A 600-year-old tree has amazed experts at Wakehurst Place, the Sussex country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and shed new light on the gardens’ past.

The great age and significance of the yew tree – which dates back to the time of the Black Death – was discovered during research on the history of the gardens at Ardingly, near Haywards Heath.

The discovery was made during research for the estate’s conservation management plan, which will shape the future of Wakehurst for hundreds of years to come.

Until the last few weeks, horticulturists had no idea the yew was so old and its age indicates there was a relatively large landscaped garden at Wakehurst as early as 1391 – far earlier than previously thought.

Andy Jackson, the head of Wakehurst, said: “I am shocked and amazed.

“I thought I knew almost all there was to know about Wakehurst’s landscape, but it has unveiled a new layer to me.

"I’ve walked past this remarkably humble tree almost every day without realising just how old it is.

“The yew is like an ancient key, unlocking information about the past and suggesting there was a much older designed landscape at Wakehurst that we didn’t know was there.”

The tree, which has a girth of 20 feet, stands in front of the 16th century Wakehurst mansion.

An archaeological dig last year revealed that a 14th century house had originally stood close to the site of the mansion and further research was carried out after a specialist landscape architect identified a significant line of old yews.

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