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Dame Judi Dench and school competition winner place Sycamore Gap seedling in The Octavia Hill Garden at Chelsea Flower Show

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Dame Judi Dench and competition winner Charlotte Crowe with the Sycamore Gap seedling in The Octavia Hill Garden at Chelsea Flower Show | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

A seedling, grown from seeds collected from the Sycamore Gap tree after it was felled last September, has been placed in The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Dame Judi Dench was joined by competition winner, 7-year-old Charlotte Crowe from Henshaw C.E Primary School in Northumberland, to place the precious seedling in the Trust’s beautiful, plant-filled wildlife garden on Monday 20 May, prior to the show’s public opening.

Passionate about trees, Dame Judi was very concerned by the news of the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree last autumn; There was unprecedented public reaction to the loss, in Northumberland and beyond.

The much-loved tree had stood within a dip in Hadrian’s Wall for around 200 years before it was felled in an act of vandalism last September.

The seedling is one of a collection of small seedlings and buds propagated at the conservation charity’s Plant Conservation Centre in Devon and the first to be on show to the public since photos of them were first shared by the Trust in March.

Cared for by expert horticulturists, the delicate seedling will return to the Plant Conservation Centre after the show and be quarantined, before rejoining the other seedlings to continue to grow.

Charlotte won the opportunity to join Dame Judi in the Trust’s Show Garden through a competition at her school near Hexham in Northumberland, the closest school to the iconic Sycamore Gap. Organised by the National Trust, pupils were invited to draw a picture of the tree and write a short poem about what it meant to them.

Charlotte’s winning entry talks about the ‘mindful, famous, historical, magnificent tree.’ When asked about her win Charlotte said:

“I am so happy that scientists are trying to grow the tree back as it means a lot to our school. I was so surprised that I had won the competition and am excited to go to London because I have never been before.”

The National Trust, working together with Northumberland National Park, Historic England and the Hadrian’s Wall Partnership are planning a range of responses to the tree’s felling in the coming months, which will include work with local schools, tree planting initiatives in Northumberland, and artistic interpretations.

Andrew Poad, the National Trust’s General Manager for Hadrian’s Wall said:

“The response to the tree’s felling has been extraordinary and demonstrates how the tree was special to many, many people, including Charlotte and Dame Judi.

“This is a memorable moment as we continue to share the story of this much-loved tree and we are delighted that they could both join us to place the seedling in The Octavia Hill Garden today.”

The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust reflects Octavia Hill’s belief, as a founder of the National Trust, that everyone needs access to nature, beauty and gardens. Laid out as a series of ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ (gardens) – a core idea from Octavia – the garden will give visitors space where they can feel connected to the plants and wildlife around them.

The addition of a Sycamore Gap seedling to the garden is representative of the many stories illustrated throughout the garden rooms showcasing the diverse work of the National Trust, indicative of the incredible legacy of Octavia Hill.

Andrew Jasper, Director of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust, added:

“Placing the Sycamore Gap seedling within the garden at Chelsea reflects the National Trust’s important role in preserving both our nation’s heritage and our shared horticultural heritage through plant conservation.

“The huge outpouring of emotion after the tree was felled showed that our deep-rooted feelings of connection to our natural heritage are as powerful today as they were in Octavia Hill’s lifetime. We hope that those who visit the garden at Chelsea this week will feel that beneficial connection to the natural heritage that we care for and also take inspiration from seeing the seedling – when we first saw the seedlings germinate, we knew there was hope for the tree’s future.”

Designed by award winning garden designer, Ann-Marie Powell, and conceptually located on an urban brownfield site, the beautiful, plant-filled wildlife garden is designed to stimulate physical, mental, and social well-being.

The Sycamore Gap seedling can be seen in The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 21 to 25 May. 

The National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) plays a crucial role in conserving rare and historically important plants for the Trust’s gardens and parklands. What began from a single desk in April 1982 has now expanded to a purpose-built facility that is central to the Trust’s work to conserve its vast living collections. Since it began, the centre has conserved thousands of genera from Acer to Zanthoxylum. 

Set in an undisclosed location, the PCC has been propagating plants completely peat-free for more than 30 years, including those that have traditionally relied on peat, such as rhododendrons. From heritage apple trees and giant Himalayan lilies to rare shrubs and half-tonne tree ferns taking three people to move, the PCC works with a huge range of plants and on equally huge timescales: some plants can be nurtured at the centre for as long as 20 years.

The winning poem about the Sycamore Gap tree by 7-year-old Charlotte Crowe from Henshaw C.E Primary School near Hexham:

I went to see Hadrian’s Wall and I saw a tree.
It was a mindful tree.
It was a mindful, famous tree.
It was a mindful, famous, historical tree.
It was a mindful, famous, historical, magnificent tree.
It was a mindful, famous, historical, magnificent, welcoming tree.
I really hope sycamore gap grows back.
When I go and see the tree it brings back lots of memories.

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