This article was published in the magazine British Woodworking in March 2014.
Turners are often asked “Which is the best wood to turn”. I don’t know, but on my way back to resume life in Australia I came across a candidate with an appropriate name, Turner’s oak, Quercus turneri. The specimen shown was planted in the de Hortus botanic garden in Amsterdam in 1895.
This garden was founded in 1638, just after a plague epidemic, by the Amsterdam City Council as a medicinal herb garden to supply doctors and pharmacists. The number of species grown in the garden grew rapidly during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the help of exotic plants brought back by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC), and now numbers about 6,000. The VOC was the world’s first joint-stock company, was founded in 1602, and didn’t expire until 1800. It may also have been the first company to use a logo.
The Turner’s oak is semi-deciduous and a cross between Quercus robur (English oak) and Quercus ilex (Holm oak). Whether the cross occurred naturally and was discovered by Mr Spencer Turner, or whether it was intentionally hybridised by him isn’t recorded. He started growing specimens commercially in about 1790 in his Holloway Down Nursery which he’d opened in 1787 in Essex. Perhaps Turner’s nursery was the source for the huge and still-healthy specimen planted in Kew Gardens in 1798.
Turner’s oaks are rare and little known—Kew’s wasn’t correctly identified until 1980. The main source for the species’ history is the 1838 book Arboretum et fruticetum britannicum by John Claudius Loudon.
What’s the wood like to turn? Because the Australian customs wouldn’t have allowed me to bring a piece into Australia in my luggage, I didn’t ask if I could saw off a chunk from de Hortus’s tree. I would however assume it would be hard and crisp like the wood of all the other 450 oak species.