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 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

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.

Dendrologist Dan’s spring stunners: Crinodendron hookerianum

May 29th, 2014

Well, there is still plenty of spring colour to enjoy here at Westonbirt and the flowers will keep coming through the summer, though not in the abundance we are spoilt with in spring. A regular seasonal performer doing its thing just now is Crinodendron hookerianum, known as the lantern tree.

Crinodendron hookerianum Crinodendron hookerianum

This one prefers a little shade and grows here amid the Rhododendrons and numerous other spring stunners. Come see for yourself – and let the light in!!

Dendrologist Dan’s spring stunners: Cercis siliquastrum

May 20th, 2014

Looking good out in the arboretum today are over 15,000 trees, though perhaps some more obviously than others. Of those are examples of Cercis siliquastrum, commonly known as the Judas tree. As legend would have it that an individual of this species was what Judas Escariot (of Bible fame) hung himself from. However, I prefer to highlight the more savoury (or sweet) feature that the tree is known for, the phenomenon known as cauliflory, where flowers are produced directly from the stem, as opposed young branches or the current years growth.

Cercis siliquastrum Cercis siliquastrum

It is in fact more a feature associated with tropical plants including Theobroma cacao, which translates as the ‘food of the gods’, though perhaps known to more of us simply as chocolate!! Tasty.

Restoring our ha-ha!

May 20th, 2014

Ha Ha. An expression often used to represent laughter. However a ha-ha is also a landscape design feature that creates a barrier to things such as livestock, while preserving uninterrupted views.  The name “ha-ha” derives from the unexpected and amusing moment of discovery when, on approach, the recessed wall becomes visible. Here at Westonbirt we are privileged to have a ha-ha that acts as a boundary around the Old Arboretum. A map from 1881 clearly illustrates the ha-ha, however it is estimated it was built in the 1820’s during the establishment of the old arboretum.

Currently work is being undertaken to clear and expose the wall so its condition can be assessed. The estate volunteers have been blessed with fine weather for this work as they use tools such as scythes to clear away the bramble and nettles, exposing the historically significant feature. Only hand tools are being used so as to be sympathetic to any wildlife that has made its home around the ha-ha, being careful to cause as little disturbance to the structure of the wall as possible.

Estate-Volunteers Ha Ha

Working on the Ha Ha The Ha Ha

Plans are in place for its complete restoration in the near future.

Sarah Millard, Volunteer Supervisor.

Dendrologist Dan’s spring stunners: eye-catching Enkianthus

May 13th, 2014

Among the many attributes of members of the Enkianthus genus are the bell-like flowers. Here at Westonbirt, particularly on Main Drive in the Old Arboretum and Willesley Drive in Silk Wood, they are really on song right now!

Enkianthus chinensis Enkianthus deflexus

Enkianthus campanulatus Enkianthus campanulatus f. albiflorus

Dendrologist Dan’s spring stunners: Davidia involucrata

May 6th, 2014

I have chosen to highlight this one this week as our largest, oldest specimen (close to Main Drive and Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum) is looking quite fine in bract right about now. Our other specimens are at various stages and are well worth keeping a close eye on!

Davidia involucrata. Quite simply, what a tree!!

Davidia Davidia

Davidia Davidia

Also looking good: everything else!!

The Westonbirt Project – Community Inclusion update

May 2nd, 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’.

Since we started in January, we have been busy consulting with a wide range of groups and organisations to discover what they would like to engage with at the arboretum. The groups have come from a wide range of backgrounds from a catchment area of up to an hours drive from the arboretum and so include both rural and urban areas.

Youth Inclusion

The past four months have involved asking young people what would make them want to come to the arboretum. Their answer – anything adventurous where they can put themselves to the test, i.e. den building (and sleeping in them), bush craft skills, learning how to use tools, wide games, night hikes and team challenges. Over the next few months we will be piloting some of these activities with a range of groups, including Tetbury Guides, Hanham Youth Centre and South Gloucestershire Youth Board to test out what works well.

We have been working with our coppicing team over the last three months and are now excited to start trailing a number of community coppice programmes from early June. The community coppice programme aims to provide groups with an introduction to woodland management and tool use as well as bring back into use some of our derelict coppice sites. Groups signed up so far include Turning Point, Bristol Drugs Project and Nelson Trust.

Community Inclusion

Much of the consultation with adult community groups has been taking place to pilot two brand new facilitated visits here at the Arboretum.

Activities aim to bring together individuals in a social, creative way through utilising the arboretum’s natural environment to enhance their health and wellbeing. Groups will explore the arboretum unique environment through their senses and learn about nature printing techniques or how to create a hand balm with products from trees along with a facilitated hand massage workshop. Groups booked on so far include; Uplands Care Service and Gloucester Rural Community Council and Patchway Dementia Awareness Alliance.

The outreach programme, ‘Westonbirt on The Move’ has been building momentum now with over 10 different care and nursing homes booked to participate with the trial over the next few months. Through working with activity coordinators and speaking with the residents to find out what would be most engaging, the programme will follow a reminiscent theme. It’ll aim to invigorate memories and connect individuals with our trees through scent, touch and sound. Watch this space for updates!

If you would like any more information about any of these projects, please feel free to contact Karen Price (Community Youth Officer) or Claire Goulding (Community Inclusion Officer)  on 01666 880 220.

Dendrologist Dan’s spring stunners: Rhododendron quinquefolium

April 29th, 2014

There is far too much excitement amongst the plants to attempt to mention it all here, so I shall stick to just the one today. Though suffice to say, this one is a cracker!! A reliable performer, Rhododendron quinquefolium is a quite beautiful azalea, and an old plant is looking fantastic in full flower just now on Circular Drive, at the end of Sir Georges Walk.

The flowers emerge after the leaves, which are usually in whorls of 5 (hence the specific epithet) and with a beautiful reddish border, they are a real feature in themselves. A young plant in Sand Earth sporting only a few flowers provide an opportunity for visitors to Silk Wood to admire more of the foliar display.

Silk Wood Rhododendron

Rhododendron Rhododendron

As for everything else, well, you’ll just have to come and get amongst it!!

A Welcome Building update

April 23rd, 2014

Sophie Nash is Project Manager for the Westonbirt Project.

The Welcome Building has been changing dramatically over a very short space of time and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

Welcome Building

The scaffolding has just been removed. This is a photo of the front entrance to the Welcome Building.  

Welcome Building

The side of the Welcome Building, the opening to the left side is the new mobility scooter store. A new sliding door in matching cladding will soon conceal the opening when closed.

Welcome Building

The rear of the building. The ground workers are busy preparing the base for the Forest of Dean pennant stone floor in the central entrance foyer.


The office has now been painted, ceiling finished, front plates of plug and data sockets have been fitted and the kitchen is about to be installed.


Urinals have been fitted in the mens toilets. We have two at child height and a low sink for children to use.

Ladies toilets Ladies toilets Ladies toilets

 A selection of photos of the ladies toilets. The wall tiles are all in place ready for grouting, all the sinks and taps are and the baby changing unit has been fitted in the end cubicle.