Archive for November, 2011

What makes a winter wonderland? by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Friday, November 18th, 2011

The answer to the question “What makes a winter wonderland?” is in no small part “Volunteers”. Along with our learning and participation staff, they’ve today started the task of transforming Westonbirt’s education centre into a winter wonderland for families visiting the Enchanted Christmas – which starts next Friday, 25 November.

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During the event evenings, our team will be working with children and families to help them create Christmas crafts, draw a picture for Santa, find out about winter customs, and learn about the history of Christmas trees.

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The setting for this will be a wonderful snowy, icicled education centre. Today our band of staff and volunteers were working together to install the textured panels which will eventually become a beautiful icy, glittering wall – a backdrop for the many Christmas trees and displays of greenery. Some of the Christmas trees will be supplied by Westonbirt’s Plant Centre when they get their delivery next week. Most will be be sold to the public, but a few are reserved for this winter wonderland. The greenery has come from the arboretum, the varied colours of our evergreens making a vibrant display.

Once the textured panels are in place a local specialist company, well known for creating festive scenes for Hollywood, will come in to make the finishing touches and flourishes which we hope will make this a magical space in the weeks running up to Christmas. This will all be supported by the wonderful creative lighting design that Westonbirt is so well known for at this time of year.

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At the same time as all of this activity, other volunteers have been working on the craft activities that will be on offer during an Enchanted Christmas, creating examples to inspire you to make your own creations and preparing the raw materials for use.

The Enchanted Christmas is open to visitors every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from 25 November to 18 December. Find out more and buy tickets on the Enchanted Christmas pages.

Useful links
Enchanted Christmas tickets and info
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Autumn Colour Watch Blog: between two seasons, by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Autumn is a spectacular time of year at Westonbirt. This photo-packed blog will take you through the weekly highlights of what’s looking good and where. Photographs featured here have been taken in the few days prior to publication. Visit the Forestry Commission website for more information about what’s happening at Westonbirt during autumn.

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This week will be the final Autumn Colour Watch Blog for 2011. That is not to say that there is not any autumn colour to see – the oaks are still clinging to most of their leaves as I write, as are many of the Persian ironwoods and Euonymus. But autumn is certainly past its height now and thoughts here are turning to winter and our Enchanted Christmas event.

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In the Old Arboretum, there are some interesting plants still hanging onto their leaves. Pictured above are Acer pectinatum ssp. maximowiczii, (which doesn’t conform to our idea of the palmate leaves of most maples), Enkianthus perulatus, and a Japanese maple which has still got green tips on the leaves.

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Over in Silk Wood, Maple Loop looks surprisingly unchanged at first glance – there are perhaps a few more bare branches, but as you can see, there are some lovely yellow, orange and red leaves still glowing in generous abundance. We will have to see how this situation progresses, as so far we have avoided the frosts that will probably bring this display to an end.

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Bare branches, however, do not mean an end to bright colours in the arboretum. The interim period between autumn and winter offers some interesting contrasts – a tree in full leaf acting as a backdrop to another that has completely dropped its leaves – and gives the spotlight to plants that might be less noticed during the rest of the year, such as the glossy red stemmed willows that you’ll see in the car parks. These continue to provide welcome colour during the winter months, as do the dogwoods, which currently contrast with bright yellow maples, but are equally striking against an dark yew background.

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And then of course, there are all of the wonderful and varied barks (I’ve been led to believe that the pursuit of barks is called ‘barking’, but I’m not entirely sure this is an official term…). The range of colours is amazing – amongst the Acers alone there is wonderful variety, from papery rust red to smooth stripy green. Birches again have vast variety, both in colour and texture. I was pleased to rediscover the bark of Stewartia monadelpha. This genus of plants became a favourite of mine through the spring and summer months, with its photogenic buds and flowers, and now, in bare branch I still say it is difficult to take a bad picture of it. Wonderful!

So, the Autumn Colour Watch Blog may be over for another year, but that certainly won’t stop me continuing to explore Westonbirt between now and the spring – I hope you feel the same! My colleagues and I will continue to add our images to the Facebook page, so keep an eye on that.

Useful links:
Enter our Inspired by Autumn at Westonbirt photography competition
Directions to Westonbirt Arboretum (our postcode is GL8 8QS)
Buy tickets to the Enchanted Christmas
Visit the Autumn Colour Watch Blog archive
Find out about Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership. It is great value!

A tremendous achievement, by Jacqueline Dalton, Charity Manager

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

£2,373.71
This is the total raised at the Volunteer Craft Fair on 29 & 30 October! This a tremendous achievement and not surprising – you should have seen the quality and variety of the crafts……… too many to mention. So many gave their time to make their crafts, help on stalls during the day and serve refreshments – thank you all. BUT none of this would have been possible without the good steerage from Maureen Gobbett – we thank you Maureen yet again!

Great Oak Hall - venue for the Volunteer Craft Fair

Great Oak Hall - venue for the Volunteer Craft Fair

Useful links:
The work of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity
Volunteering at Westonbirt
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership

Have you visited the new bird viewing area? by Tony Pearce, volunteer

Monday, November 7th, 2011

The workshop and wood sales team of volunteers have recently completed a new bird viewing and feeding area that is accessible to visitors seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. The previous bird viewing area had always been in the education centre, which couldn’t be accessible to visitors without staff there to open and close the building.

The new bird viewing area, located in the Old Arboretum just off Circular Drive and near to Holly Gate, is now open to the public. The RSPB have been hosting activities and working with Westonbirt Arboretum’s visitors (and wildlife) to make the most of this fantastic new facility. 

The workshop and wood sales volunteer team are a highly skilled group of volunteers who, once a brief had been agreed, began the construction of the new bird viewing area earlier this year. Here’s a closer look at how it all came together:

Initial design proposals were prepared which fitted in with other constructed elements of Westonbirt Arboretum. The design reflects the oak frame structures of the den building play in the Old Arboretum, the Great Oak Hall and the Silk Wood Barn.

The frame was made from 125mm by 125mm oak beams and 25mm larch boards to side elevations. The roof would be made from oak shingles of random widths, hanging on oak A-frames and larch purlins and battens. The design also had to let the building team manually move and lift the frame into position, and this determined the maximum length of the beams to be around 3.5m in length.

The basic design and budget was approved in early 2011, and initial milling of the oak butts was arranged with Alistair Williams for the first weekend in February.

Mobile band saw mill located along side Waste Drive. Alistair Williams operating mill with volunteers Geoff Fisher and Laurie Moir waiting to lift off cut timber.

Mobile band saw mill located along side Waste Drive. Alistair Williams operating mill with volunteers Geoff Fisher and Laurie Moir waiting to lift off cut timber.

With the timber relocated to the workshop area, material was selected for the initial components of floor and roof plates. These required an overall length of 6.6m, so three beams were scarf together using traditional framing joints to achieve the overall length. The scarf would normally use wooden pegs, but needed steel bolts to meet health and safety regulations.

The vertical posts were positioned in the floor plate and the roof plate was then located on the top of the posts. For this we used the standard mortice and tenon joint at each end of the post. All the joints were cut by hand using 50mm chisels and mallets, as through or blind joints depending on location.

Brain Young cutting mortice

Brian Young cutting mortice

Brain Carruthers and Michael Goom inspecting a roof plate

Brian Carruthers and Michael Goom inspecting a roof plate

Laurie Moir cutting tenon in post

Laurie Moir cutting tenon in post

Michael Goom  cutting housing in tie beam for roof A frame

Michael Goom cutting housing in tie beam for roof A frame

Having determined the location of the new bird viewing area, the kit was assembled in early June. The assembly of the basic frame and the raising of the roof A-frame was completed in a weekend, with all volunteers working hard over the two days.

Basic frame structure

Basic frame structure

Basic frame with roof A frames fitted

Basic frame with roof A frames fitted

At this stage of the build a delay occurred due to a requirement for planning approval. This slowed things a bit and we were only able to fit wind braces over the next eight weeks.

Marion Wilding fitting wind brace

Marion Wilding fitting wind brace

Given planning approval, all volunteers were keen to complete the project within the September target date. The boarding of the side elevations and fitting of the window frames were completed and the roofing battens, shingles and ridge were fitted over the next few weeks. During this time we were joined by a number of new recruits to the team.

New Volunteers, Roly Holtzgrave and Peter Burden, with Michael Goom

New Volunteers, Roly Holtzgrave and Peter Burden, with Michael Goom

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With the one way windows fitted, the facility was opened for public use from 1st October. Benches were installed, leaving access for mobility scooters to enter and exit.

Some photographers have commented on the problems of taking pictures of feeding birds through the glass. This is a problem with automatic focusing cameras which has been experienced previously. It is to be noted that access for cameras have been left in the side hurdles for the serious photographers.

We hope that visitors will see this project as one which enhances their Westonbirt experience, and that birds will appreciate the new source of food when winter arrives and insects, fruits and berries are in short supply.  

My thanks go to all of the volunteers who have supported this project with their time and effort. We are now engaged on new projects, including additional play equipment for Silk Wood and some smaller projects for the Learning Centre and Family Events. In the New Year we hope that we will undertake some additional oak framing which will take the form of shelters in the arboretum.

You could help us by donating any carpenters hand tools (chisels, planes, hand saws etc) If you have any power tools please let me have details by email to woodsales@fowa.org.uk

Autumn Colour Watch: shades of gold and many more, by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Autumn is a spectacular time of year at Westonbirt. This photo-packed blog will take you through the weekly highlights of what’s looking good and where. Photographs featured here have been taken in the few days prior to publication. Visit the Forestry Commission website for more information about what’s happening at Westonbirt during autumn.

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This week we’ve really noticed the yellow and golden tones of autumn come to the fore. Beech trees are looking burnished as you approach Silk Wood via the Waste Gate entrance, and on Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum this fabulous Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Tricolor’ is showing a variety of leaf colour with papery edges.

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Some of the brightest yellows come from tulip trees. These are striking in their large number on Jackson Avenue, where the mature specimens soar skywards. A great spectacle against a blue sky. If you look out for younger plantings on Main Drive and Loop walk you’ll be able to get closer to the unusually shaped leaves which are a mixture of yellow, golden brown and green. This mixture of colours is also emerging on our oak trees.

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Another one of Westonbirt’s signature plants, the Persian ironwood, has been providing a stunning range of colours throughout the season so far, from reds and purples to their current bright yellow – you’ll find some good examples on Broad Drive in Silk Wood.

Japanese Maple Collection Silk Wood 4Japanese maple Broad Drive Silk WoodJapanese Maple Collection Silk Wood 2
Surprisingly perhaps, the maples continue to dazzle. In Silk Wood, Broad Drive and the National Japanese Maple Collection both have some lovely bright examples which are pictured above. Although predominately red, the one pictured above right has beautiful yellow tipped leaves. Very striking.

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The same is true of the maples in the Old Arboretum, which continue to lend themselves to ‘tree portraits’, where a combination of leaf colour and distinctive branch structures shout personality.

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Down in what we call our ’shop window’ where passing traffic gets a tantalising glimpse of what Westonbirt has to offer, there is a great display of red maples, silvery conifers and a number of surprise plants such as this Sorbus aronioides (with berries that look like brass, another to add to my list of favourite autumn berried plants) and this silver maple. It is only once you depart from Mitchell Drive towards the road that you notice these plants. Excitingly, as it is now November, we will (all going well with the creative process!) have a sneak preview of the Enchanted Christmas in this area of the Old Arboretum from Friday – look out for some illuminations as you drive past!

Useful links:
Enter our Inspired by Autumn at Westonbirt photography competition
Directions to Westonbirt Arboretum (our postcode is GL8 8QS)
Buy tickets to the Enchanted Christmas
Visit the Autumn Colour Watch Blog archive
Find out about Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership. It is great value!

Kelly you are a star! by Bev Starkings, Membership Co-ordinator

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

It’s not often you get the chance to draw attention to the wonderful work that your colleagues do! Well after a week of finding myself doing it all, I now announce to the world what an excellent job that Kelly does in the two and a half days she is here. Kelly is experiencing her very first half term and despite having the whole week off, she even came in on Tuesday to help. What dedication! Kelly you are a star!

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