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

The pink pegs

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.

Project Manager

Our arrival to America…

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!

DanCrowley and Ed Hedborn Ed Hedborn, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer Richard Townsend, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer

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!

Those collected so far...

We will visit other sites in Illinois, before heading south to Missouri…

Dan Crowley.

We’re going on a Hickory hunt!

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!

Dan Crowley

Our evolving landscape

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.  

P8270083 P8270098

Mark Ballard

On to the next Project…

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!

Project Manager

Community Inclusion – Multi-Sensory Outreach programme

August 19th, 2014

‘Westonbirt on the Move’

Over the last six months I have been piloting new activities in care homes and community day care centres around the local counties. I have built links and relationships with the care home managers and activity coordinators, trying to create an ‘outreach’ activity programme that would be suited to their residents/clients.

I have built stronger links with the Alzheimer’s Society South West. To date I have eight more sessions booked with different support groups in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire area.

I now have a team of five fantastic volunteers that are helping to support the outreach sessions.

My work is about involving older or vulnerable adults that may not be able to physically visit the arboretum, to still have the experience of Westonbirt with a series of tailored multi-sensory activities held at their care homes or day centres.

The focus of the activities is all about reminiscence, creating conversation within the group, sharing anecdotes and triggering memories.

When I go to the homes, we do all sorts of activities as a group from:

  • Touch – a range tactile and tangible artefacts including our tree specimens from our nursery to handle and explore
  • Sound- natural sound activities, connecting visual pictures with sounds i.e. birdsong, wind blowing, heavy rain etc.
  • Scent – a quiz-like game through passing around scents of different tree essential oils and giving clues.
  • Sight - a selection of photographs of Westonbirt Arboretum to share and discuss.

So far I have trialled the activities at nine different care homes and day care centres. I evaluate what activities are the most engaging and popular through gaining feedback from residents and staff. I will be refining some of the resources within the next few months developing the digital technology resources to create ‘soundscapes’ of Westonbirt, apothecary scented jars, textual photography and much more!

It has been really interesting for me to talk to so many elder people who have such a wealth of knowledge that very often we don’t know about or appreciate. I am learning more and more through discussions that come up during the sessions. Care home residents have had backgrounds in carpentry, cabinet making and wood turning. Others have travelled extensively around the world and have the most amazing stories and sometimes personal connections with nature.

Feedback from care staff:

‘The activity got residents talking to each other (which is a hard thing to do!) and has also been a talking point since. Everyone enjoyed the visit and found it interesting, improving their wellbeing in general.’  Katherine, Ashley House Care Home, Cirencester.

I have had some wonderful comments too:

‘It reminded me of my childhood. We use to know every flower, every tree, we use to go and look at everything in the countryside. We use to look at bird nests when we were supposed to be on our way to church.’  Doris, Ashgrove Care Home.

‘I went to Westonbirt Girls School. My great grandfather used to drive Robert Holford. The Handkerchief tree was my absolute favourite tree.’ Helen, Ilsom House Care Home.

‘I used to walk along the parameter of Westonbirt with my husband…we’d always have a lovely afternoon.’  Margaret, Hunters Care Home.

Community1 Community2

Community Inclusion Officer

Handpicked market stalls with Love Food Festival… must be Treefest!

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. 

Peradon Organic Farm- credit Paul Groom

New to Treefest is The Strawberry Chariot, selling cream teas and strawberries with fresh cream. Yummy! 

Strawberry Chariot

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.

Stroud Brewery3- credit Paul Groom

Julie McKellar
Events Co-ordinator

Curator’s very occasional blog

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.”



The Welcome Building is almost complete…

June 3rd, 2014

Sophie Nash is the Project Manager for the Westonbirt Project, to find out more visit

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

Rich Bullock, Site Manager Speller Metcalfe

Front of Welcome Building

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.

Externalworks1 externalworks2 external3
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.

Pedestrian barriers

The new pedestrian barriers part way through installation, now complete and being tested

Welcome Building Information centre
The Christopher Mitchell Information Centre is almost complete, the interpretation is being installed including a large mosaic map of the arboretum.

Ladies loos Ladies loos
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.