Archive for September, 2012

Autumn: the first signs, by Simon Toomer, Director

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Not wanting to miss out on the first signs of autumn colour, I ventured out of my office for a stroll round Circular Drive today to see what I could see.

These are early days with most trees showing little or no sign of autumn.

Those species that are turning tend to be natural early colourers or those that haven’t enjoyed the weather conditions this year and have decided to ‘pack up and leave early’.

Spindles are always early to colour and this year is no exception.

Many of the winged spindles (Euonymus alatus) are already looking a bit sparse and bedraggled, displaying a distinct lack of colour sense with a combination of orange fruit and bright crimson leaves.

Skulking in the shade close to the northern end of Sir Georges Walk and overlooked by most passers-by lives the arboretum’s best example of Disanthus cercidifolius.

I’m always amazed that nobody has come up with a common name for such a lovely shrub. I was drawn by the colour of its Judas tree-like leaves (hence the name), already turning deep wine-red. If you look hard you can also see the small spidery flowers.

One of the surprises on my walk was to see the epaulette tree (Pterostyrax hispida) showing both yellow leaves and the dried remains of its summer flowers – perhaps even more epaulette-like than ever.

And for rarity of the day, Sinowilsonia henryi takes a bit of beating. Not usually considered an autumn stunner, this plant was backlit by the low afternoon sun and made me think again about what I have always thought to be a slightly dull species.

I will be taking regular strolls through the arboretum during the autumn season and will report back on the state of play: the stars and the also-rans, the slow burners and those that come and go in a flash.

Useful links
Keep an eye on autumn colour at Westonbirt on our Facebook page

Autumn: planning and planting the picturesque, by Mark Ballard, Curator

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

As the summer draws to an end, I always start to think about our annual planting programme.

Overview of the propagation unitWestonbirt Oct10 0040Robert Stayner Holford 1862_credit Emery Walker & Westonbirt School_
Each year we add around 300 new trees and shrubs to the collection, the vast majority of which will have been grown here at Westonbirt in our very own Propagation Unit.

Finding a suitable location where a particular plant will hopefully be happy ever after, soil and light etc…, is always an enormous challenge. But to complicate matters, I also have to consider the role every new planting will play in our historic landscape. Ensuring that the ‘picturesque’ style, for which Westonbirt is best known around the world, will be enjoyed by the next generations takes a lot of careful thought.

The other day I happened to be thinking about good places for autumn colour around the arboretum, and began trying to imagine which trees will put on the best display this year.

This brought home just how important it is for me to get these new specimens in exactly the right spot, as very often it is the variety of foliage, colour and shape of the surrounding trees that really enhance our most visually pleasing autumn favourites.

I have gained huge respect and admiration for the foresight of the arboretum’s founders, Robert Stayner Holford and his son Sir George, as it is their original layout that continues to produces such spectacular scenes throughout the seasons.

The Arboretum Landscape Plan begins with this quote from R S Holford’s obituary in the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard (27 February 1892): “…the wonderful collection of trees and shrubs for which Weston Birt is so famous in the botanical world, were formed by Mr Holford … and will be a lasting memorial, not only of his wide knowledge, but also of his almost unerring taste as a landscape gardener.”

It will soon be time to enjoy the autumn in full glory, for yet another year.

Images, L-R: Westonbirt’s new propagation unit; Westonbirt in October 2010; Robert Stayner Holford

Useful links
Keep an eye on autumn colour at Westonbirt on our Facebook page
Find out more about Westonbirt’s picturesque landscape

Hidden Voices: An Overdue Post After a Busy Summer, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

‘Hidden Voices’ is an inspiring project being run by that participation and learning team at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, engaging community groups in environmental issues. The Macular Disease Society, Asian women’s group, Awaz Utaoh, and Bristol Drugs Project will develop their personal connections with Westonbirt and ‘raise their voices’ to show why an arboretum may be relevant to their lives.

Autumn is peeping at the gates here at Westonbirt Arboretum. It has been a busy, family-focused summer. As well as running our family events for the general public throughout the school holidays we have been fitting in our regular visits from our three groups of participants.

The Macular Disease Society group made coasters from Westonbirt wood, and they helped us to create the wording for our 12 new tree labels. The labels will be on twelve trees that the group chose for their different sensory qualities. They are bigger than our standard tree tags and have black writing on a yellow background, which is what the group recommended to us as most accessible to them.


Bristol Drugs Project participants were invited to come to a family day, where they could bring their children to share Westonbirt with them. Activities included den building and a walk with lots of sensory and nature activities. We had the benefit of meeting some new participants on this day, who would not normally be able to take part in the practical sessions due to family commitments. Below are two sisters taking their mum to “meet a tree”, an activity the adults had done with us before but the children were keen to share.


Awaz Utaoh had chosen to avoid a visit during Ramadan to respect those members of their group who were fasting and so a family day was organised after Eid at the end of August. We met lots of children and grandchildren of group members and some husbands, cousins and even their Police Community Support Officer came too!

A well packed day, it featured tree food tasting (an activity we had run before and that they requested we repeat with the children), willow hurdle making, walking stick decorating, clay leaf tiles and a walk in the arboretum. Below are two of our regular participants with some of the younger people who visited for the day.


Useful links
Find out more about the Communities in Nature project
Information about Westonbirt’s Learning and Participation Team