September 30th, 2014
Something I never thought I would do in my life is accompany a seed collecting trip. Indeed I’m not even sure I knew they still happened before I started work at the arboretum!
In my mind they were a story of the past: intrepid adventurers spending years clambering through inhospitable terrain; navigating their way through civil wars and surviving through some of the worst weather imaginable. All to get to that one tree; that one tree they’ve dreamed of discovering during their tumultuous journey and from whom they would take seeds, in the hope that they would return to their native shores with a jewel in their pockets ready to grow into a majestic beauty for everyone to see.
And how do we know all this? From various records, we are able to piece together their journeys and learn stories about working in such remote, undiscovered areas.
I work for the Education Department, and my role specifically is to support interpretation for the Westonbirt Project. I spent a lot of time working on the exhibition in our new Welcome Building, and as such I delved into the historic records which make Westonbirt what it is today. What you inevitably find is that many historic documents have been lost to time, and plant hunter stories are no exception.
Modern day plant collecting trips are just as important and exciting as those of old (if a little more focused on health and safety…); and the current expedition to East USA will have records galore thanks to two cameras, an audio recorder, a microphone, a tripod and a multitude of spare batteries and SD cards!
I’ve flown out to Missouri where I was met by three modern day plant collectors! Westonbirt’s Dan Crowley and Rich Townsend, along with Jon Harmer from RGB Kew Wakehurst Place who are collecting seeds to further enhance our Plant Heritage National Collections.
I have joined them for 10 days to document how collecting is done; who records what; how seeds are cleaned; chats with local experts; the list is endless! They will act as an important archive for future interpretation, and help to update some of our exhibits in the Welcome Building.
So keep an eye out for my next blog… I will keep you up to date with any interpretational gems!
Interpretation Support Officer
September 30th, 2014
You may have wondered what the pink pegs are next to the Welcome Building. Some of you have already guessed that these pegs are marking out the route of the new Treetop Walkway!
A surveying team spent several days carefully marking out the positions of the pegs which represent the timber legs for the Treetop Walkway. They have also surveyed the position of the new footpath from the Welcome Building, the new road and checked the tree positions on the original survey.
This picture is taken from the new footpath next to the Welcome Building and shows the start of the walkway. We plan to create some exciting interpretation here to mark the start of the 300 metre journey through the trees.
From the start the walkway gently rises and then flattens as it reaches its highest point of 12 metres in the valley near to Skilling Gate. Here it will curve to the left of the Blue Atlas Cedar, shown in the picture above. Here the walkway then delves into Silk Wood.
Now we have marked the locations of the walkway legs on to the ground, the architects and engineers will now check the size and types of foundations needed for each pair of legs. The tree team will also carry out some pruning work so we are ready for the walkway to be constructed. The photo above shows a ‘Y’ shaped Yew; we had hoped the walkway would pierce through the centre. Instead the tree team will prune the left side and encourage the yew to grow around the Walkway.
September 29th, 2014
Having arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, we spent a day at the marvellous Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois on Tuesday where we utilised the herbarium before heading to the living collection to study plants we hope to collect throughout our time here in the States.
We were treated to a tour led by Ed Hedborn, who gave us a real insight into a number of trees we will come across. Our thanks go to all at the Morton for inviting us to spend time with them and their trees. Fantastic!
We then travelled south to meet Guy Sternberg and spent the day collecting with him and elsewhere around Petersburg, Illinois. Among the first collections we have made are Carya texana and Juglans nigra – both members of the Juglandaceae, and among our high priorities for the trip, which is excellent!
We will visit other sites in Illinois, before heading south to Missouri…
September 18th, 2014
Next week, Tree Team supervisor Rich Townsend, RBG Wakehurst Place arborist Jon Harmer and I are jetting off to the United States on a rather exciting mission – to collect seed of tree species which will further enhance the wonderful collections here at Westonbirt and beyond! We are particularly keen to boost our Plant Heritage National Collections of Juglandaceae, Acer species, Tilia and Staphyleaceae and shall explore areas where we hope to find seed of these that will help us achieve this. We shall travel from Illinois through Missouri towards the south eastern states of North and South Carolina and Georgia – regions that are home to more than a few of our National Collection species, notably the hickories (Carya spp.), which are renowned for their autumn colour and stature in the landscape.
On our way we shall also collect seed of species which grow with our key targets and are hopeful that in time (and with more than a little TLC from our excellent propagator) what we collect will bring some more American flavour to the Westonbirt landscape.
On the way we shall visit botanic gardens, utilising herbaria to further familiarise ourselves with the diverse range of plants we hope to have the opportunity to collect and will be working closely with regional experts who will aid us in our quest to boost the Westonbirt collection both in terms of species and plants of known wild origin. Fantastic!!!!!!!!
For part of the expedition we will be joined by Interpretation Support Officer Susanna Byers, who will be documenting the trip on camera and film for interpretation purposes!
Seed collected will also be shared with our partners at Bedgebury National Pinetum Forestry Commission (including Forest Research) Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (including Wakehurst Place) Millennium Seed Bank Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh University of Oxford Botanic Garden.
We shall endeavour to provide words and pictures along the way, to give a flavour of how the trees grow in their native range and a glimpse of some of the species we hope to see more of here at Westonbirt in the not too distant future!
August 29th, 2014
If you have ventured into Silk Wood recently you may well have noticed our Tree Team hard at work in Maple Loop, which is an area was that was once a forest research plot packed full of hybrid larch trees. Today the mature larch trees that remain provide the perfect conditions for our young maples and other specimens. Over the last 10 years, we have been gradually thinning the larch to make space for our expanding collection and to help reduce the risk of a further infection of Phytophthora ramorum, a fungal disease that has sadly killed lots of forest trees; larch are especially susceptible.
Now that the under-planting of exotic trees and shrubs along Maple Loop are growing well and require more light, we are carrying out a second thinning to open up the over-storey. Our Tree Team are felling carefully selected larch trees, leaving the best to continue protecting the young plants around them. Some larch will even be left to mature as individual trees in their own right. Eventually when the young specimens have fully established, they will form a fantastic picturesque landscape as used to great effect elsewhere in the arboretum. We hope that one day Maple Loop will be enjoyed as much as Acer Glade in the Old Arboretum is today.
The trees we cut down may be gone – but they won’t be forgotten; each felled tree will form part of the timber frame for our brand new Tree Management Centre which is being built under Phase Two of the Westonbirt Project! We think this is a fitting end to their time in this area of the arboretum, which began in the early 1970’s as part of a number of genetics and tree breeding experiments carried out here.
August 26th, 2014
The Welcome Building has been open nearly two months now and is beginning to feel like it’s always been here. We are continuing to make small tweaks here and there; some of you may have noticed the new arboretum map and Window on Westonbirt images.
Now that the majority of Phase One is complete we are moving full steam ahead with Phase Two, the Treetop Walkway and Tree Management Centre…
Behind the scenes the Project Team have been busy working with architects and the Tree Team to develop the plans for the two new buildings which form the Tree Management Centre. Work started back in April with meetings between the architects, engineers and the Tree Team to design a Tractor Shed and new Mess Building. We are now about to start work on the ground works which will form the new ‘yard’ and foundations for the Tractor Shed. Once complete work will begin on the unusual timber frame, using timber from Westonbirt and other local FC forests.
The detailed designs for the Treetop Walkway are also under way. Glenn Howells Architects and Buro Happold are currently detailing the handrail, balustrade (side panels) and the walkway legs. Currently there are 60 legs in total for the Walkway, varying in length from just over 1 metre up to 12 metres!
August 11th, 2014
This year, Love Food Festival will be taking over most of Maple Avenue. With their handpicked market stalls of local producers, there will be lots of exciting food to take home with you and some will be cooking and selling some mouth watering food throughout the day for you to eat, from barbecued ribs to vegetarian tapas and Portuguese pastries. More details about this years producers can be found on the Love Food Festival website.
We have some new and exciting caterers this year as well as some happy returners!
Over in the picnic area we will have Martin and Tracy of MDB Catering. They will be bringing their very popular hog roast, plus baked potatoes and baguettes with various fillings.
Peradon Farm has moved out of the Foodhall and into the picnic area this year with their organic burgers and sausages in delicious fresh baps.
New to Treefest is The Strawberry Chariot, selling cream teas and strawberries with fresh cream. Yummy!
Also new to Treefest is a local company, Café Chameleon who will mainly be serving vegetarian world food, such as African, Mexican and Indian.
For those who like something cold, Winstones Ice-Cream who are local to us, will be selling various flavours throughout the festival. These are all made using organic milk.
Last but not least we have Stroud Brewery in the music marquee and picnic area. They will have various local ales and lagers on offer.
July 18th, 2014
Following some very impressive thunder and lightning overnight, I ventured out into the Old Arboretum at first thing on Friday morning (18th July 2014) to check for any damage. All was very quiet and still, with just a few wild mammals and birds for company, before the gates open to the public and the concerts are in full swing on the Downs. I took a brief moment to appreciate how special the arboretum is in the summertime, despite 90% humidity on this occasion. Fortunately, I found only a broken branch on the giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that stands alone near the big stone on Holford Ride.
On my way back to the office, I decided that today’s star of the show is definitely the Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria). Flowers are numerous and are produced in large groups or clusters in summer. Each individual flower is small and insignificant, but when most of them abort, feathery plumes are left that together can have wispy ’smoke-like’ appearance, hence the common name.
Tucked away by the Dew Pond is a work of art entitled the Westonbirt Wishes Bronze, which was created to capture the wishes of visitors back in the summer of 2003. People were invited to write their wishes on ribbons – happy, sad, funny and serious – and over 4,000 of them made up a large ball that was later cast in bronze. Although the project finished long ago, it is interesting to see that people are still putting their wishes into this hollow sculpture, and here are just two of them:
“I wish that Alex and I stay this in love forever.”
“I wish my sister would be nice to me.”
June 3rd, 2014
Sophie Nash is the Project Manager for the Westonbirt Project, to find out more visit www.westonbirtproject.co.uk.
It’s been a very busy few weeks. Rich Bullock our site manager from Speller Metcalfe, has been working around the clock to complete the building so the Westonbirt team can start fitting out furniture and testing the new building before we open the Welcome Building to visitors.
The keys were handed to us last week to officially mark the end of construction stage of the Welcome Building. We owe a big thank you to Rich and the Speller Metcalfe team in working so hard and creating such a beautiful building for us.
Rich Bullock, Site Manager Speller Metcalfe
The front of the Welcome Building which looks almost finished. Sarah Millard and her volunteers will be busy planting more trees in the coming weeks.
Photos taken during the last few weeks. Work has mainly been concentrated on completing the external works are now complete. The final finish on the footpath to Silk Wood and the Restaurant is being laid today.
The new pedestrian barriers part way through installation, now complete and being tested
The Christopher Mitchell Information Centre is almost complete, the interpretation is being installed including a large mosaic map of the arboretum.
The ladies toilets during the last few weeks. Mirrors and most importantly the toilet roll dispensers have now been installed
Over the coming weeks we will be adding the finishing touches including installing the new interpretation into the Christopher Mitchell Information Centre.