August 24th, 2016
...with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

…with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

What is tree of the month?

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia2

Why is it tree of the month?

The evergreen magnolia from the south east United States is fairly often seen growing against walls in this part of the world but in slightly warmer climes it can make an impressive standalone tree.

There are many forms in cultivation with some noted for foliage  but the real treat is the flowers. Appearing in late summer through early autumn, these can be over 20cm across and are creamy white and very nicely scented. Its tendency to flower somewhat intermittently means there is plenty of opportunity to have a good look.

Where can I find it?

Our best specimen grows against a wall of Keepers Cottage, adjacent to Propagation.

Magnolia1

 

Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge

July 29th, 2016

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood
The mouse saw….a group of teenagers unsure of where they stood

July saw the first Westonbirt Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge in which teams of young people from a range of organisations and youth clubs, navigated their way around a four mile course throughout the arboretum.

On the way, they undertook a number of timed tasks, based on plant hunters past and present, and were scored on teamwork, creativity and skill.

Nineteen young people, some with additional needs, took part in the challenge.

At 9pm, the first teams headed off into the trees and throughout the night they walked and walked, and then walked some more (particularly those teams who, at times, were unsure of which direction they were going in or where they were heading to).

They followed in the footsteps of William Lobb and collected sequoia seeds (although we had carelessly dropped ours into a ‘toxic swamp’); lit a fire using natural materials as David Douglas was required to do; made a herbarium as Joseph Banks did on-board the Endeavour; sorted viable seeds from diseased ones; created a new species of tree (using only newspapers) and made their own version of a Holford family portrait.

youth-portrait

At 2.45 am the torch lights of the last team were spotted making their way across the Downs, where they were greeted with cheers, tea and toast before settling down for a night in the Great Oak Hall.

A few short hours later it was time for a barbeque breakfast and prize giving with Brimsham Green Youth Wing the overall winners.

A huge thank you to all the young people who took part and all the Westonbirt staff, volunteers and visiting group leaders who made the event possible.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer
www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-community

Tree of the Month: August 2016

July 28th, 2016
...with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

…with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

What is tree of the month?
Sorbus ‘John Mitchell’

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'
Why is it tree of the month?
Notable for its huge round leaves, this whitebeam, Sorbus ‘John Mitchell’ is a not uncommon sight in cultivation and has its origins here at Westonbirt. It was long considered to be a selection of Sorbus thibetica but is in fact something quite different. One of its parents is likely to be a round-leaved form of our native Sorbus aria and the other is as yet unknown, though is likely of Asian origin. The hybrid first arose here (precise date unknown!) and was named for the first curator of Westonbirt, William John Mitchell.

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'3
Where can I find it?
We currently have two trees in the collection (we are keen to grow more!). Our largest stands close to Mitchell Drive (G25 on the map) and a smaller but equally beautiful tree is located close to another of our famous trees, the Holford pines (Pinus x holfordiana), near Holford Ride (E24).

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'2
Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Going out with a bang for the final Treefest…

July 5th, 2016

This August will see us present what will be the last year of Treefest here at Westonbirt.

Treefest event
The event has had – in various guises and under various names – a fantastic run of 22 years and we’d like to thank all exhibitors, visitors, volunteers and staff that have contributed to the event over the years and who have helped create so many special memories.

Whilst we have worked hard for Treefest to remain competitive in the August Bank Holiday market, the weather and visitor numbers are very unpredictable and visitor numbers have been, on the whole, declining for the last five years and particularly poor for the last two.

Although the event has always been great fun, with over 100 exhibitors Treefest is a complex and time consuming event to deliver. We are going to refocus the resources used to deliver Treefest on ensuring that we can better highlight the many other activities happening throughout the year and provide better customer service to all our visitors.

Although Treefest will not be replaced by another big Bank Holiday event, we’ll still have all of our walks, family events, seasonal trails and workshops for you to enjoy, along with the festive spectacle of Enchanted Christmas, which continues to increase in popularity.

We know that you may have questions about our decision – after two decades the event is fondly regarded by many of you. If you would like to get more detail on any aspect of our decision or our future plans, contact westonbirt@forestry.gsi.gov.uk and your email will be passed onto the relevant person within the team.

Treefest’s last year will be a celebration of the event and the people who have made it so special. We’ll still have over 100 exhibitors, delicious food and exciting new music along with fabulous woodcarving in the heart of the Old Arboretum, fantastic activities for families and the spectacular TIMBERSPORTS® show from event sponsors, STIHL.

Find out more about the event: www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-treefest

Andrew Smith, Arboretum Director

Tree of the month: July 2016

July 4th, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Stewartia monadelpha

Dan Crowley
Why is it tree of the month?
Stewartia is a member of the tea family, Theaceae, as suggested by the solitary white flowers that appear in summer. S. monadelpha has the smallest flowers in the genus and these are borne in some profusion on branches throughout the crown. The flowers have conspicuous bracteoles which are a useful aid to identification and the tree is also notable for its reddish bark which peels.

Stewartia monadelpha
The genus was named after John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1713-92), though Linnaeus was misled into spelling the generic name ‘Stewartia’ rather than ’Stuartia’ which led to some confusion around which should be used. Though there was widespread use of ‘Stuartia’ in the 19th century, the accepted spelling is Stewartia, as found in modern botanical texts.

Stewartia monadelpha
Where can I find it?
Currently we have just two trees here at Westonbirt. These are both on Circular Drive in the Old Arboretum and enjoying the acidic conditions they are afforded in this area.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Tree of the month: June 2016

May 31st, 2016

Dan Crowley, Westonbirt's dendrologist
What is tree of the month?
Aesculus indica (Indian horse chestnut)

Indian chestnut - whole tree
Why is it tree of the month?
The Indian horse chestnut is notable for both its bronze new foliage (see the whole tree photo!) and flowers in panicles that provide an arboreal highlight as we move in to the summer months. The leaves turn a glossy green and the showy flowers usually appear in June to July and look as though they won’t too far away this year! In maturity the bark peels in long strips.

Indian horse chestnut - leaves and flower headsIndian horse chestnut - bark
The species is native of the north west Himalaya and was introduced in 1851. It is seen far less frequently in the UK than its European relative, Aesculus hippocastanum, and its later flowering time than this species is an added attraction.

Where can I find it?
Our largest example can be found on Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum and an equally interesting example of multi-stemmed habit is found close to the relatively new path which links Mitchell Drive and Main Drive in the Old Arboretum.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Still plenty of work to be done!

May 4th, 2016

The opening ceremony for Phase Two may have now been and gone, but there is still plenty of ongoing work for the Westonbirt Project.

Those of you who are regular followers of the blog will remember that Phase One has numerous ongoing activities supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Aside from the community work, Downs restoration and various site-wide interpretation, the HLF are also supporting a large amount of boundary restoration.

Existing wall around the Downs awaiting restoration.

The next boundary that we are restoring is the dry stone Ha-Ha wall with iron railings that runs around the Downs. Ha-Ha walls are put in place to provide an uninterrupted view whilst creating a vertical barrier often to help contain livestock as this particular wall was originally. The name “Ha-Ha” derives from the unexpected (i.e., amusing) moment of discovery when, on approach, the vertical drop suddenly becomes visible. Fortunately, due to the iron railings attached to the Downs Ha-Ha, the drop is not quite as hidden!

The restoration process has now begun with the removal of the iron railings, and these will all be restored while our dry stone waller takes the lead and takes the wall down stone by stone, before building it back up to its former glory. The iron railings will then be reinstalled using an onsite forge.

Volunteers helping with the restoration of the ha-ha near Mitchell Drive.

The dry stone waller will be aided throughout by a number of our volunteers, who will be able to learn this specialised skill. At approx. 625 metres they will have plenty of practice, and the restoration process is expected to take around four months.

As the wall runs so close to the Dew pond which inhabits Great Crested Newts, and newts love dry stone walls, e.g. for hibernation, plans have been put into place to keep them from harm, and a newt license has been granted by Natural England for the works. We aim to coincide the works closest to the pond with the time at which the newts are most likely to be in the water.

Finished wall and railings along Mitchell Drive.

For those of you visiting the site soon, you will be able to see this all unfolding, and if you look along Mitchell Drive, you will see a boundary of the same style which we previously restored in 2012.

Dan Reid, Project Support Officer

A great big THANK YOU!

April 29th, 2016

On Tuesday 26 April 2016, Westonbirt Arboretum hosted an event to celebrate the completion of phase two of the Westonbirt Project and to thank the many people who made it possible.

Over 300 donors and supporters attended and saw the STIHL Treetop Walkway opened by BBC Countryfile‘s Ellie Harrison, before enjoying lunch at the newly completed Wolfson Tree Management Centre.

Donors gather to celebrate the completion of phase two of the Westonbirt Project.
The crowds gather.

Ellie Harrison addresses the crowd, watched by guests, Stephen Segar (Chair of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum), Paul Cody (Head of Visitor Attraction) and Andrew Smith (Arboretum Director).
Ellie Harrison addresses guests.

Ellie Harrison cuts the ribbon to open the STIHL Treetop Walkway
Ellie Harrison cutting the ribbon and opening the STIHL Treetop Walkway.

The first donors make their way across the STIHL Treetop Walkway
The first guests take to the walkway.

The completion of the Westonbirt Project capital developments was made possible by a vast amount of support from many, many people. We thank you all!

All images: Matt Tween

Tree of the month: May 2016

April 29th, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Abies delavayi

Abies delavayi - female cone

Why is it tree of the month?
Delavay’s fir, named for the French missionary P.J.M. Delavay who collected plants in China in the late 1800s, is a species found at high elevations in southwest China and neighbouring regions. One of a number of Abies species that have blue cones, they are particularly noticeable just now. Abies species tend to produce cones towards the top of the tree and not all do so when young, but one of our plants, planted in 2002 has been doing so for the last few years. What is more, many of the are on low branches making them ideal for a closer look, or the odd photograph!

Dendrologist Dan Crowley admiring Abies delavayi

Where can I find it?
This particular specimen (17.0253) is found between Mitchell Drive and Main Drive, close to the boundary with the Downs. Another, from the same seed source, grows along Broad Drive, though doesn’t form cones so reliably.

Abies delavayi - whole tree

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Tree of the month: April 2016

April 1st, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Acer hyrcanum

Why is it tree of the month?
Described in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs as a small tree. Our specimens in Silk Wood are slightly larger than this. As early plantings in this part of the arboretum, our two largest trees have stood the test of time and continue to look the part. They flower wonderfully in April and are not far off just now! Emerging just before or with the leaves, the entire crown is adorned with the goodness of spring. A beautiful sight!

The species is native to the Balkan peninsula, the Caucasus and parts of Western Asia. Like many species from this part of the world, it is quite happy at Westonbirt! It is closely related to the more commonly seen sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, but is far more showy in spring. It is believed to have been in cultivation since 1865.

Where can I find it?
Our two largest trees are in Silk Wood and can’t be missed along Willesley Drive and Broad Drive. Close relatives of the species can be found throughout the site, as part of the Plant Heritage National Collection of Acer.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist