Archive for February, 2012

Spring Colour Watch Blog: Sign of the times? by Ben Oliver, Learning and Participation Manager

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This year’s Spring Colour Watch Blog takes in some of the fascinating stops on the two spring trail routes around the Old Arboretum and Silk Wood, created by Ben Oliver, Westonbirt’s Learning and Participation Manager. We hope you will be inspired to follow one of the trails yourself. A free leaflet describing the route of the trail is available when you pay on admissions, or from the Great Oak Hall information point.

This week’s blog visits a stop on the Old Arboretum spring trail.

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The abundant pink flowers of camellia hybrid (Camellia x williamsii ‘Bow Bells’) usually don’t emerge until February, when they form the opening act to a succession of spring flowers from vibrant rhododendrons to saucer-sized magnolia blooms.

This year the specimen that you’ll find on the first stop of the Old Arboretum seasonal trail has enjoyed an extended flowering season; its first flowers appeared before Christmas and the shrub was in full bloom on New Year’s Day!

Many plants regulate flowering in response to environmental cues such as temperature and day length. Certainly, our unusually mild weather and limited winter frosts this year are likely causes for the extended floral display of this specimen.

Scientists believe that in future flowering times will become increasingly early as a result of changes in climate. One recent model predicted that for every 1oC that the climate warms spring flowering will begin approximately 11 days earlier.

As well as ‘Bow Bells’, an array of other camellias are already flowering nearby. The images below were taken within the last week.

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Take a diversion up Savill Glade and you find a marvellous display of bright pink camellias on a large plant to your right.

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Useful links
More information about spring at Westonbirt
Find Westonbirt’s trees on the interactive map
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Wooden Wonders part 13: holly, by Kate Cashmore

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

Holly The Link Silk Wood (1)

Holly has a heavy, white, fine-grained wood.

It can distort when dried so is used for small things. It polishes well, and can be stained black and is often used for chessmen.

In Medieval Ireland it was used for arrows and chariot shafts! The wood also has medicinal uses, for example, as chewing stick as a tonic for pet rabbits.

Wood is so useful that we need to be sure we will not run out of it, by cutting it sustainably.

You can help: buy wood products marked with the FSC label. This shows that the forest which the  wood comes from has been approved by the Forest Stewardship Council – an independent organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests.

Did you know – all Forestry Commission woods (such as Westonbirt) have been approved by the FSC!

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part 12: Atlas cedar, by Kate Cashmore

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

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This close relation of the grand Cedar of Lebanon comes from the Atlas mountains of Northern Africa.

It is now being grown as a timber tree in the South of France because it is more tolerant of hot and dry conditions than most conifers. This could make it a useful tree to cope with climate change in Britain.        

The heartwood is strongly scented and resinous. It is durable, and the knotty wood that grows in Britain is mainly used for outdoor furniture, gates and fences.

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part 11: Wellingtonia, by Kate Cashmore

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

422Wellingtonias

The giant redwoods or Wellingtonia that you’ll find at Westonbirt grow naturally in California, and have evolved to cope with the forest fires that occur naturally every few years.

The thick fibrous bark is fire-resistant, and the huge mature trees are seldom killed by fire.

The cones need the heat of the fire to make them open, and then the light seeds are released after the fire has passed, onto the burned but richly fertile soil, without competition from other plants.

Nowadays, we also use wood for its fire-resistance. Fire doors are made of wood – usually blockboard or plywood.

Heavy beams in aircraft hangars are also wooden, as timber burns at 1mm per minute, so firemen can predict how long a door or beam will last in a fire, whereas with concrete or metal, you cannot predict the moment of collapse.

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

A busy few weeks, by Sophie Nash, Project Officer

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

We have nearly completed the electric upgrade trenching work on site.

As well as eliminating the power shortages which we sometimes experience, this is an opportunity to move the power cables underground, contributing to the Westonbirt Project’s work in restoring the Grade I Registered Downs landscape.

The work has gone relatively smoothly and to time, helped by the freezing temperatures which make trenching far simpler than in the pouring rain.

If you are wondering why we haven’t yet removed the pylons and overhead cables, this has been delayed by the utility company due to poor quality poles from the power station across other landowners’ fields which haven’t been replaced since the 1950s!

Pylon at Westonbirt Arboretum

Next week the contractors will start creating a new stone track road from the gate near the A433 across the field used for overflow parking to the new ha-ha.

This will enable us to use the field more efficiently during large events but will also provide an alternative access road into the site which will enable us to minimise disruption when we construct the new Welcome Building.

Although this sounds like a very straightforward piece of work it has involved measuring the girth of some very old veteran Oak trees (one was a whopping 5.8 metres!) to ensure we stay well away from their roots.

We will also start repair work to the original ha-ha along Mitchell Drive next week, which involves repairing the dry stone wall. We have removed the iron railings from the ha-ha in preparation for the repair work which will continue into March.

Useful links
More about the Westonbirt Project

Wooden Wonders part nine: larch, by Kate Cashmore

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

Although Westonbirt’s larch trees shed their leaves last autumn, they are conifers and have soft wood.  They mature in 60 to 70 years.

19 May 2011Morley Ride 046

The wood needs seasoning or drying before using, as it tends to bend as it dries. Timber is seasoned either outdoors or in a kiln.

Outdoors, it is carefully stacked so that air can circulate and the moisture evaporates over a period of weeks or months.

In a kiln warm air and steam is circulated by fans until the desired moisture content is achieved.     

Once dry, its straightness, strength and moderate durability makes it a useful timber for outdoor use, in fences, poles, and wagons.

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part ten: Lawson’s cypress, by Kate Cashmore

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

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Lawson’s cypress is a conifer native to Oregon and California in the Western USA. 

Its wood is light but strong and  rot-resistant. The straight grain makes it very suitable for arrow shafts.

In Japan it is in demand for shrines and temples and also coffins.

Trees like this store carbon from the atmosphere and help reduce climate change. The publicly owned forest (including Westonbirt) stores about ¼ of England’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases. Wooden items still store the carbon.      

The wood of the Lawson’s Cypress is said to smell of ginger – see what you think when you follow our Wooden Wonders trail (14 – 16 February).

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part eight: box, by Kate Cashmore

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

Box is not often seen as a tree – more often clipped as a hedge.

Its wood is yellow, extremely hard and heavy and fine-grained. It is valued for carving small fine articles like chessmen, instruments, printing blocks, and especially for combs.

charcoal buring in silk wood

When carefully burnt without air, it makes high quality charcoal.

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part seven: beech, by Kate Cashmore

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

The lovely smooth bark of beech trees is thin, leaving the living tissue underneath easily damaged by animals and sunburn.

14 April 2011 Beech at top of Jackson

Trees growing alone usually have many low leafy branches to protect the trunk from light.

The wood is fairly easy to work, and is very strong. It lasts well underwater and so, in the past, was used for ships and the supports of bridges and even cathedrals. It is also good for spoons, brush handles and piano frames.

Beech makes a good fire too. This poem is all about how well other woods burn:

Beechwood fires are bright and clear.
If the logs are kept a year;     
Chestnut only good they say,                          
If for long it’s laid away;                              
Make a fire of elder tree,
Death within your house shall be.                  
But ash new or ash old,                      
Is fit for Queen with crown of gold. 

Birch and fir logs burn too fast,               
Blaze up bright and do not last;                      
It is by the Irish said   
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread;   
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould —-   
E’en the very flames are cold.           
But ash green or ash brown,              
Is fit for Queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,           
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;           
Apple wood will scent your room,            
With incense-like perfume.                       
Oaken logs, if dry and old,           
Will keep away the winter’s cold;            
But ash wet or ash dry                 
A king shall warm his slippers by.

(Anon)

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families

Wooden Wonders part six: yew – a hard softwood! by Kate Cashmore

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, is full of magnificent trees.

As part of our half term Wooden Wonders event taking place from 14 – 16 February, Kate Cashmore from Westonbirt’s learning team has created a trail which will help you find out about our hidden wonders.

Here, she highlights some of the Wooden Wonders that you can discover when you follow the trail.

Yew, though a conifer, grows slowly and has very hard wood.

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The older, heartwood is dark and the outer sapwood light, which combination is used for decorative effect by carvers for example for bowls.

The different qualities of the two woods is used to great effect in longbows – by combining a strip of heartwood with a strip of sapwood, the bow can bend in the most effective way.

The oldest wooden artefact dug up in Britain, is a yew spear 150,000 years old!

The trunks tend to grow in strange shapes – look out for them along the path as you follow the Wooden Wonders trail this half term.

Useful links
Find out more about the Wooden Wonders event
Buy great value Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership
More great activities for families