May 16th, 2017

Team WB have been busy this month learning how to make wooden roof tiles, known as shingles, for a proposed sculpture to celebrate the culmination of the 4 year HLF Community Engagement Programme.  Working under the specialist instruction of Brian Williamson, who leads on the coppicing in Silk Wood, young people and volunteers  took on the task of cutting a section of trunk from a fallen oak, splitting it into ever smaller workable segments and then shaping them into the finished product using a ‘shave horse’.

The cutting and splitting of shingles was incredible hard work, with young people working constantly throughout the day, stopping only for pizza and cake.

Members of Team WB and Wild Westonbirt were also at the ARB show last weekend, demonstrating their shingle making skills and encouraging visitors to have a go!

We estimate that we will need a total of 400 for the sculpture.   Over 200 have been made to date!

 

Update on Vietnam Trip

May 8th, 2017

Having returned from Vietnam a short while ago, I’ve had a little time to reflect on and recall some highlights of what was an amazing and most fascinating trip. I was fortunate enough to be travelling with an incredibly knowledgeable, experienced team from the western world as well as premier botanists from the Institute of Biological Resources in Hanoi (IEBR).

Our field work was focussed on two areas. Our first excursion was a 4 day epic trek over the part of the massif known as Five Fingers. Our team (at this point), made up of Douglas Justice, Andy Hill (both University of British Columbia), Dan Hinkley (Heronswood, US), Nguyen Van Du, Bui Hong Quang, Master’s students Bing and Sung (All IEBR) and I were accompanied by a band of porters, without whom none of what we achieved would have been possible. Carrying the bulk of our gear, tents, food supplies and associated bits and pieces needed for the duration of our trek they’d set off behind us and end up a long way in front (though they weren’t stopping to collect and study plants along the way). By the time we hit the campsite at the end of each day, our tents were up, the kettle was hot and dinner was near enough ready. We felt slightly spoilt as our food was brought over to us, as we perched on our chosen rock or log. How they could make perfect rice over a fire, I’ll never know.

The amazing porters who carried our kit and cooked our meals

Our trip to Five Fingers had been much discussed as this area was something of an enigma, having been little explored by western botanists. We were believed to be the first to have tackled the particular trail we negotiated and it was replete with floral treats at every turn.

Top of the agenda for Douglas and I were maple species and the first we came across was Acer sterculiaceum subsp. sterculiaceum. Part of a complex group, this taxon was not known from Vietnam and our find represents a significant extension of its known range. We studied plenty of other maples along the way, many in flower, including examples of Acer laevigatum, A. campbellii and A. sikkimense. Our observations will help us to make valuable contributions to the knowledge of these plants.

Acer sterculiaceum subsp. sterculiaceum

A non-maple highlight on Five Fingers for me was seeing Rhoiptelea chiliantha. Allied to the walnuts, only one plant is known in cultivation and that is here at Westonbirt, though not doing particularly well. So you can imagine my delight to see that it was in seed!! Though were a little early for it to be ripe and reports that it is difficult to germinate, I stand by what I said at the time: “If anyone can, Penny can’.  No pressure, Penny!

The four days somewhat blurred into one with near endless ups and downs on sometimes challenging terrain. Coming off the mountain on the fourth day brought about a feeling of huge satisfaction with the plants we had seen and the ground we had covered. We had also had tremendous fortune with the weather, with it raining only once on the first evening. Following as successful first leg of the expedition, we returned happily to civilisation for a well earned shower!

Looking back at Five Fingers from where we had just trekked

May Tree of the Month

April 28th, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Whitebeam

Sorbus dunnii

Why is it tree of the month?

One of the most spectacular whitebeams in foliage, with leaves that have distinctly white (hence the name) undersides and near gold veins. They flush a bronzey red on the upper surface, before quickly turning green. Native to parts of China, it is extremely rare in cultivation, with plants that are growing elsewhere in cultivation all deriving from our oldest tree here at Westonbirt.

This itself is a grafted plant that was also propagated from a grafted plant that derived from the introduction of the species some 35 years ago. Are you still with us?!

Where can I find it?
Here at Westonbirt, we have 3 plants, all in Silk Wood. One is on Waste Drive (tree no. 45.1024), one on Barn Walk (tree no. 42.0634) and another on Willesley Drive (tree no. 30.0703). Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

April Tree of the Month

April 6th, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Amelanchier asiatica

Tree of the month

Why is it tree of the month

One of the joys of spring is Amelanchier asiatica, a small tree that flowers beautifully. It is native to parts of China, Korea and Japan. Our sole specimen was grown from seed collected in the latter and was planted here in 1995.

Where can I find it?

You can find it on Main Drive in the Old Arboretum. Tree #16.0453. Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

April Fool

April 2nd, 2017

Alright, we confess… there is no magnolia with multi-coloured leaves here at Westonbirt. But we hope you all enjoyed our April Fool! Well-spotted to everyone who figured it out!

While it may not have multi-coloured leaves, the Magnolia maudiae (or the smiling monkey tree, as it is sometimes referred to) is a very real tree, and can be found growing with many of our other stunning magnolias in Savill Glade. You’ll recognise it from its beautiful fragrant ivory flowers (which will appear in early April) and its silvery green leaves.

Find out more about the smiling monkey tree and the other magnificent magnolias we have here at Westonbirt.

Rare Magnolia maudiae subsp, aprilis-stultus discovered at Westonbirt Arboretum

April 1st, 2017

At Westonbirt Arboretum we care for many rare and remarkable trees, and we are thrilled to announce that early this morning one of our Magnolia maudiae was discovered to be the incredibly rare Magnolia maudiae subsp. aprilis-stultus. This subspecies is distinctive because once it reaches maturity, for a few weeks in early spring its leaves lose their green colouring, and take on a variety of vibrant colours.
Magnolia maudiae is normally an evergreen tree, however, earlier this year the beautiful silver green leaves on one of our magnolias began to lose their green colour, and an astonishing variety of reds, pinks, purples, oranges and even blues appeared. This morning our collections team confirmed that what we had initially thought to be a normal Magnolia maudiae, was in fact a rare subspecies, Magnolia maudiae subsp. aprilis-stultus.
There are only a few hundred examples of this tree known to grow across the globe, the vast majority of which are to be found in China; so naturally we are very excited to have one growing here at Westonbirt!
Due to the rarity of this tree, and the fact that the vibrant colours show for a very short space of time, there are very few opportunities to study the extraordinary leaves. We will take this opportunity to learn as much as we can about the tree and to share our findings with our visitors.
The tree has now been cordoned off for study by our collections team, but visitors will soon be able to see it for themselves and discover more about this amazing magnolia. More information will be released shortly, so watch this space for further details!

Uncovering Acers in Vietnam

March 27th, 2017

In early April 2017, Westonbirt’s Dendrologist, Dan Crowley, will be setting out on an exciting documenting expedition to Vietnam, thanks to funding from the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum. Together with colleagues from the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden (UBC) and the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Dan will be exploring the Hoang Lien Son Mountains, Sapa Province in northern Vietnam, and working to document the Acer species in the area.

About Hong Lien Son National Park

Vietnam as a whole is an area of extraordinary biodiversity (though until recently it has been little explored by plants experts), and the Hoang Lien Son range, a southern extension of the Himalayas, is a particular hub of plant diversity. The national park is home to over 2000 plant species, including some incredibly rare taxa! The area is of particular interest to us here at Westonbirt, as plants from the region have been shown to be hardy in UK cultivation, and we have some examples growing in the arboretum.

What are we looking for?

There is a diverse range of Acer in the region, and in recent years new taxa have been discovered. One of Dan’s chief aims on his travels will be to further define these new Acer taxa, and to perhaps make some exciting new discoveries!

What are we hoping to bring back to Westonbirt?

The information Dan gains on his trip will allow us to expand our knowledge of Acer and help us to better care for and curate the examples currently growing at Westonbirt. His work documenting the species in the area will provide a better understanding of what is currently growing in the region, and therefore will help to form conservation objectives.

We have a number of taxa at Westonbirt Arboretum that are found in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. A taxon in the Acer pectinatum complex can currently be found thriving in Silk Wood, and an Acer pictum now growing in the Old Arboretum was collected in the area. This last one is particularly exciting as this taxon was not previously thought to be found in Vietnam; Dan will be working on establishing its exact status!

Watch this space for more information on the trip, as Dan will be sending us updates, highlights and photos from his adventures!

Tree of the Month March 2017

February 27th, 2017

What is the Tree of the Month?

Prunus hirtipes

Prunus hirtipes
Why is it tree of the month?

Although its beautiful pale pink flowers are short-lived, they are not to be missed. Produced in abundance, they are a welcome sight as winter turns to spring.

The tree was introduced by the great Ernest Wilson in 1907, who collected it in China, where it is native. Like many trees from that part of the world, it grows happily at Westonbirt, and the young plants are particularly vigorous!

 
Where can I find it?

The Prunus hirtipes can be found in several spots around Westonbirt: Shop Window, the Cherry Collection and on Waste Drive. Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

Prunus hirtipes

 

Tree of the Month: February 2017

February 2nd, 2017

What is the Tree of the Month?

Rhododendron moupinense

Rhododendron moupinense

 

Why is it tree of the month?

One of the first rhododendrons to flower at Westonbirt, Rhododendron moupinense is a shrub native to western Sichuan in China, where it often grows as an epiphyte. The parent of our plant was just 30cm tall when seed was collected from it, though our plant is considerably taller than that now and also has rather attractive bark.  Flower colour of the species is somewhat variable, though our plant is distinctly white in this respect. The colour show provided by our other rhododendrons is not so far away…

 

Where can I find it?

Our sole specimen can be seen growing well just inside Spring Gate in the Old Arboretum. You can locate specimens using the Westonbirt Map.

 

Rhododendron moupinense

 

Living with trees

January 20th, 2017

It’s wonderful that Westonbirt Arboretum is a place where 500,000 people come every year to escape the stresses and strains of everyday life. As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project we’ve successfully introduced a community programme, part of which enables us to provide some focused engagement with members of the community who are learning to live with a range of mental health conditions. Being from the community ourselves it should be no surprise that we, the staff who work here, also experience many of the same emotions and conditions as the people who visit us. Here, one of our number, Tomas shares his own journey with depression in the hope that his experience may help others…

 

Living with Trees

Tomas Dewey, Arborist at Westonbirt Arboretum

I am 29 years old, male, and I am an Arborist at Westonbirt Arboretum. I have suffered from Depression since I was 13 years old. When I was 18 years old, without leaving a note or telling anyone where I was going I drove my car to a motorway bridge in the middle of the night and climbed over the railings. It was the thought of my parents’ grief that caused me not to let go. I had attempted suicide, and failed.

It’s sometimes very difficult to explain to someone who does not understand quite what depression is.

One of the reasons it is so difficult is that most people have a preconceived idea of what depression is. I would wager that you could probably remember a time in your life when you have described a particularly dreary Monday morning in winter as depressing. Or described yourself, or others as depressed during a period of sadness or frustration. In reality, Depression is a debilitating and potentially fatal illness. It is a startling fact that in 2014, 6122 people from the UK committed suicide, of this number around 75% were male. But most shocking of all, for males under the age of 45 – suicide is the most common cause of death. If you are reading this and you are a male under 45; you are the thing most likely to kill you. And it’s because we, as men aren’t talking about it. Arboriculture is one of those stereotypical ‘macho man’ industries and so, works as the perfect way of describing the problem, with us blokes that is, causing the dreadful statistics I mentioned earlier.

I just cannot imagine descending down from a 30m pine after a hard afternoon’s slog. As a combination of sweat and dirt pours down my face. Packing up my climbing harness, and putting my chainsaw back in the truck whilst attempting to brush the sweat soaked sawdust from my arms and t-shirt. Before then turning to a colleague and saying,

“Last night I sat in my car, in a McDonalds car park and cried for the best part of four hours because I really don’t want to exist anymore. And I’m trying but I can’t find anywhere I want to be more than nowhere at all.”

I can’t imagine saying that because I don’t want anyone to think I am a ‘wimp’ or a ‘girl’. As well as that I don’t want to impose my weaknesses on them. In spite of knowing I am in the rare but lucky position to have a supportive and understanding team around me, I still struggle to overcome that age old stigma that a Man should be a Man. Brave. Unafraid. Strong. The societal expectation that I should be able to pull myself together and just get on with it. After all, isn’t it common knowledge that sitting down and chatting about your feelings is something that only Women do? Come on, Man up!

‘Manning up’, however does not help. It only aids to make things worse. It adds to the stigma. It reinforces the ideals that keep us quietly pretending to be ok. The reason why I am writing this is because I want to be able to be honest. The proof of how successful I will be in this endeavor will be if my name is included in the title.

But, I should talk about trees. Aren’t they just amazing? Depending on your level of interest, trees can be seen as giant, complicated organisms or as just something beautiful to look at, or both. They’re capable of feats of engineering greater than anything man has ever created. For example, to achieve the remarkable efficiency of photosynthesis trees employ quantum superposition, a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. Physics aside, they can be used practically. Tree lined roads reduce the likelihood of speeding. In urban areas they can increase property prices and an area’s desirability so much so that new housing estates often name roads after trees to make up for the lack of them. They provide us with the oxygen we need to breath and to neatly tie us back into the theme of the article, they can help aid recovery from depression. There is a simplicity about trees that is quite wondrous. They are calming. If you happen to find yourself away from the bustle of your busy lives and find the time in spring to lie beneath a tree and look up through the branches as the sunlight works its way through the fresh leaves, then you are experiencing something the Japanese would call komorebi (木漏れ日). A word that has no direct translation into English.

During my younger years, I worked for a year in New Zealand and whilst I was there I spent a few days tramping in the Nothofagus forests of Fiordland. Tramping trails in New Zealand aren’t quite like our well-worn public footpaths here in the UK. They are barely visible at all, marked only by the occasional orange triangle. As I walked through these woods, I experienced a quietness like I had never before. Not that the woods were quiet, the wind in the leaves and the chatter of birds kept me company as well as the sound of the forest floor crunching under my boots. It was an internal quietness. My mind, stripped of the pressures of everyday life, was calm.

I don’t think I can explain fully how spending an hour or two up in the broad spreading canopy of a Beech, walking a quiet woodland trail or sitting between the buttress roots of an ancient oak can give me a peace when my depression takes hold, other than that it is a place of safety in which to breath.

Numerous organisations and charities take advantage of this phenomenon, using woodland skills and workshops to assist vulnerable people. At Westonbirt our excellent community outreach programme has helped hundreds of people suffering with one form or another of mental health disorder.

As I write this I consider myself very lucky to be alive. And even luckier still that I get to spend my days in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. I find that even in my darkest moments that I can be proud of myself for contributing to the upkeep of somewhere that provides so many with so much positivity. I enjoy the idea that on a daily basis I am benefitting from the work and visions of people who died long before their vision grew into fruition. Because I know that when I am no longer around, people will walk amongst the trees of Westonbirt Arboretum and enjoy what I too helped to create. But if I get the chance, as an old man, to return to Westonbirt and wander the glades to a tree I planted as a lad and lie on my back to watch the summer sun dance through the leaves, maybe I will think that without me, this tree would not be here, but without the tree maybe I wouldn’t be either.

For information and mental health support you can visit mind.org.uk or you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.