glover is passionate about growing and raising trees and as Managing Director of Europe’s largest container tree specialist, Barcham Trees, has a vast wealth of knowledge at his fingertips.

Ask him how he got involved in growing container trees and he will tell you that the initial driver was back in 1987, when the great storm hit the UK leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Many of us will remember the heart-breaking sight of seeing majestic forest trees felled, historic estate trees obliterated and beloved garden species demolished.

Mike (pictured left) explains that town planners at the time wanted trees to be planted that would be guaranteed to survive: “We went in on the premise of containerised trees to basically do the job once. The trouble with a replacement tree is the fixing of tree grills and then getting the newly planted tree to establish a reliable root system,” he says. “If you get it wrong you have to do it all over again. We wanted to ensure that a containerised tree with an already established root system was available, not only saving time but also money.”

Barcham only sell containerised trees – their ethos is that they grow the trees themselves before they sell them. They take seeds from veteran UK trees to ensure the best characteristics are retained for future generations and then grow them on for up to 15 years, thus supplying instant impact specimen trees for clients. They supply a vast array of clients, from Chelsea show gardens, to local authorities, large estates, town planning schemes as well as the general public.

The ancestry of a tree is now more important than ever with the onset of diseases such as Oak Processionary Moth, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Chestnut Blight and Ash Die Back, to name but a few, which has led, in many cases, to government intervention and bans. Now a new threat is on the horizon in the shape of Xylella fastidiosa – a bacterium which lives in the plant xylem tissue and has been found in Europe since October 2013. The European Food Safety Authority currently lists more than 350 plant species from 204 genera and 75 botanical families affected by Xylella, so obviously buying trees and plants that have been proven UK grown can go a long way to countering this new threat.

Anyone buying trees should ask where they have come from and if they have an audit trail,” says Mike. He stresses that Xylella is not in the UK yet but if plant material keeps coming across from the continent without any thought to bio-security then it is only a matter of time before the menace becomes a reality. Plant quarantine is going to become more important in the future. (pictured right: Platanus-hispanica)

In 2014 Barcham produced a document outlining their commitment to bio-security, the first UK tree nursery to do so and it is a firm part of that commitment not to import trees and sell them to customers for immediate planting into the UK landscape.

While the majority of trees at Barcham are home-grown, any that are imported are subject to their rigorous bio-security system – each tree with its own Batch Number – so no stock is imported for immediate resale. The Company’s scientific approach – each tree established in light pots – turns the science of growing into strength and quality and ultimately beauty. Mike explains that all their trees are continuously monitored and independently checked by DEFRA so they can be bought and planted in confidence.

There is an interesting video on the Barcham Trees website – What price for biosecurity? – with interviews from leading figures in the industry, urging others to catch up. (Please click HERE to watch)

As the 350 acre nursery is situated in the heart of the fens near Ely, Cambridgeshire, they contend with harder winters than most of the UK: “We can get down to -17 Celsius in winter, as happened in 2013,” says Mike. “The result of this is that trees are fully acclimatised to the British climate, unlike many Italian imports, for example, that move from Tuscany to very different surroundings in the UK, only to suffer the consequences.”

He admits that one rewarding part of his job is seeing trees they have planted flourishing and making an impact on the landscape: “I was just in Harrogate recently and walked down a street by the exhibition centre where I found hornbeams we supplied ten or fifteen years ago. They are now an integral part of the tree-scape and looked fantastic. That is pretty rewarding, that we have achieved what we set out to do all those years before when they were planted.”

Ask him what his favourite tree is and he will tell you that will depend on what growing conditions a client has: “When I know what conditions the tree is going to be planted in, I will give my favourite tree for that particular position,” he says. “I always like to know where a tree is going, its aspect, soil and the positioning and from that I can narrow it down to my favourite.”

Mike graduated from Writtle Agricultural College in 1990 and the following year found him in California, having been awarded the Wilfred Cave Scholarship by the Royal Bath & West Society to study ‘Instant Garden Techniques‘. On his return to the UK he joined Barcham Trees. In 2003 Mike patented the Light Pot in both Europe and the UK with the aim of producing trees with sustainable root systems.

Mike is the author of Barcham’s, ‘Time for Trees – a guide to species selection for the UK‘, a beautifully illustrated and informative publication, now entering its third printing and well worth the £15 cover price. It provides both an excellent reference work for those working in the industry as well as a useful and informative guide for clients wanting to purchase trees for their own particular circumstances.

Barcham have supplied more than a million instant-impact trees for the urban environment across Britain and they hold two Royal Warrants, but they never rest on their laurels. There are exciting times ahead at Barcham with plans for the development of an arboretum, lake and visitor centre at their Cambridgeshire nursery (aerial view above). The new development is also going to include a restaurant and shopping area on part of the 300 acre site, that will also see the creation of up to 40 new jobs.

The new development will cover 17 acres in total of which 12 acres will be an arboretum. Mike hopes that this will serve several roles: “It will be aesthetically pleasing, educational, practical and a showcase for both our trade and private customers,” he explains. They are the first major tree nursery to see such a facility as part of their remit and clearly provides a natural extension to what the nursery does, which already includes the education of tree-care professionals and involvement with setting arboricultural industry standards.

For Mike and his team at Barcham the supply of healthy trees, the sharing of their expertise with clients and the science of growing trees, are all paramount. As Mike points out, Barcham do not just sell trees, they can offer valuable advice, very important when you are spending perhaps a considerable sum on a mature tree. Their website is comprehensive and contains a lot of information as well as an interesting blog and is well worth a browse –

Thanks to Mike for giving his time during a busy schedule to talk to Reckless Gardener.

Photo credits: All photographs are ©Barcham Trees