Archive for October, 2012

Autumn: a dazzling array of colours, by Louise Bird, Head of Fundraising

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Whenever you tell people that you work at Westonbirt arboretum, they inevitably respond with things like “It must be a wonderful place to work” and “I bet it’s beautiful at the moment”. It certainly is both of those things, but the challenge is escaping from your desk (we have had almost 800 people join the Friends this October!) to get out there and really appreciate it.

A recent phonecall from one of our Friends, asking what the Autumn colour is like this year, made us realise that we should take advantage of being in this wonderful environment and prompted today’s lunchtime Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum team ‘field trip’ into the trees. 

A sign post amongst the autumn trees 
Armed with a map and a camera and on a very tight schedule we headed into the Silk Wood. We had only just gone through Skilling Gate when the resounding “Oooooh” called for our first photo stop at an Acer Palmatum v. heptalobum, or as we renamed it, the ‘Rhubarb and Custard Maple’.

Acer Palmatum v. heptalobum 
We carried on our journey, determined to reach Maple Loop before we had to get back to the office. Some were rather bemused by our mode of transport (a glorified golf buggy), others smiled and waved, and three boys and a dog raced us on our way – they were winning until one of the boys slipped and by the time he had dusted himself off (uninjured I might add) we were off into the distance undeterred from our mission.

The dazzling array of colours – greens, coppers, yellows and browns punctuated by fiery reds – kept us riveted and the camera flashing as we moved through Silk Wood.

A dazzling array of colours in Silk Wood 
We weren’t at all disappointed when we reached our destination and in fact, were a little surprised at just how peaceful it was, despite the number of visitors. Rotary Glade looked so amazing I’m not even going to try and describe it but will let the photo below do all the talking…

Rotary Glade 
Although, there were a couple of surprises, including a BBC film crew that had managed to get stuck in the mud…

BBC film crew stuck in the mud 
…and a magical circle of mushrooms!

Fungi circle Fungi
The journey back included a quick tree identification lesson on the difference between a beech tree and a hornbeam, an unexpected papparazzi shot of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum team and an interesting fact…the beautiful beech trees on the downland get their very tidy haircuts by the cattle that graze there.

Beeches on the downland 
Excursion complete, we headed back to the Great Oak Hall, feeling refreshed and re-inspired by our surroundings. We should definitely do it again some time!

Thanks to Bev Starkings from the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership team for taking the lovely photographs in this blog.

Useful links
Find out more about autumn at Westonbirt
Learn more about the work of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumnal highlights: Sweet sensation, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

Katsura
Take a sniff at Westonbirt in autumn and you may occasionally be surrounded by the mouth-watering scent of caramel. The tree responsible is the Japanese katsura.

The scent results from the release of aromatic chemicals from the leaves as they break down and is particularly strong after frosty nights.

Katsura is also renowned for its autumn colours, which vary widely according to age, soil type and weather; from lemon sherbet yellow, through nougat pink to gobstopper red!

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumnal highlights: High five! by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Monday, October 29th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

Acer palmatum
Famous around the world for our Maple Collection, Acer glade at Westonbirt Arboretum is the place to be in autumn. We hold the national collections of maple species and Japanese maple (Acer Palmatum) cultivars.

The genus Acer is the botanical name for all Maples. Acer means “sharp”, referring to the sharp points of the tips of the leaves.

The palmatum part of Acer palmatum refers to the hand like leaves of these trees with five “fingers” on each leaf.

We have 355 different cultivars of Acer Palmatum. This means they are all the same species but each one has a variation of some kind. Look around, which cultivar is your favourite?

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumnal highlights: how to teach old dogwood new tricks, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

25Jan12_IMG_0566
There are nearly 60 different species of Dogwood, and this one – Cornus alba, has the brightest bark of all of them, as well as attractive autumn leaves.

It is also extremely hardy, being native to Siberia, Northern China and Korea.

To maintain the bright bark of our dogwood, we trim back the stems to the ground every few years which encourages it to grow back with vivid new red stems. If left untrimmed the stems would darken and the dogwood would grown into a small tree.

Can you spot the youngest, bright stems on the dogwood you see at Westonbirt when you visit?

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumnal highlights: Prepare to stop at the traffic light tree, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

12 October 2011 050
Related to the Witch Hazels and native to Northern Iran, the beautiful Persian Ironwood provides incredible colour in autumn.

Nicknamed “The Traffic Light Tree”, Persian Ironwoods leaves can be green, amber and red all at the same time.

But don’t allow all the colourful leaves let you miss the incredible bark of this tree. It is also multicoloured, flaking like Plane tree bark to reveal pinks, greens and yellows on a background of warm brown. This bark continues to provide colour and texture within our picturesque landscape when autumn leaves have finished falling.

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumn leaf-art in the arboretum

Friday, October 26th, 2012

You may have read Simon Toomer’s autumn colour blog this week. As well as autumn colour on the trees, he wrote about the artwork created from fallen leaves that he had happened across in the arboretum. A group from Our Lady of the Rosary school, who visited earlier in the week, were responsible for the artwork and got in touch to share some more images of the work that the children created…

Leaf-artLeaf-art
Leaf-artLeaf-artIMG_8578Leaf-art
“We went to Westonbirt Arboretum today as part of a whole school trip. We had a fabulous time even though the weather was not brilliant. Our year 2 class had looked at the work of Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, collected natural materials in the woods and made their own sculptures in the style of Andy Goldsworthy. We thought you would like to see some of their work (in case you have not spotted the sculptures in the woods.) I include just a few of our efforts -the children did this work all by themselves which we think is brilliant for such young children (majority aged just 6.) They were totally absorbed and could have spent much longer at your fabulous arboretum.

These are just a few pictures of the wonderful work the children did in such a short time.

Thank you for providing the backdrop to our art gallery.”
(Maureen Hinchcliffe, helper on Mrs Abernethy’s class trip)

Maybe this work has inspired you to make your own leaf-art? Remember to only use leaves that have fallen from the trees – if they are still attached to the tree then it still needs them or isn’t quite ready to let them go yet!

Useful links
Find out more about autumn at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumnal highlights: Wearing red regardless, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Friday, October 26th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

Purple beech
Some leaves, like those of the purple beech, are always red. But why is this?

Leaf colour depends on the balance of different chemicals within each leaf. Red is caused by anthocyanin.

Purple varieties occur when anthocyanin levels are high enough to mask the green chlorophyll. The reddest leaves are found on the outside of the canopy; shaded leaves tend to be greener.

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…

Autumn: intense and widespread colour, by Simon Toomer, Director

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Contrary to popular myth I don’t spend my days wandering happily around the arboretum looking at trees but grab opportunities as they arise between less glamorous jobs like business planning and budget reviews. Today I had just an early window of opportunity and decided to retrace the route of my first autumn blog almost a month ago. The colour is now really intense and widespread with hotspots like Acer Glade at their peak.

AzaleaWitch hazels (Hamamelis)
All around Circular Drive acid-loving plants such as azaleas, witch hazels (Hamamelis) and Enkianthus are putting on a great show.

Enkianthus perulatus Enkianthus campanulatus
Of the latter genus, the less common E. perulatus on Duke’s Cut path is a showier autumn star. Its bright scarlet leaves always seem to outshine those of E campanulatus (yellow to red leaves) that can be seen in many parts of the Old Arboretum and Willesley Drive.

A young snowdrop tree (Halesia Carolina)
At the very northern end of Savill Glade, leaning over the path, a young snowdrop tree (Halesia Carolina) can be seen. Most of its leaves are gone but the pear-shaped, 4-winged fruits are still there.

Weeping Japanese maples near Duke’s Cut Gate Colour Circle
I took a few general shots as I walked around to give an impression of the level of colour. The pair of weeping Japanese maples near Duke’s Cut Gate were doing their usual firework impersonation and Colour Circle just needed a Victorian carriage and party of picnicking Holfords to complete the picture!

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Two interesting trees just beginning to colour were ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and (at last) the group of dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) at the western end of Pool Avenue.

Leaf-art heartImpromptu leaf-art
Geometric leaf-art
My most surprising encounter was with some impromptu leaf-art! I love this and can’t help wondering who the anonymous artist is.

Get here soon while leaves last!
Like much of this week, today was very murky and my pictures show that. But the forecast for the weekend is for colder, brighter conditions and my advice would be to get here soon while leaves last!

Useful links
Keep an eye on autumn colour and share your images of this autumn at Westonbirt on our Facebook page

Autumn in the archives, by Sally Day, Plant Records

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

It is the group of Euomymus oxyphyllus along Loop Walk that signal to me that autumn is on the way as they tend to start colouring in September.

Euomymus oxyphyllus

“It was at this season that Sir George and Lady Holford especially loved to have their gardening friends with them, and the ‘colour parties’ have for many autumns past been an institution at Westonbirt.”
(Trees & shrubs at Westonbirt, 1927, AB Jackson)

Acer glade

Archive image of Acer Glade

My main job is to manage the information on our current collection of specimen trees and shrubs – what are they and where are they.

This information is made available to the public via the interactive map.

Along with a team of volunteers we try to keep the specimens labelled.

I occasionally work on our reception desk and get a short spell of being asked ‘What will the autumn colour be like?’ and ‘When is the best time to come?’

Our general rule of thumb is that the best time is the last two weeks in October and possibly into November.

Can I put together what I know from the information I am sent from the Met Office and the information in the Westonbirt archives to help answer these questions?

The Holfords no doubt knew when to invite their gardening friends as the Westonbirt Visitor book for 1922 shows.

Westonbirt Visitor book for 1922

Westonbirt Visitor book for 1922

The first three signatures Bean, Balfour and Jackson were definitely important ‘tree’ people. And the dates 17 -19 October would tie in with the thoughts of the ‘curator’ Mr W J Mitchell on the best time for autumn colour.

Mr W J Mitchell: centre back in this picture

Mr W J Mitchell: centre back in this picture

W J Mitchell noted 16 October as the on average the best time for colour and was constantly wondering what affected the colour. The general feeling being that sunshine was a factor. Following a hot dry summer:

“The autumn coloring of 1928 was exceptionally good but disappointing in that they last so short a period. The opinion was generally expressed that they were probably quite a week earlier
than is usual. Sunday October 7th was undoubtedly the best Sunday …One other tree I must specially mention that is
Parrotia persica, they were so good we called it a Parrotia year.”
(Mitchell notebooks 1927 to 1947)

Archive photograph of Parrotia persica on Willesley Drive

Archive photograph of Parrotia persica on Willesley Drive

Parrotia persica in autumn leaf

Parrotia persica in autumn leaf

The leaf colour can range from yellow to purple with all the ranges in between.

What might this year’s weather forecast?

We have wide variety of plants at Westonbirt from different parts of the world. So it is likely that they will tolerate and even thrive in different types of weather.

W J Mitchell notes that Parrotias (Persian Ironwood) like the sun but Cercidyiphyllum (Katsura) and Acers on the whole prefer wetter conditions.

So this year I would expect good colour from the Acers and not so good for the Parrotia.

From what I have seen so far individually the Acers have been glorious particularly the reds. Follow Director Simon Toomer’s blog to see how these are doing.

One thing I look out for as autumn progresses is the larches in Maple Loop. They have done their job of providing gentle shade for the Acers and give a splendid display themselves as the leaves turn to yellow.

Japanese Larch

Japanese Larch

Autumn 1939. Because of the dull summer we did not anticipate a very good season for the autumn colouring this year, but on the whole it has been magnificent”

“Autumn 1946. The earlier colouring trees and shrubs like Acer saccharum, rubrum japonicum ver: vitifolium, prunus Sargentii
euonymus oxyphyllus and planipes were exceptionally good this autumn, … there was quite a fine show, but quite a fortnight later than usual. The dull summer, wet August and September was the cause of this. Frost was negligible with the exception of one or two mornings in October and there was a fine show of colour until well
into November.. On the 6 Nov: the colouring was extraordinary for what we think so late in the season. In fact in some notes I made on this date, the whole place was still quite beautiful and much colour remaining. On the 10th of Nov:
Acer Davidii …was a mass of yellow and Acer Maximowiczii a mass of tangerine, a fascinating shade and wonderful. The old trees of Acer griseum just starting to turn.
(Mitchell notebooks 1927 to 1947)

Acer Davidii

Acer Davidii

Given that we are probably generally later now due to a general rise in temperature, we might expect the colour to run well into November. But that depends on the wind and frost.

But what about other times of the year?

Spring

In fact my favourite time here is the spring with all the different colours of the new leaves. Like those in Lime Avenue:

Lime Avenue

Lime Avenue

Acers, cercidiphyllums– In their spring state to me thy are as beautiful as in Autumn, the Many and varied shades of delicate greens, bronzy reds and purples are always very much admired and justly so. No other family of trees or shrubs can approach the Acers in spring,”
(Mitchell notebooks 1927 to 1947)

Japanese Maple collection

Japanese Maple collection

What might the future impact of this years’ wet weather be?

The warm and dry April and the subsequent rain has meant that rhododendrons in particular have put on good growth.

A good example being the Rhododendron smirnowii planted this year along Circular.

 The seed for these plants were collected in Turkey by our propagator Penny Jones in 2005. Also in the same area is Rhododendron ‘Daphne Millais’ propagated by layering.

“Summer 1936 proved to be the wettest July at Westonbirt since a record has been kept 1888. … moisture loving plants found it very much to their liking and such things as rhododendrons and conifers simply revelled. The maples also found it to their
liking, they made exceptional growth, and if we get a good autumn for colouring they should be very fine.

The rhododendrons and azalias also enjoyed all this moisture immensely, especially the atmospheric moisture and made marvellous growth. A fine autumn to ripen this growth and they
should be a sight next spring.”

(Mitchell notebooks 1927 to 1947)

So we could be in for a splendid spring in 2013. Fingers crossed for a mild winter.

“Spring 1937. The idea, which for so long has been prevalent, that a sunless summer would be followed by a flowerless spring, has been proved this year to be quite incorrect. Yet the spring of 1937 was as floriferous as the spring of 1936, which was preceded by a very hot and dry summer.

So another of the old ideas has been proved a fallacy. Some day some interested scientist will perhaps discover for us what essentials are needed, other than sunshine and ripened wood to produce floriferousness the following year, we have always thought these two essential, that they are not necessary has been proved to the hilt this year.

The ornamental cherries have never flowered more freely …but the most spectacular thing of all was Davidia Involucrata …it has never flowered with such prodigality before, and the name of the Ghost tree which one sometimes hears it called was this year an appropriate one, as it appeared almost ghostly in its whiteness.

 The Azalias were masses of bloom and very much admired. It will probably be years before the Rhodos and Azalias flower with the freedom they have this year, .. Magnolias were grand and lasted for weeks.”
(Mitchell notebooks 1927 to 1947)

Davidia Involucrata

Davidia Involucrata

Main Drive in the Holford era used to be called Rhododendron Drive. I can imagine Sir George taking one of his visitors, even a royal one, for a drive around the arboretum.

Main Drive

Main Drive

“14.5.44   Their Majesties Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and the 2 Princesses, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret came today. The azaleas were at their best and some of the earlier rhododendrons were also very fine The Magnolia above Ponting’s Box, was magnificent and very much admired by the Royal Party.”

A Royal visit to Westonbirt

A Royal visit to Westonbirt

Not all the colours at Westonbirt are provided by the flowers. Sometimes our visitors bring us some.

A visit to Westonbirt by Awaz Utaoh

A visit to Westonbirt by Awaz Utaoh

And sometimes we add our own…

Treefest, August 2012

Treefest, August 2012

Useful links
Find out more about autumn at Westonbirt
Use the interactive map
The history of Westonbirt Arboretum

Autumnal highlights: A prickly pleasure, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

As part of Westonbirt’s activities for families this October, Caroline Bennett from our Learning and Participation Team has created a trail of autumnal highlights which will run from 29 October – 2 November. Here are some of the fascinating facts she has researched…

Sweet chestnut leaves and fruit_FC picture library
Sweet Chestnuts start to lose their leaves in September. Like birches and hickories they almost always turn yellow first.

Because the leaves are large they’re a great place to go leaf stomping! Or try catching a falling leaf; apparently it brings good luck.

Sweet chestnuts are popular for another reason. From puddings and cakes to stuffing for our Christmas turkey; their nuts are a treat to eat. Unfortunately our cool climate means the nuts are often too small to eat – but have a careful search; in some years you can strike it lucky!

Useful links
Find out more about the Autumnal Highlights family event…
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and your kids will go free for a year. Join now…