December 18th, 2014

January - ash

What is this month’s tree of the month?
Fraxinus excelsior
Common ash

Why is it tree of the month?
Because of its spectacular form, most evident in its leafless state

Where can I see it?
Approaching or leaving the Welcome Building you’ll find this fine specimen which is one of the best you’re ever likely to see.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist, Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

A great eight months in community inclusion

December 18th, 2014

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund Community Inclusion Officer, Claire Goulding, is working with older and vulnerable adults at risk of exclusion because of social isolation, lack of transport and mental health conditions.


There are three over-arching programmes:

  1. Facilitated Visits
  2. Outreach
  3. Community Coppice

Some of the key aims and objectives…

  • To grow participants’ confidence in their own ability
  • To encourage individuals to share a positive experience, working together
  • Increase in physical stamina and health
  • Learn about our tree collection to explore and discover some medicinal and aromatic trees in our collection
  • For participants to grow therapeutic connection with Westonbirt Arboretum and trees in general as spaces for personal rejuvenation and relaxation.

Key achievements this year…

  • The ‘Westonbirt Wellbeing Programme’ has been a natural development from earlier pilot Community Coppice group from Nelson Trust this year, now working with Nelson Trust Women’s Service as a now stand alone therapeutic programme. This programme has incorporated a reflective diary looking to evidence the impact the activities are having on the women’s mental health and wellbeing
  • New partnerships with NHS social prescribing, probation services, and brain injury clinics in development
  • New marketing design to attract participants.

Snapshot of groups I have built partnerships with…

  • Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Memory Cafes
  • Bristol Drugs Project
  • Turning Point Wiltshire Substance Misuse Service
  • Nelson Trust Women’s Service
  • The Churn Project
  • Gloucestershire Rural Community Council
  • Stroud District Council
  • Hazlewood Housing Association
  • Fairshare Community Action Charity
  • The Hollies residential care home
  • Ilsom House residential care home

Main activities trailed this year with a range of adult community groups…

  • Nature printing – using an old botanic printing technique exploring different specimens in the collection
  • Aromatherapy and trees – to learn about the aromatic and medicinal properties of some trees in our collection and from around the world by making an aromatherapy cosmetic balm and taking part in a led therapeutic hand massage workshop
  • Community Coppice Project: learn about Westonbirt’s past connection with coppicing and current woodland management practice
  • Mindfulness and sensory walks out in the arboretum
  • Hurdle-making and green wood products such as spatulas, butter knives and spoons
  • Natural craft activities such as foraging, bushfire cooking, fire lighting making drawing charcoal, woodland mobiles and clay sculptures
  • Multi-sensory outreach programme that taking our interactive reminiscent activities out to dementia groups and elderly care homes and encouraging individuals to share their anecdotes and connections with trees.

Participants figures to date from May – December 2014…

  • 188 participants have visited Westonbirt Arboretum as part of a facilitated visit programme
  • 260 participants have taken part in the offsite outreach programme
  • 111 participants have taken part in the Community Coppice woodland management programmes .

Find out more about our work bringing new audiences to Westonbirt…

Claire Goulding, Community Inclusion Officer, Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

A new home for the Tree Team: The Wolfson Tree Management Centre

December 9th, 2014

Tree team

The ground works have begun on what will become the new Wolfson Tree Management Centre. The new facility will provide all that Westonbirt’s expert tree team needs to manage the tree collection.

Existing treeteam yard

The existing yard, tractor shed and ‘mess room’ are too small for the team, see photo above.

New plan

The new Tree Management Centre will provide the Tree Team with a new yard and a new large machinery store. The new machinery store will include a series of large ‘fire engine’ type doors so the team can drive through the building to access the Old Arboretum to the north and Silk Wood to the south. This large store space will provide secure undercover storage for all of the machinery and tools used by the team.

Groundworks are underway!  Groundworks are underway!

The new yard will be over four times the size of the current yard. This space will be used for storing materials such as planting stakes and netting. A new environmentally friendly vehicle wash down facility has also been included in the design of the yard.

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The contractors have been preparing the site by removing sub-soil and bringing in and compacting new stone. They have been levelling this area to ensure any rainfall falls correctly to the new drainage. The compacted stone will form a solid base for the drainage and subsequent concrete foundations.

Project Manager

NEW! Giant undercover festive area… must be Enchanted Christmas!

November 19th, 2014

This year we have a (brand new!) giant marquee which will be an undercover area for food, drink, seating and browsing Christmas gifts. 

Under the marquee there will be lots of tasty treats including hog roast, burgers, hot dogs, baked potatoes, baguettes, mulled wine and hot chocolate, with or without Baileys. I like mine with Baileys and a great dollop of whipped cream… yum!

There will also be the children’s carousel and Westonbirt’s new Shepherds Hut, which will have beautiful Christmas decorations for sale, some of which are traditional wooden decorations from Germany.


So, if it’s raining on the night you come along – fear not, you can eat, shop and relax in the dry.

Julie McKellar
Events Co-ordinator

Ancient skills for a modern building

November 7th, 2014

Henry Russell is a leading timber framer who was heavily involved in the creation of the Great Oak Hall and the Silk Wood Barn at Westonbirt Arboretum. He has led a series of courses in timber framing for The Carpenters’ Fellowship. This week he’s been leading a team hewing huge beams for our new Tree Management Centre. Here’s his reflection on the process – and a bit of an explanation for the uninitiated!

Notches during the hewing process

What is hewing?

Hewing is the process of shaping round logs in to square beams using axes.

The first stage is to mark lines on the log’s surface; notches are then chopped into the log to the correct depth and angle.

The lumps of wood left between the notches can then be split off to the line. This is usually done using a double bevelled axe.

The surface is then cleaned up to a neat flat finish using a finer axe. This is often done using a large side axe or broad axe.

A bit of hewing history

Up until the nineteenth century, all timber had to be converted from raw round logs in to beams, planks and boards using hand tools alone.

Although cleaving or splitting was used, by the middle ages, axes, of various sorts, were commonly used by carpenters and shipwrights to square logs.

Squaring logs up allowed the wood worker to remove sapwood, reduce weight and to mark out and cut joints quite quickly and easily.

Once hewn, the beams could be placed over trestles or even over pits to be sawn into smaller pieces.

Hewing diary

Day one…

Corsican pine

We arrive on site to find five massive lumps of Corsican pine in the field close to Old Arboretum. They are 21 metres long and very very clean of knots. Superb timber!

Simon Toomer and Sophie Nash count the rings with me. Surprisingly difficult to do because, with such large veteran trees, the rings are very close together the further out you go. 135-140 years old! This confirms what Simon believed was the date of this Corsican pine plantation at Westonbirt.

The team of hewers is made up of six experienced timber framers who have been with me before on hewing events, and six young apprentices… and Brian Williamson, one of Westonbirt’s resident coppice workers.

With the sun shining, we do introductions and discuss the important health and safety issues. Hewing is safe if you follow certain rules but can be very dangerous if you don’t.

The logs have already been milled to 300mm deep beams with a chain saw mill. We mark them out in to huge cambered tie beams for the new machinery shed at Westonbirt – 425mm deep minimum. When finished these beams will not weigh 3 tonnes!

Axes start to swing as we notch the logs to our lines. The timber is so clean we can split off the chunks between out notches quite easily. They are muy buenos notches!!

Hewing begins

Many types of double bevelled axes are being used. Generally with this size of timber bigger felling axes are more effective than smaller. But of course that does depend on the strength and size of the hewer.

Day two…

We start again about 8.30am with discussion of health and safety and a plan to finish the job in the day. But… there is rain… we run to put the big white tents up!!

The rain gets heavier… luckily much of the notching and splitting (sometimes called juggling) is done. The next stage works well under tents. It is the cleaning up of surfaces with big side axes.

We have a range of axe styles. The most spectacular are the Germanic goose wing axes. One apprentice “merlin the strong” has a wonderful collection. These leave a relatively flat finish but are heavy beasts.

Those hewers of more slight build, for example apprentice coppice worker, Fiona de Wert, uses a small double bevelled axe. This tool leaves a beautiful scoopy effect.

Hewing in action

The hewing stops only for lunch brought by Sue Brentnall… fabulous local cheeses, grilled aubergine, and artisan made breads. It’s a hard life of the hewer!

We rush to finish by twilight. Tom Macurrach and Joel Hendry, two old hands, rapidly finish the last side by two man notching (a dramatic, high octane, European technique).

A high octane European hewing technique

Clearing up in semi-darkness and saying our goodbyes… we have hewed probably the longest surfaces in Europe for 300 years: 63 square metres. Crisp but undulating… unlike any sawn finish. We are keeping alive an ancient craft skill on a hyper-modern building at Westonbirt. Why not!

A completed beam

We disperse to nurse our aching claw like hands with a few pints of good English bitter.

Thanks for reading!


Useful links:

Find out more about our new Tree Management Centre…

The Carpenters’ Fellowship…

Time for a walk…

November 4th, 2014

Having been away from Westonbirt for much of autumn, I was keen to check out what colours nature is affording us at this point in time and heading out into the collection in some authentic autumnal weather today I got up close and personal with a few individuals which grabbed my attention.

Along Palmer Ride Sorbus scalaris more than caught my eye, with the fruit standing out from the mist rather nicely, it has to be said. There are three examples of the species growing in this vicinity and with this species being a reliable performer in terms of fruit production, they always worth paying a visit around this time of year. I was not disappointed!


Making my way through the Cherry collection, I passed by the three young specimens of Nyssa sylvatica mentioned by Mark in last weeks blog. Just a glimpse of the foliage at this time of year indicates why we were rather happy to collect seed of it while in the USA last month. Who wouldn’t want more of this??!


Up in Maple Loop, I was drawn to the vibrant display of colour from Acer pubinerve (previously listed as A. wuyuanese). We have 3 young specimens in the collection (one in Silk Wood and two in the Old Arboretum) and they are certainly worth keeping an eye on. You may recall me mentioning the autumn colour on these last year and they also put on a bit of a show in spring. Watch this space!


Moving around Maple Loop there is still plenty of colour and I took a few more photos of some of the beautiful colours found in the Japanese maple cultivars until the camera lens got wet as the rain started again. But autumn isn’t all about taking photos, as we know. Westonbirt has that special feeling about it and at this time of year it can be all the more enhanced by the weather. It is simply just a great place to be! Immerse yourself and enjoy!!

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A busy time of year in more ways than one…

October 29th, 2014

Today I got to escape my office for a few hours, with the aim of finding suitable locations for some of the 300 young trees and shrubs that have been lovingly grown in our very own Propagation Unit. I was joined as always for this important annual task by Penny, our amazingly talented Propagator. We were on the hunt for places that would meet all the individual needs of each new plant, taking into account a multitude of factors such as shade and soil depth, so that these new additions can hopefully flourish at Westonbirt for generations to come.

On route around Silk Wood we took the opportunity to enjoy some vibrant autumn colour, which in some ways can appear even more spectacular on a damp day such as today. As always, you will have to excuse my very limited photography skills and cheap digital camera, as I can assure you that everything looks much better in the flesh.

First up is a fine Winged Spindle (Euonymus alatus) on Waste Drive. I have been lucky enough to see this species in the wild back in 2008, and to collect its seed near the edge of a stream at the Ogawa Research Forest in Japan.


Next we spotted a group of three young Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) from North America, adding alternative seasonal interest to Cherry Glade.

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Just nearby and adding further brightness amid the drabness is a Red Maple cultivar (Acer rubrum ‘Tilford’).


Then on Broad Drive a performer that never lets us down, a Spanish Maple (Acer opalus ssp. hispanicum), which provides a mass of orange to red leaves year on year and without fail.


Perhaps a tree that is not often thought to add autumnal interest, is the European Larch (Larix decidua), seen here with golden needles providing a nice contrast in Maple Loop.


Along Willesley Drive you cannot miss this striking Yellow Wood (Cladrastis kentukea) at the moment, this specimen was planted in 1992 and as the botanical name suggests it hails from the USA.


Finally, as autumn slowly turns towards winter, I would advise everyone to keep an eye out for some beautiful examples of tree bark. You can find this Pere David’s Maple (Acer davidii ‘Cantonspark’), part of the aptly named snake bark maple group, positioned near to where the Treetop Walkway will gently touchdown in the not too distant future.


Mission accomplished for now, I head back to the office to catch-up on some much less exciting but nevertheless important health and safety matters…

Mark Ballard

Collections for the arboretum

October 22nd, 2014

In the final week of our seed collecting expedition we collected under the expert guidance of Ron Lance, who has led us to places where our target species are.

The week began with ventures to parts of the Appalachians, at far higher elevations than we had previously visited. We were on the look out for seed of different Acer species, though this year has proved particularly poor in terms of seed production, though we were able to make a collection of the only snake bark maple native to the U.S, Acer pensylvanicum. We also collected seed of Nyssa sylvatica – another autumnal gem to add to the collection at Westonbirt!

nyssa sylvatica nyssa sylvatica fruits

We then travelled further south and back to low elevations for Carya myristiciformis, which as I mentioned previously is the rarest of the North American Carya hickories. We were taken to the only population in Georgia, where we sampled a population of mature trees – far far larger than the two specimens growing along Broad Drive, though much older it must be said. A real pleasure to see and to collect from!!

Edge-of-the-Carya-myristiciformis-population Jon and the Appalachians

This left us with one final Carya to collect – the water hickory, C. aquatica and after exploring a number of areas, it appeared that this one may elude us. But after a tip off as to where we might find it, we received permission to collect and headed to ‘Little Hell’ in South Carolina. The extra miles paid off and very soon after parking up, we came across our tree on the banks of the Savannah River – Amazing!! Whilst it wasn’t the biggest in the area, it had plenty of good seed on and we took full advantage.


This was a great climax to our collecting and what was more, the surrounding area was replete with some of the most amazing trees any of us had ever seen – monstrous Nyssa sylvatica and incredible Taxodium distichum with ‘knees’ up to our waists!! This was incredible to experience and further contributed to our admiration and appreciation of the trees of North America.

Living the dream!

We have been privileged to see so many different habitats on our travels in the States, where many of our more known exotics come from. To see them doing their thing on their home turf has been incredible and being able to collect seed from some of them for our wonderful collections is truly special and we are all truly grateful for being afforded the opportunity to do so.


Going out with a bang!

October 21st, 2014
Acer canopies in Acer Glade

Acer Glade

We get lots of phone calls at this time of year – all asking the same questions – when is the best time to visit for autumn colour? When will the maples be at their best?

Acer leaves

Acer palmatum (maple) leaves

These are tricky questions to answer… part of the beauty of having a collection of trees from around the world is that they don’t all show their autumn colour at the same time. Even among the native trees this is true. Autumn by its very nature is a succession of ever-changing colour.

Acer leaves

Acer leaves

So, the best we can do is to show you some highlights from our forays out into the tree collection.

Juglans nigra - black walnut

Juglans nigra - black walnut

We start off with a real stop-you-in-your-tracks, take-your-breath-away autumn stunner… the bright yellow leaves of Juglans nigra, the black walnut. You’ll find this particular specimen on Main Drive, as you head towards Acer Glade.

Sorbus pseudohupehensis

Sorbus pseudohupehensis - mountain ash

Also on this route, just before you veer left onto Specimen Avenue, you’ll see the abundant fruit of Sorbus pseudohupehensis (mountain ash). Sorbus can be overlooked during autumn, but we think you’ll agree that the colour of the fruit here is stunning!

Parrotia persica - Persian ironwood in Colour Circle

Parrotia persica - Persian ironwood in Colour Circle

There are several routes into Acer Glade, if you’re willing to don your Wellington boots and risk a little mud. If you approach via Colour Circle, you’ll see flaming leaved Persian ironwood and smell the wonderful burnt sugar scent of Katsura.

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

In Acer Glade itself there is some delightful colour right now. Catch it in the right light and many of the specimens seem to give off a bright glow.

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

The variety of colours on display may also surprise you. Not just red, but orange, yellow and even purple!

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

Savvy photographers arrive here when we open our gates at 9am, allowing them to catch the best of the autumn colour in the morning light. Whatever time of day you visit, you won’t be disappointed… these trees really are going out with a bang!

Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

If you’d like to share your photographs of Westonbirt with other visitors in our Welcome Building, why not add them to our Flickr pool?

All eyes on the Old Arboretum!

October 14th, 2014

Today I went out into the Old Arboretum, braving the rain and wind, to see how the colours were looking in our most spectacular season here at Westonbirt.

An early trip to Acer Glade proved more than worthwhile. As I got closer the view became more and more mesmerizing. The ruby reds, neon oranges and bright yellows were a joy to photograph. The raindrops brought out the autumn colour even more, as the glossy leaves shone in all their glory whilst fluttering in the wind – proving their beauty no matter what the weather!

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There were plenty of visitors also braving the elements and exploring in their waterproofs and wellies. So why not pop down and have a look for yourselves? It really is a sight to behold!

For more autumn colour photos, make sure to follow us on instagram: @westonbirtarb.

Marketing Support Officer