Wakehurst's fascinating woodlands contain specimens of temperate trees from all around the world.
Temperate zones stretch north from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle and south from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Antarctic Circle. Temperate species also grow in cooler high places in the equatorial tropics.
For over 150 years in its past, Wakehurst evolved simply by collecting. Ornamental plantings and exotic tree collections were sited within native woodland, which was, and is, generally of English pedunculate oak. The result was a rich and mature collection of trees and shrubs, but completely random.
The 1960s and 1970s saw more focus being brought to the collections, concentrating on grouping trees and shrubs according to the areas of the world in which they grew - a phytogeographic system.
Work was progressing well when, in the Great Storm of October 1987, Wakehurst Place lost some 15,000 trees. On the surface, this was a huge tragedy but then, the realisation came that, in the long term, the dark cloud of this enforced clearance had a genuine silver lining.
It meant that the way was clear to create a series of tree collections which would be scientifically more important; more attractive to visitors and more relevant to Kew's emphasis on conservation and education. Replanting and repositioning mature trees was a literally massive undertaking, not helped by the advent of a second storm, another 'one in 300 years event', that swept across England only two years later, on 25 January, 1990.
Today, Westwood Valley is visited for trees from eastern Asia; Horsebridge Wood for North American species; Bloomer’s Valley for Mediterranean and Irano-turanian species, Coates Wood for Southern Hemisphere trees and Bethlehem Wood for the birches which are found all round northern temperate zones.
Part of the strong appeal of Wakehurst is year-round access to all the woodlands, gaining strong impressions of how various regions look, if not how they feel, because many of their own local climatic conditions cannot be accurately reproduced here. Nonetheless the seasonal pleasures such as autumn colour in the deciduous collections in Horsebridge Wood and the spring wildflower carpet in Bethlehem Wood are easily realised.