September 21st, 2017

With the current phase of the HLF community programme at Westonbirt drawing to a close at the end of the year, Wild Westonbirt (Westonbirt’s youth group) were tasked with thinking of a way to celebrate. Delivered over a four year period, and engaging over four thousand participants, they wanted something that would achieve a number of goals:

  • Reflect both this achievement and the green woodworking skills they had gained
  • Involve the people who attended the community programme in its creation
  • Be a beautiful work of art in itself

Drawing on inspiration from some of their overnight camps at the arboretum, the group proposed the idea of a shelter, which would be made out of wooden roof tiles known shingles. These shingles would be made by hand, using traditional tools, by participants. Participants would then decorate their own shingle to represent their involvement with the programme.

Cutting a wind blown oak

This proposal also meant that those community groups we have been working with offsite, through the outreach programme, could also be involved, as the shingles were small enough to take out to care and residential homes.

The initial plan was to create four thousand shingles to build the shelter, one for each of the four thousand people who had participated in the community programmes. However, quite soon into the production, we realised this would be almost enough to roof a house, and decided four hundred would be sufficient – particularly given an initial production rate of one an hour!

Guided by our resident coppicers, participants, volunteers, staff and even members of the public, have cut, split and shaped over 170kg of oak (the weight of 3 ½ teenagers). A record 150 were made at the Arb Show in May where Wild Westonbirt worked tirelessly instructing visitors in the art of shingle making.

As new groups joined the community programmes, and as the pile of shingles grew so did the participants’ confidence, pride, and sense of achievement and belonging to something special; young people had the opportunity to teach adults, and group members instructed their support workers.

At long last, over the August Bank Holiday, the Wild Westonbirt team completed shingle number 400.

The next phase is to start the actual construction itself. This will take place over the weekend 23rd – 25th September and be built on the Silkwood Autumn Trail route by Teds Fright. So, if you are out enjoying the autumn colour, please do stop and say hello.

September Tree of the Month

September 12th, 2017

What is it?

Euonymus oxyphyllus 

Why is it Tree of the Month?

A sign that autumn is well on the way is the fantastic colour of this spindle from east Asia. As well as having deep red foliage, the richly coloured fruit is most attractive. Introduced in 1895, examples at Westonbirt have long been renowned as some of the best for their seasonal colour.

Where is it?

The mighty fine group at the end of Morley Ride is an early autumn showstopper. Other specimens of this and other notable Euonymus species are dotted around the collection.

August Tree of the Month

August 1st, 2017

What is Tree of the Month?

Aralia elata – Japanese Angelica Tree

Japanese Angelica Tree

Why is it Tree of the Month?

Also known as ‘Devil’s Walking Stick’, for its viciously spiny bark.

Walking stick’ is particularly apt for our two trees on Main Drive (19.0446), as they have literally moved! The original plant was growing a few yards from where the two are now and was removed some years ago, having rotted at the base. Soon after, two suckers from the original plant emerged and have been growing well ever since! They have some of the biggest leaves in the collection, which are twice pinnate and sometimes over a metre long. The ivy-like inflorescences are absolutely loved by insects.

Japanese Angelica Tree

Where can I find it?

As well as our walking plant, young examples collected in Japan in 2011 are growing well close to Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum. We hope they will continue to move up rather than elsewhere! Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.


July Tree of the Month

June 30th, 2017


What is tree of the month?

Chinese yellowwood

Cladrastis sinensis     

Why is it tree of the month?        

The Chinese yellowwood in flower is as beautiful a summer sight as any. The pinky-white flowers, held in panicles, appear in late July, complementing the attractive pinnate leaves that emerge incredibly late.

The species was introduced from China by Ernest Wilson in 1901 and is one of many genera that are represented in both eastern Asia and eastern North America.

Where can I find it?

Our largest tree grows on Holford Ride in the Old Arboretum (06.0038), with younger trees grown from seed of this tree are found in 2050 Glade close to Loop Walk (04.1199; 04.1210). Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.


June Tree of the Month

June 5th, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera

Why is it tree of the month?

The short-lived, tulip-like flowers are always worth seeking out in Summer. Greenish-yellow in colour, they are not always the easiest to spot against the leaves as they are often held high up in the crown. The only other member of the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) aside from Magnolia, the genus is considered to be primitive and contains only one other species, the Chinese tulip tree, Liriodendron chinense. A hybrid of the two also exists.

A specimen with flowers at eye level grows on the Downs restoration site, close to the restaurant (29.0246). The species is also a component of Jackson Avenue in the Old Arboretum. Young, wild sourced trees that are yet to flower are dotted throughout the collection.

Where can I find it?

Two examples of the Chinese tulip tree can be seen at Westonbirt. One, close to Loop Walk (08.0398) and a young, recently planted individual close to Mitchell Drive (09.0742). A sole hybrid grows vigorously on Broad Drive (56.0664). The occasional flower can be spotted high up! Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.


Back ‘app’ and running

June 1st, 2017

As part of Westonbirt’s continuing mission to ‘connect people with trees’, we like to try new things to engage with our audiences here at the Arboretum.

TreeQuest App

The Westonbirt Project allowed us to test new technological boundaries and after consultation with a wide range of visitors and our fabulous youth forum, Team WB, a mobile app was created! It offers the opportunity to discover new species, awesome facts and areas of the arboretum that you may not have even set foot in before.
The app launched in August 2015, and has received positive reviews. However, some negative comments came about due to some technical issues with our beacons. These ‘beacons’ are small white boxes positioned in 50 trees around the site. They ‘talk’ to the app via Bluetooth and tell the app to alert you when you are near a tree. Unfortunately, the beacons themselves appeared to stop working, which in effect made the app unusable…
Not to be discouraged by such things, we have continued to work to resolve this – working closely with our developers, who in turn have worked tirelessly with the beacon manufacturers to come up with a solution.

You will now see little grey boxes around the arboretum which are our new, robust, ‘belt and braces’ beacons! They are more conspicuous at the moment, but bear with us as we work to position them in to best way possible to allow users of mobile technology to connect with their surroundings whilst also allowing for those who wishing to be ‘tech-free’ to still enjoy our wonderful tree collection.


If you fancy having a go at the app head to the App Store or Google Play Store, create your own quest and explore the arboretum in a new and exciting way!

‘Ain’t Got Time to fix the shingles, Ain’t got time to fix the floor…..’ our Community Youth Officer, Karen Price, shares one of her recent projects

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?


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.