Trees offer great benefit to the residents of Cheltenham as they:
- clean the air we breathe by removing certain pollutants, as well as by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen;
provide havens for all sorts of wildlife, including birds, bats and insects. Bat holes can seen in the crowns of some of the trees in Pittville Park (one example is seen in the large Turkey Oak which is located on the lawn south of the pump rooms);
help to reduce wind speeds where wind tunnels are created by tall buildings and help to circulate stagnant air;
soften the impact of the urban environment;
provide relief from sun glare and offer temporary shelter during showery weather;
can alleviate flooding by reducing ground water runoff and also help to prevent erosion onsteep banks;
can help to mask noise levels by breaking up sound waves.
The Regency ideal was to transplant the countryside into the town by combining architecture with forest tree planting which stemmed from the work of John Evelyn, who wrote the classic "Discourse of Forest Trees", in the seventeenth century. In his book, he advocated the great potential benefits of Lime trees for street planting.
Captain Henry Skillicorne, who was the "founding father" of Cheltenham as a spa town, initiated the planting of forest trees within the town. An extract from his diary reads,
"In the winter of 1739 I made the upper walk, planted elm and lime to the number of 37, and made a new orchard adjoining. To the winter of 1740 I made the lower walk, planted 96 elms at the expense of £56."
As a result of Henry Skillicorne's initial plantings, followed by later ones, many fine avenues of Lime trees still exist within the town, most notable being those on Lansdown Road and Brooklyn Road (the oldest lime trees on Lansdown Road are probably in the region of 150 years old, whilst those on Brooklyn Road around 120 years old). Unfortunately, due to the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease, we do not have a continuing tree heritage of Elm trees, however there are individual specimens at various locations but none appear to exceed 50 years old.
Pittville Park and Montpellier Gardens became public gardens in the middle of the nineteenth Century when local authorities were given powers to set up parks and green walkways. From the first part of the nineteenth century, exotic varieties of tree species were introduced from abroad, including from America, Europe, Siberia and China.
Both Pittville Park and Montpellier Gardens have a number of exotic species within their planting, some of which are likely to originate from the initial establishment of the gardens. The large copper beech in Montpellier Gardens is one such example. Copper beech trees are now common around the town and were first recorded in Switzerland in 1680 (Mitchell and More 1979). Other examples are the yew trees in Pittville Park and Clarence Square.