Archive for the ‘Marketing and PR’ Category

Have you met the Gruffalo’s friends in the Old Arboretum?

Monday, October 9th, 2017

The Gruffalo in the deep dark wood of the Old Arboretum has recently been joined by beautiful sculptures of the mouse, snake, fox, owl and squirrel. Find out more about how they were created in an exciting guest post from their sculptor, David Lucas

My name is David Lucas, and I created the Gruffalo character sculptures for Westonbirt Arboretum, in collaboration with the Forestry Commission and Magic Light Pictures. The Westonbirt sculptures were part of a larger nationwide commission to create 70 Gruffalo characters for 14 different Forestry Commission sites.

The Gruffalo sculpture itself had been created previously by a different sculptor but now it was my job to imagine, create and reunite the Gruffalo with his woodland friends….mouse, snake, owl, fox and squirrel.

The process of creating these sculptures began with the humble pencil as I sketched my designs. Once the designs had been approved then the real fun started as I used my collection of chainsaws to reveal the characters hidden within the large tree stumps. Once carved, the sculptures were then sanded and some of the finer details were added with various electric and hand tools. The final process involved the use of wood stains to give the characters their iconic colouring and to really bring them to life. I still find it amazing how a well-positioned black dot for a pupil can really animate a sculpture and bring out the character within!

Once a set of characters were completed, they were carefully loaded onto a lorry before heading off to their new home.

All the timber that I’ve used to sculpt these characters has come from the Forestry Commission and is therefore sustainably sourced.

It was an absolute pleasure to be able to create these sculptures for Westonbirt and I hope they will be enjoyed for many years to come by young and old alike. I look forward to seeing your photos on the Westonbirt Facebook page and next time you explore the deep dark wood then please give the sculptures a little cuddle from me.

Watch this space for time lapse videos of their creation on my YouTube channel….coming soon!

See the Gruffalo and his friends in our new Gruffalo Wood in the Old Arboretum at Westonbirt.

We are more than the trees; we are flowers, butterflies and bees. By Emily Pryor, Marketing Support Officer

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Yesterday was my second guided walk. A different topic this time and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend 2 hours in the sunshine than looking at wildflowers.

I am a total novice when it comes to flowers. In fact, as much as a novice as can possibly be. Cowslip, buttercups and a couple of grasses were as far as my knowledge stretched. That didn’t matter to me because I love flowers and so I took the opportunity to learn from the experts.

Again, the walk was hosted by our knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers. Angela led the group with all spaces taken and 24 people in tow, around Silk Wood to look at what Westonbirt has to offer with its wildflowers. 

After setting off through the downs, looking at various flowers like dandelions, silverweed, pineappleweed – Angela assures us there is a lot more than meets the eye to these plants we often dig out of our garden. From how dandelions help butterflies to some weeds that smell of pineapple and plants like red and white clover that are part of the pea family- fascinating.

Wildflowers in Silk Wood

We then ventured into the woodland to talk about nettles. A lot of us dislike them for either their nasty sting or their overpowering presence in our gardens, but unbeknown to me they are really important for insects like butterflies and in a previous life their fibres were used to make cloth. I immediately felt very guilty about chopping down a patch of them in my garden over the weekend. 

From magical myths about weeds being hung over doorways to keep away the devil (herb bennet) to ones with roots that look and taste like Hazlenuts (pignut), others used to make sedatives, and ones that are believed to aid mosquito bites as dock leaves do to nettle stings. There were many uses of wildflowers that I see in my garden, or out and about, that I would have never known.

It’s not just the flowers either. The grasses selection was fantastic too. From the soft and strokable tufted hair grass, to the goose grass that I have got caught up in many times as a child. There was even a crested dog tail grass, the names were as fabulous as the specimens themselves.

Some of the most impressive flowers we saw were 4 different varieties of wild orchids – absolutely gorgeous. I would thoroughly recommend coming on the wildflower walk just to see these in all their glory. Common spotted, pyramidal, bee orchid and butterfly orchid.  I felt very privileged to have seen 4 types, considering we only found one Bee Orchid!  The wild lilies were incredible as well. I have never seen them in their natural setting and they were quite a thing of beauty. We saw white and pink Martagon Lilies, everyone’s cameras were out and we were all queuing to get a glimpse, I have never seen so much excitement over flowers, but it was worth it. They were the most majestic flowers, as tall as me and with the most beautiful colours and shape.

White Martagon lily

 Bee orchid

Walking down Palmer Ride, which I personally think is the most beautiful wildflower meadow and watching the many butterflies and bees land on the flowers, I thought to myself, there is more to Westonbirt than trees. Trees here are undoubtedly an incredible spectacle, unimaginably beautiful, diverse and magical… but the flowers, the grasses and the wildlife can be too. It’s a haven for nature as well as an arboretum.

It’s very sad to think that wildflowers are in decline. The flowers here remind me of many meadows I have walked in over the years, but most prominently my parent’s wildflower area they had in which they and I relaxed during many summers in my childhood.

In amongst the flowers - taken at Palmer Ride, Westonbirt

A lady on the walk had done just the same, created her own wildflower patch, something I think we should all consider in a bid to keep these beautiful and important flowers alive.

When you visit next time, walk down Palmer ride and take in all the flowers we have here. It really is something special. Better still, take a wildflower walk for yourself, you won’t regret it.

The last wildflower walk for this year is August 9. Details can be found here…

A wonderful guided walk, by Emily Pryor, Marketing Support Officer

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

I am new to the arboretum, after only starting here a couple of days ago and feeling very ‘unknowledgeable’ about the beauty within the fold, I decided to sign up for a guided walk.

Handkerchief tree
Since coming here, I have heard nothing but good things about the volunteers and their knowledge of the arboretum and its history. For me, there was no better place to start.

After being introduced to our expert guide, Tricia, we were encouraged to ask any questions we liked along the way. Shortly into our guided walk I realised that Robert Holford’s planting style was nothing short of astounding.

What I learned from Tricia was that Robert’s planting style was called ‘picturesque’. This, from what I could gather, meant that it was designed to look different, using tiers, colours and groupings of trees.

We were invited to take in what are called the ‘Champion trees’ (look for the blue name label when you are here): trees that are the biggest in height or girth of their kind. What an eye opener that was. After seeing a few extraordinary sized trunks and some pine cones as long as my forearm, I was told that a cedar in America over 2000 years old, has a trunk of 33 metres in girth. Fascinating.

What I really enjoyed hearing from Tricia was Holford’s legacy that he left ‘within the trees’. One of the first sets of trees we came across we were told were known as the ‘Three Sisters’, all planted in a huddle for Holfords daughters, resembling what looks like a tight family unit.  We also visited areas that Tricia knew to be favourites for where the Holford family had their picnics.

As well as her astounding knowledge of the history of the arboretum, her enthusiasm and knowledge of the trees was incredible. What she didn’t know, in my eyes, probably wasn’t worth knowing, and she continued to surprise us with the magical nature of the trees. The Copper Beech she showed us was truly special. From the outside it looks as though it has a deep purple leaf, but take one step underneath the tree and you are thrown by what is a sea of deep green foliage. I’m sure there are many scientific reasons for this, perhaps beyond my means, but seeing that for the first time was quite magical.

Copper Beech Tree
We then move on to ‘Lime Avenue’. How different that is to the rest of the arboretum can’t be done justice in my words. But it is stunning. A huge grand row of Lime trees line the path. Wildflowers surround the trees, from buttercups to orchids and wild grasses, which Tricia says reminds her of her childhood, and she’s right. 

In between the feeling of various tree leaves, Tricia tells us animatedly and passionately about the stories of the ‘Plant Hunters’ that contributed to Westonbirt’s tree collection.  I am told of Ernest Wilson who gave us the Tulip tree and the Handkerchief Tree, for which the latter I have never seen anything like in my life. I am then given the top tips on the places to go when it gets to autumn colour time, which I will store in my back pocket for when the clock hits October.
Although the history is fascinating, as interesting is how Westonbirt works today. I am told by Tricia that it is constantly evolving, but the planting format remains the same.  From maintaining the site and encouraging a sustainable system to reusing tree trunks for carving into sculptures, and dead wood used to create habitats for wildlife, it seems cherished and loved in every way possible. It’s also a forward thinking arboretum; the 2050 glade which Tricia tells us about confirms that.

As we amble back to the Great Oak Hall, I chat with Tricia about how she spends her days here and she tells me one of the reasons she loves it is that she is constantly learning. Which made me think that I have a long way to go! She really was, and I’m certain all of the guides are, the most captivating route to understand Westonbirt and how it got to where it is today. I would recommend the walks in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ve signed up for my next one already.

If you would like to join one of our guided walks, please click here for more information…

“We just look after it for you”, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum’s Head of Fundraising, Louise Bird, and the Forestry Commission’s communications team at Westonbirt, Katrina Podlewska and Gina Mills, are currently in the USA, visiting their counterparts at arboretums and botanic gardens to find out who their visitors are, how they fundraise, and to learn from some of the best. The trip has been funded by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

“It’s your park, we just look after it for you.”
Central Park Conservancy leaflet

If you look at a map of Manhattan, it’s easy to imagine Central Park is all grass, as the flat green square might suggest.

In fact, trees are everywhere in Central Park, dominating the landscape.

In the area called ‘The Ramble’, you’re lead through undulating paths amongst the oaks native to New York City.

Turn one corner of this naturalistic landscape, and suddenly you catch a glimpse of a boating lake, glittering through the trees.

It was a surprise, but made me think of times at Westonbirt when I’ve turned a corner or approached a planting from a new direction and realised just how well thought out our landscape is.

The same care and attention to detail is true of the design and ongoing management of Central Park.

My main impression of the park was actually more about the restorative wellbeing effects of being outside and amongst the trees.

There is something uplifting about Central Park being at the heart of Manhattan. After the hustle and bustle of the busier areas of the city, my heart was lifted by the experience – for many New Yorkers the same must be true, and Central Park is their backyard, looked after for them by the Central Park Conservancy.

Following my visit I am in no doubt as to how important the park is to making New York so special and for contributing to the wellbeing of millions of people – trees play a leading role in this.

Central Park Conservancy:

Plants and people, by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum’s Head of Fundraising, Louise Bird, and the Forestry Commission’s communications team at Westonbirt, Katrina Podlewska and Gina Mills, are currently in the USA, visiting their counterparts at arboretums and botanic gardens to find out who their visitors are, how they fundraise, and to learn from some of the best. The trip has been funded by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

The strapline for the New York Botanical Garden – ‘A place where plants and people come together’ – identifies a focus for people in the landscape and work of this spectacular 250 acre garden containing one million plants.

The early goal of NYBG was to ‘create an oasis of tranquillity and learning’ and this continues today. A visit shows that tranquillity, science and learning can fit easily within one visitor offer.

For example, the Ruth Rea Howell family garden encourages schools and families to ‘grow their own’ in plots – marked out by handmade signs created by children who use the space.

Ruth Rea Mitchell Garden NYBG

The connections with plants and people continue with the Wild Medicine exhibition. Running until September 2013, the exhibition shows how important plants are to traditional and modern medicine and remedies (Westonbirt’s Tree Potions family event, 6-8 August, features a similar theme).

Wild Medicine exhibition interpretation NYBG

NYBG learning team interns greet visitors to the exhibition with facts and demonstrations. Sponsorship of family activities is something we have also undertaken at Westonbirt; with a previous Easter trail supported in product (chocolate rewards for the Easter Challenge trail) by the Co-operative.

Wild Medicine exhibition intern NYBG

Of course, as with Westonbirt, there are areas of tranquillity to escape to, including collections of conifers, cherries, lilacs and a rose garden.

This is a botanical garden for everyone and whilst there are many differences between Westonbirt and NYBG, the focus on the people who use and can benefit from the two attractions is a clear link and one that can be learned from.

Places with personality, by Gina Mills, Marketing Officer

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum’s Head of Fundraising, Louise Bird, and the Forestry Commission’s communications team at Westonbirt, Katrina Podlewska and Gina Mills, are currently in the USA, visiting their counterparts at arboretums and botanic gardens to find out who their visitors are, how they fundraise, and to learn from some of the best. The trip has been funded by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

The house where Polly Hill lived - now a library
The really striking thing about yesterday’s visit to the Polly Hill Arboretum was the parallels to be found with Westonbirt, despite the fact that the arboretums themselves are over 100 years apart in age.

An avenue of trees with a distinctive Martha's Vineyard dry stone wall behind it

The Polly Hill Arboretum was started by the late Polly Hill in 1958, when she inherited the farm that had been in her family for generations – like Westonbirt’s creator Robert Holford, the blank canvas for the arboretum she created was family land. Unlike him, she started her arboretum by planting seeds from scratch herself and waiting for them to germinate.

Rhododendron at Polly Hill Arboretum
Caring for the Polly Hill Arboretum also has parallels with Westonbirt. Like us, they try and honor the vision of their original creator. For example, they will never plant trees on the expanse of meadowland that lies at the back of the house she lived in, because her mother wanted to keep it this way and so did she.

Shingled barn at Polly Hill Arboretum
This former family farm is scattered with shingled outbuildings and houses dating to the 1700s. Polly Hill Arboretum is one of the few properties of this age open to the public on Martha’s Vineyard, and is another key reason to visit for many.

View into the conifer collection at Polly Hill Arboretum
Her distinctive approach is the reason that her arboretum is so unique. In a similar way Robert Holford’s adherence to the Picturesque principles of landscape design make Westonbirt such a unique experience, although Polly Hill’s approach does take a little more of the botanical order of things into account than Holford’s aesthetic approach.

The visitor centre at Polly Hill Arboretum
Another important personality at Polly Hill Arboretum is the late Dr David H. Smith. He was absolutely instrumental in making Polly Hill Arboretum into the public garden it is today. His interest in the work that Polly was doing blossomed into a great friendship. His generosity ensured that her vision of sharing her passion for plants and learning was realised.

Polly Hill Arboretum website:

A trip to The Arnold Arboretum, Boston USA, by Gina Mills and Katrina Podlewska

Friday, May 24th, 2013

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum’s Head of Fundraising, Louise Bird, and the Forestry Commission’s communications team at Westonbirt, Katrina Podlewska and Gina Mills, are currently in the USA, visiting their counterparts at arboretums and botanic gardens to find out who their visitors visitors are, how they fundraise, and to learn from some of the best. The trip has been funded by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

The Arnold Arboretum of the University of Havard is a 281 acre arboretum established in 1872. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – one half of the team that designed Central Park in New York City – and welcomes 250,000 visitors a year.

Arnold Arboretum - wayfinding map

The Arnold Arboretum has many historical similarities to Westonbirt; both share tales of Victorian seed collecting, Victorian landscape design and a desire to share trees with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year through learning and science.

However, whilst Westonbirt focuses on the Picturesque planting principles, the Arnold uses the Bentham and Hooker style; providing an evolutionary journey for the visitor.

Arnold Arboretum - Magnolia 'Silver Parasol' M.hypoleuca x M.tripetala. Magnoliacae - magnolia family

The result is an arboretum focused on collections and families. Taking visitors on a tour through plant history – the prehistoric magnolias feature early on, passing through tulip trees, cedars, redwoods and maples, before coming to the spring favourites, the lilacs.

Lilac (Syringa)

Lilacs seem to be to Arnold as Japanese Maples are to Westonbirt – one of the most beloved of all of their plant collections. Every year in mid-May, the collection is celebrated on ‘Lilac Sunday’, a celebration of the 200+ kinds of lilacs which has taken place since 1908.

Calycanthus ‘Michael Lindsey’

We really enjoyed seeing Calycanthus ‘Michael Lindsey’, a cultivar of Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), memorable because of the scent that is released from the petals when crushed which seemed particularly heady in the current humidity of Boston. Look out for Westonbirt’s very own bubblegum-sweet Calycanthus occidentalis on Loop Walk.

A sure sign spring has arrived: the pink blooms of Westonbirt’s Diva magnolia are here!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Westonbirt’s bright pink symbol of spring – the 24 metre tall Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ has finally flowered – a month later than last year due to the cold start to spring.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
Planted in 1960, the magnolia is descendant of a tree grown from seeds brought back from China in 1900.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
This particular specimen, which can be found in the Old Arboretum where Savill Glade meets Circular Drive, is classed as a Champion Tree, which means it is the largest of its kind in the UK according to the Tree Register of the British Isles.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
The Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ was planted on 22 February 1960 by members of the arboretum’s advisory committee – a group of arboricultural and horticultural experts that still supports the arboretum today.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
The group then included the Directors of Kew Gardens, Oxford Botanic Gardens, a representative from Windsor Great Park and other leaders in their field.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
When the tree was planted, the group all joined hands and danced in a circle around the tree. Quite a contrast to the committee’s normal more serious visits!

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' 
Westonbirt Arboretum has more than 140 magnolia trees, made up of specimens from 20 species and cultivars. You can find out more about these beautiful trees and other spring blooms at

Words: Susanna Byers and Katrina Podlewska
Pictures: Gina Mills

Final pieces put to lime sculpture, by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

This March at Westonbirt Arboretum, renowned artist and sculptor Richard Harris has been creating a sculpture to celebrate one of Britain’s oldest trees – the arboretum’s 2000 Year Old Lime located here in Silk Wood.

After over two weeks of work, the final lime stems are now being positioned into place. The tallest stands at over 10 metres high, with around two hundred stems used to create the final piece.

Lime sculpture 

The last few days have seen artist Richard Harris and his small team of volunteers checking the wire fixings and adding depth to the walls of the sculpture with smaller stems of around five metres upwards in height.

Attaching the branches to the structure 

These extra stems have been carefully placed to add to the thickness of the sides of the sculpture, but with gaps left to let light through.

Close up of stems 

Once the sculpture is complete, the scaffolding will be removed, leaving the metal frame to support the mass of wood.

Once cut into smaller pieces, many of the remaining lime stems will be available to purchase through our monthly volunteer-led wood sale or at Treefest in August. The finer branches will be put through a mobile wood-chipper by the Westonbirt tree team and laid at the sculpture to add a final touch and alleviate compaction.

A new interpretation panel will also soon arrive at the site – help to further tell the story of this historic tree and how coppicing plays such a big role in its longevity.

Celebrating Westonbirt’s 2000 Year Old Lime: by Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager

Monday, March 4th, 2013

This March at Westonbirt Arboretum, renowned artist and sculptor Richard Harris will be creating a sculpture over 10 metres in height to celebrate one of Britain’s oldest trees – the arboretum’s 2000 Year Old Lime located here in Silk Wood.

Artist Richard Harris

Creation of the sculpture will involve the use of hundreds of huge stems cut recently as part of the traditional management process of the small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) called coppicing. Coppicing is the periodic cutting-back of tree stems to encourage healthy re-growth and longevity. It’s this management process which has allowed this particular tree to live this long.

The sculpture will remain at the site of the 2000 Year Old Lime in Silk Wood for the next 5 to 10 years whilst the lime stems re-grow.

Work on the sculpture’s supporting structure started in late February. Westonbirt’s Tree Team helped Richard Harris to secure the steel cylindrical supporting frame into place.

Installing the supporting frame

Richard is now working with a group of volunteers to secure the lime stems to the frame. The volunteer group are a mix of Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and local artists or those simply interested in helping out on the project.

Volunteers positioned on a platform about five metres off the ground are helping to winch the stems into position. The stems are then secured to the frame using wire. Things seem to be going to plan – working on about 10-20 stems per day, Richard Harris expects the sculpture to be finished by 15 March.

Over the next few days we will use the Westonbirt Tree Team’s ‘cherry picker’, or mobile elevated platform, to try and get some ariel shots of the sculpture. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the ground and a sketch of the planned sculpture to get an idea of how this work of art is taking shape.

Hundreds of cut stems to be used in the sculptureSecuring the stems onto the frameSecuring the stemsRichard Harris sketch of 2000 Year Old Lime sculpture

Useful links:
Find out more about the artist, Richard Harris
Find out more about the 2000 Year Old Lime