Storm Arwen struck the north-east coast on the night of 27 November 2021 with a maximum gust recorded locally of 98mph. It was the worst storm at Howick in living memory and has done extensive damage in the garden and woods. More than 200 mature hardwood trees were blown over as were some old conifers, and many more lost branches to the point where they will have to be taken down. The following points are worth noting:
The wind came from the north north-east, a most unusual direction here for a gale which normally comes from the west over the Atlantic; the root systems below the ground have grown to give protection from the west which meant that many trees were poorly defended.
The wind strength was extraordinary; we have had nothing like it for over 100 years.
The old oaks suffered most since their branches are more brittle; some survivors will have to be assessed to make sure they are safe to remain standing. The worst hit area is the oak plantation planted by Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, up the Back Drive and part of that is likely to remain closed to the public for some time.
The Hydrangea Garden suffered most. Two of the three 150 year old Corsican Pines blew over and landed right in the middle of three of the hydrangea beds. A 100 year Oriental Spruce nearby also blew over together with a mature Silver Maple from West Virginia in America. Most of the hydrangeas will come again from the bottom but that is unlikely to happen with the Eucryphias.
We are lucky to have access to expert advice. Charlie Erskine, one of our retired Trustees and a former Curator of the Arboretum at Kew (who had to deal with the aftermath of the famous October 1987 storm there) and David Knott, a new Trustee and Curator of the four gardens comprising the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, have both visited recently. Their main message is not to lose heart, simply work through the programme and remember that big machinery can do more damage than good, i.e. wait for the conditions to be right before bringing it in. We have, in fact, been very lucky with an unusually dry late winter and spring which has allowed us to make good progress with clearing up in the garden. We have taken the following steps:
All the paths in the garden and arboretum are clear and safe to use apart from the part of the Back Drive mentioned above, and a section of Sitka Spruce in the centre of the Long Walk which will stay closed.
We shall continue to deal with the work in-house; all the good contractors are up to their eyes in work but we hope to get some outside help (and machinery) early in the New Year.
We are getting a good service from our regular tree surgeons and they will be spending time here.
BUT, we shall not be in a hurry; it is all going to take a long time and we will only be working in the woods when the weather conditions are right in order to minimise further damage. The overarching message is that the interest of the plants comes first.
Development programmes in the garden have been halted for the time being. These will be restarted, probably early next year, even if it means extending the clear-up operation in outlying areas.
So, please do not be surprised to see fallen trees dotted about and obvious patches of storm damage; indeed, they may add to the interest of a visit for some. However, we do ask for some patience and understanding from visitors who expect tidiness!