Celebrations to mark arboretum's 150th birthday

"The arboretum is Walsall’s greatest physical asset by far."

On its 150th birthday, Jon Hemming is keen to promote the 170-acre park - and protect it for years to come.

Mr Hemming is chair of Walsall Arboretum User Group, which works with the borough council to maintain a site that opened on Monday 4 May, 1874.

"We all care passionately about the arboretum. Not just love it, we are passionate about it," he said.

Jo Lester, Jon Hemming and Suki Dhillon
Walsall Arboretum User Group members Jo Lester, Jon Hemming and Suki Dhillon work to maintain the group's park garden [BBC]

A day of celebration on Saturday marks the anniversary, with brass band performances, other musicians and miniature railway rides.

"This is an opportunity to tell everybody about our wonderful arboretum," Mr Hemming said.

"The more people we can tell and spread awareness of this great thing that we’ve got, the better."

Walsall Arboretum
Walsall Council says the arboretum attracts about a million visitors a year with activities on offer including cricket, tennis and bowls [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
The arboretum's bandstand was built in 1873. It was later replaced in 1899 by the present-day bandstand [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
The Joseph Leckie Sons of Rest building was originally known as the Pavillion and was built in 1902 [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
Divers exploring Hatherton Lake in 1965 discovered a submerged mineral railway line [BBC]

Suki Dhillon, the user group's vice-chair, became more aware of the arboretum after retiring in 2020.

"I am a keen gardener and I vaguely knew about it, but I'd get up in the morning, go to work in Birmingham, come back at night and didn't really know much more about it," she said. "I didn’t really know what I had on my doorstep.

"I love the fact the arboretum is not for a certain class of person or a certain ethnic group.

"Everybody accesses it, from babies, and it’s the first place I brought my granddaughter in her pushchair, all the way up to memorial trees. It’s there for everyone."

She added: "Some families and children in Walsall may not have a garden, but they have this on their doorstep."

Walsall Arboretum orchard
An orchard has been developed by the arboretum user group with 250 trees, many of them heritage apple trees [BBC]
Green Man at Walsall Arboretum
The Woodland Wildlife Garden is home to the Green Man carving and the user group will hold a fundraising plant sale there on Saturday 11 May [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
Walsall Arboretum was designated an ancient tree site by the Woodland Trust in 2024 - the first in the West Midlands conurbation [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
The park has 130 veteran trees, with 17 of those classed as ancient, meaning they are hundreds of years old [BBC]

The arboretum has been an important part of user group member Jo Lester's life for two decades.

"I think there has been a sea change in the almost 20 years I've been involved. There is a much greater appreciation of green spaces and what they have to offer," she said.

"And some of that I think, paradoxically, came from Covid."

She added: "The arboretum has given me the opportunity to sort of develop a second career.

"I've always been a really keen gardener, interested in wildlife and the natural world and this has given me the challenge of doing something that really seems to matter.

"I’ve had the chance to design features, to choose plants, to work with professional gardeners and I found that really challenging and really rewarding and I have to say my retirement is anything but dull."

Walsall Arboretum
Jo Lester designed A Seat for Reflection in memory of Walsall soldier, Corporal Jonathan Horne, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
The user group says it is looking to shift away from the traditional view of a park to one which has more concentration on biodiversity [BBC]
Walsall Arboretum
The user group is working to preserve the site for future generations [BBC]

The user group is using the 150th anniversary to mount a recruitment drive for new volunteers.

"We want to do whatever we can to ensure the arboretum's still here for future generations and we know that to do that, we have to think not what's best for us now, but what’s best for 10 years, 20 years," said Mr Hemming.

"To shift away from the traditional view of a park to one which has more concentration on the biodiversity and our aim is also to educate people about trees and nature."

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