January 8, 1985
Today is the anniversary of the death of conservationist and plantsman Harold Hillier.
In 1864, Hilliard's grandfather Edwin began the family Nursery. His son was supposed to take over the family business, but he died during the war, and so it fell to Edwin's grandson Harald to continue his legacy.
Harold immediately set about creating a public garden and arboretum alongside the nursery. The site was already home to some magnificent trees - some of which were at least 200 years old.
In an article from 2019, it was revealed that the Hillier Arboretum is home to the largest collection of Champion Trees in all of Britain and Ireland with a whopping total of 611 followed by Kew Garden with 333 Champion Trees.
Champion Trees fit into three categories being either the largest, the finest, or the rarest of their species.
Today the Hillier Nursery is putting together a Champion Tree Trail throughout the Arboretum so that visitors can walk to each of the Champion tree specimens. Among some of the Champion Trees are specimen eucalyptus from Australia, rare pine trees from Mexico, and Sequoias from North America.
The Hillier Arboretum really began as a propagation holding place for the nursery. If a tree needed to be propagated, the nursery workers would just go out to the Arboretum and take a scion wood or seeds from the tree there. Similarly, if the nursery received some incredible rootstock or seed, they would sell most of it but hold some back for the Arboretum.
Today the 180-acre Arboretum is entirely separate from the nursery, and it features about 42,000 plants across 1200 taxa. the Arboretum features 11 National Plant Collections and has magnificent specimens of witch hazel and oak.
Hillier died just six days after his 80th birthday. Harold spent his entire life working to save rare and endangered trees and shrubs from Extinction. In 1978 he gifted the Hillier Arboretum with thousands of specimens in plants.
When asked by a reporter for his opinion on plant conservation, Hillier famously replied,
"While others are talking about it, I am doing it.
Roots in the ground - planting, planting, planting."