Archive for April, 2013

New car park update, by Sophie Nash, Project Officer

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Sophie Nash is Project Officer for the Westonbirt Project. She organises the logistics of the project, working with architects and project managers for various elements to deliver the works.

We’ve moved on a lot since the last blog. The car park is taking shape and is more recognisable to those who don’t know the plans inside out.

Aerial view of the car park works
This aerial view was taken from a hot air balloon on 20 April and gives an overview of progress and the scale of the works taking place.

What will be the road into the new car park
Once the Welcome Building is complete and we start using this car park next year, you will come down the entrance road and turn left into the new car park.

Kerb edging defines the roads and parking bays of the new car parkA road within the new car park
Now that excavation has taken place and the roads and car parking areas are at the right base level, we are now adding base stone layers and kerb edging.

The kerbs are important in defining the roads in the car park and the car parking bays themselves.

Membrane and piping in the source protection zone
The coach park and part of the car park are within a water source protection zone. This means that we have to intercept the oil from vehicles to prevent it from entering the water source. The image above shows the membrane and pipes which form part of this ‘formal’ drainage.

A new soakaway being created
A new soakaway has been created at the end of the drainage run. Once the water has been collected by the membrane and the pipes, it will be filtered to remove any oil, before draining safely into the soakaway.

For more details about the Westonbirt Project, visit

Summer Magazine Preview, by Louisa Lockwood, editor

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013


All being well at the printers and the mailing house, the summer issue of The Westonbirt Magazine should be with you from 8th May.

For the first time, we have a dog on the cover! Dog walkers in Silk Wood may also be interested to hear about two new guided walks for dogs and their owners, in June and August. There are many, many more walks, talks, exhibitions and workshops to choose from, it’s a packed timetable this summer.

For family fun we’ve extended the pull-out section with a few more crafty and mucky ideas about getting closer to nature. Children may also enjoy finding out What makes a tree, a tree by Simon Toomer.

There’s a round up of news on site, including a look at the Westonbirt Restaurant where the cream teas and the chunky chips are highly recommended. Yes, together if you like.

At the arboretum, our passion for all things woody is balanced with the aim of sharing that passion as widely as possible. See the feature, Arboretum activities by Chris Meakin, for some of the ways that all too often marginalised groups of people have been inspired by Westonbirt.

The adventurous Ellie Harrison, TV presenter for Countryfile and other programmes, tells us why Westonbirt also inspires her.

Our advertisers have come up with a variety of good offers for Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum this summer; we hope you find them useful.

Change is in the air this month as early blossoms fade and leaves unfurl; Circular Drive alone is worth a weekly visit. (See Facebook for spring photographs). The works onsite are also progressing at a pace so keep abreast of changes at and via Sophie Nash’s blog.

Happy Spring, Louisa.

Louisa Lockwood

Up and Away! by Louise Bird, Head of Fundraising

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I have said before that a fundraiser’s life is never boring… and this weekend was no exception. I was given the fantastic opportunity to go up on one of the Bristol Balloons flights from Westonbirt Arboretum. The Meningitis Trust have recently teamed up with the hot air balloon company and were doing a PR shoot for the partnership at the arboretum. And I was lucky enough to be allowed to hitch a lift!

Hot air balloon basket and burner
I was given a crash course in how to use a camera (and strict instructions not to drop it!) so that I could try and get some photos of the new car park currently being built as part of the Westonbirt Project.  It looks great and was fantastic to see some real progress and something that actually looks like a car park!

The new car park in progress
There couldn’t have been a more perfect Spring evening for my adventure.  The sun was shining, there was just the right amount of wind (that was even blowing in the right direction) and the flying conditions were perfect. 

Shadow of the balloon
The arboretum looks stunning from the air.  As well as getting a great bird’s eye view of the car park, I was able to see the route that the new Treetop Walkway would take in the Silk Wood (planned for Phase Two of the Westonbirt Project. AND our Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ flowered just the day before my flight and was a beautiful pink beacon shining out from the emerging green shoots in the Old Arboretum.

Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’  
A big thank you to the Meningitis Trust and to Bristol Balloons for letting me join them. Viewing the arboretum from up high was a fantastic experience that I would certainly recommend… I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Treetop Walkway to be finished before I get the chance to do it again though!

My first week at Westonbirt Arboretum, by Lorraine Jones, Fundraising Officer

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I’ve been really looking forward to starting work at Westonbirt and this first week has certainly lived up to expectations.

2000 year old lime sculpture

I’ve learnt about the exciting plans of the Westonbirt Project and the progress being made and am looking forward to seeing the car park and Welcome Building taking shape over the coming months.

I’ve also had a chance to wander around sections of the arboretum and have seen the new sculpture by Richard Harris at the 2000 year old lime (pictured above). I can thoroughly recommend lying on the floor inside (surprisingly comfortable), gazing at the sky and watching the clouds pass by through the top of the sculpture – sheer bliss!

I’ve learnt a lot about the dedicated teams of staff and volunteers who manage, protect and develop Westonbirt Arboretum and feel very lucky to be joining them in their task.

Last but not least, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and raising funds to support the work at Westonbirt as well as meeting as many of you as possible at our information events about the Westonbirt Project. If you’ve not been to one yet but would like to find out more, you can register now for your invitation…

Spring colour: what’s looking good now? By Katrina Podlewska, Communications Manager.

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

The sun has come out and the weather has warmed up – and most importantly, the spring colour has bounced into life! The colour doesn’t take long to spot once you’ve entered the Old Arboretum via the top entrance by the Great Oak Hall. A few of today’s favourite examples are below – with large images so that you can enjoy them as much as I have done!

Two camellias first greet you as you enter the Old Arboretum – Camellia x williamsii ‘Bow Bells’ and Camellia Japonica ‘Adolphe Audusson’.  Camellia x williamsii ‘Bow Bells’ is one of the earlier specimens to flower in spring and produces single pink flowers amongst its dark green foliage. Camellia Japonica ‘Adolphe Audusson’ is a large shrub with rich red flowers and yellow stamens.

Camellia x Williamsii 'Bow Bells'

Camellia Japonica 'Adolphe Audusson'

You can’t miss the next example of spring colour – and one we’ve already dedicated a separate blog post to – the Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’. This specimen is 24 metres tall and a ‘Champion’, which means it’s the largest of its kind in the UK (as measured by the Tree Register of the British Isles).

Westonbirt's Champion Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva'

Continue on a loop around Circular Drive and you’ll come across more magnolias bouncing into bloom with the warmth. This Magnolia kobus, also known as the Northern Japanese magnolia, has beautifully fragrant white flowers and slender petals.

Magnolia kobus

On and off the path on Circular Drive there are also some great examples of Westonbirt’s rhododendrons in bloom, with many to follow as we approach the peak flowering season in May.

The small Rhododendron ‘Crossbill’ has pretty orange-tinged flowers and looks great with the towering Magnolia sprengeri in the background. Wander from the path to really appreciate this specimen close-up.

Rhododendron 'crossbill'

And finally, two more rhododendrons to take in on this short but flower filled route: Rhododendon basilicum, with its large showy leaves and creamy white flowers and Rhododendron phaeochrysum v. agglutinatum.

Rhododendon basilicum

Rhododendron phaeochrysum v. Agglutinatum

You can find out more about these beautiful trees and other spring blooms at

Don’t forget – you can visit for half price on Wednesdays in April and May with our ‘Westonbirt Wednesdays’ offer!

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

A funny kind of spring? Not really… by Mike Westgate, phenology volunteer

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

People say “funny kind of spring, isn’t it?” to which I usually reply, “Not really, just like all of them, different from any other!” That’s just the way it is in this part of the world.

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) photographed in January 2013

So, this year started with some plants, such as the Persian Ironwood (pictured above in 2013), flowering a month or so earlier than usual. The same happened with one of the early Rhododendrons, appropriately called ‘Christmas Cheer’, flowering in November ‘this’ year!

Rhododendron ririei, taken in February 2013

Then, by the time some of my favourites were out, things had got quite topsy-turvy. In most years, the first large Rhododendron to flower is R. ririei (pictured above in 2013), but this year R. calophytum was out just before it.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' photographed on 23 March 2012

Then there’s the Magnolias: M. sprengeri ‘Diva’, our champion, was flowering by mid-March last year (pictured above in 2012); this year the buds are, sensibly, tight shut as I write on 26 March.

So that’s a subjective view of the season, but we have a group of volunteers making detailed phenological records three times each week, what do they suggest?

Twelve of the plants we observe had been seen in flower by 26 March 2012, whereas only four have been seen this year.

One of those was Persian Ironwood, six days late, and the others were all wild flowers, between one and three weeks late. Snowdrops flowered about a week late on 13 January with lesser celandine at the end of February and Colt’s foot on 25 March.

The first observation we make for woody plants is bud-burst and, so far, there is little pattern, with some such as hawthorn, being earlier than last year and others such as hazel, three weeks late.

So, how would I summarise? Spring is late overall – no surprise there, but it is really all over the place – as usual!