Archive for October, 2013

An autumn walk with…Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

We thankfully appear to have missed the worst of any storm here at Westonbirt and although it is becoming particularly damp in some areas, autumn is very much still on! So yesterday afternoon I journeyed out into the Old Arboretum and I can now share with you some of the autumnal treats I came across on my travels.

I headed to Morley Ride first for something of a rarity, the simple leaved Sorbus keissleri. I have been keeping a close eye on the fruits of this plant as they have developed and they are looking pretty good to me! Native to China, it is one of many introduced by Gloucestershire’s own, the legend, Ernest Wilson, in 1907. Forming something of a large shrub with us, it is one that should perhaps be a little better known.

Sorbus keissleri

Staying with fruits, those of Virburnum dilatatum are also looking particularly good. In contrast with the (still) green foliage, they are worth seeking out on a group of plants out not far from Loop Walk near the bottom of Lime Avenue. Another species of Asian origin, though this time from Japan, it is one of many Virburnums of true horticultural value.

Virburnum dilatatum

Further around Loop Walk and close to the new 2050 glade (though on the other side of the path!) is a young example of a rare maple, Acer wuyuanense. As is apparent from the photo, the cessation of chlorophyll production unmasks other pigments present in the leaf providing us with a quite beautiful display. If this performance is anything to go by, this species could really be one to look out for in future years, as well as today!!

Acer wuyuanense

Another I am rather fond of is the purple fruited chokeberry Aronia prunifolia. A member of an underused genus, whether A. prunifolia be classed as a species in its own right or a hybrid between the red fruited chokeberry, A. arbutifolia, and the black fruited chokeberry A. melanocarpa remains a topic for discussion! Regardless, the purple fruit is an attractive feature long after the leaves have dropped, as they have now! An edible fruit, the common name alludes to it being one of the last to be taken by birds and not something more sinister, I am assured! Worth seeking out on Loop walk, this is another option for those with a small garden.

Aronia prunifolia

Back towards the one of the oldest parts of the Old Arboretum is a fine young example of Stewartia pseudocamellia. Stunning autumn foliage and fine bark are only two of its many attributes. This particular specimen is yet to show the latter but an older specimen close by certainly does!

Stewartia pseudocamellia

And finally for now, and not one that people immediately associate with autumn is the champion Magnolia sprengeri (you might know as diva) at the bottom of Savill Glade. The genus is rightfully renowned for its flowers in spring and summer but the fruit can be equally striking. As it was laden with flowers earlier in the year, it is now laden with fruit – come and see for yourselves!   

Magnolia sprengeri


Unloading the car park trees!

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

While October heralds a season of fabulous colour, conkers and the essence of autumn to the thousands visiting Westonbirt, behind the scenes October is a time to prepare for another seasonal rush. Planting season.

Planting typically begins in November once our trees are entering a period of winter dormancy yet have stored enough energy to see them through and when soils are moist but not frozen or waterlogged. Every year we add 250-350 new trees to the collection over a 2-3 month period so it is a well rehearsed show. However, because of the ever progressing Westonbirt Project the 2013/2014 planting season has an additional 139 trees on our accession list and these aren’t your usual suspects either.

Almost all the new trees planted each year in the arboretum are propagated from seed or cuttings by Penny Jones our propagator in our on-site nursery in 7-12 litre black knobbly ‘air pots’ and are commonly 2 years old and between a foot and four foot in height. Our latest 139 additions however, arrived on a large lorry; they were probably ten years old in the main, kept in huge 45-100 litre white plastic bags and were regularly topping ten foot.

Car park trees

Image: (left/black pot) is a typical tree to be planted this season  Barcham tree bought in for new carpark (right/white bag)

These special trees have a special job as they have been selected as the plantings for the new visitor car park and Welcome Building sites, they have been specifically chosen as older larger trees so they have an instant impact in the currently tree-free area. Therefore without being able to give a decade forewarning to Penny the trees had to be selected from Barcham tree nursery in Cambridgeshire, a specialist in large container trees.

Unloading a lorry full of large trees and lining up in the new prop yard was a daunting task on arrival but a team effort from numerous departments and volunteers made for a fun and less demanding morning in the autumn sunshine. Planting of these particular trees will be carried out by Sarah Millard and her volunteer group, we hope you’re all feeling strong this winter and look forward to them growing even bigger next spring.

Raef Johnson, Tree Team.


No, they’re not in wonky…

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013


 Sign Sign

The weather hasn’t blown them over; your eyes don’t need adjusting! The new Douglas fir timber posts going in around the site are part of our new signage suite and are meant to be set at this angle; in fact they’ve all been set at precisely 18 degrees, give or take half a degree or so, to reflect the way the main rides in the Old Arboretum radiate out from Westonbirt House (as designed by the Holford family).

The first stage has been to set them in the ground ready for beautiful greeny-blue panels, which will be attached in the next few weeks. You can see a prototype of this finish outside the Propagation Unit at Keeper’s Cottage.
These signs are part of phase one of our new signage plan, which we will be rolling out across the site over the next few years. We plan to start phase two, which will include Downs / main facility signage and some of the major way markers in the new year.

Ben Oliver, Learning and Participation Manager.

An autumn walk with…Mark Ballard, Curator

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

An Australian colleague of mine has recently moved back down under, and before he departed I asked him what he would most miss about living in the UK.  Without hesitation he said it would definitely be our changing seasons, and that we were incredibly lucky to have four of them (he has either hot/dry or hot/wet).  Now we all like to moan about the weather from time to time, but upon reflection I have to say that I agree.  With this in mind and as life is after all, too short, I put on my boots, a raincoat, grabbed the camera and set off into the Old Arboretum on a rather dull day.

I am pleased to say I was joined along the way by many like-minded visitors: from a newly married couple with their wedding photographer; smiling people of all ages; to a helpful chap with a camera telling me “don’t bother taking a photograph of that little maple as you will not believe the colourful display in Acer Glade”.  He was right, Acer Glade is looking wonderful even with a grey sky overhead and perhaps the colours appeared even more vivid under these conditions.

So, as there are very few reasons not to take the plunge, I strongly recommend that you get out there and enjoy the exhilaration of the seasonal delights of Autumn, before it’s too late.  You will enjoy it as much as I did and I’m sure your pictures will almost certainly be better than mine too!

Acer Glade    Evergreen background
Left picture: A riot of colour as you enter Acer Glade. Right picture: The evergreen background has been designed to help show-off more ornate trees.

Japanese maple        Acer palmatum
Left picture: Vibrant red of a Japanese Maple. In the right photo, the Acer palmatum contrasts red and green to great affect.

Acer palmatum 'Dissectum'           Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree)

Left photo: Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ in full cut-leaved glory. Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree) in the right photo is a particularly bright at the moment.

Stewartia   Juglans nigra (Black Walnut)
Left photo: This Stewartia not only has great winter bark, but fantastic leaf colour as well. In the right photo the Juglans nigra (Black Walnut) leaves appear to form an interesting geometric pattern.

Zelkova serrata (Keaki)  Fothergilla major (Witch Alder)
Left photo: this young Zelkova serrata (Keaki) will certainly be a star of the future. Right photo: One by one, different plants take their turn to shine, even this Fothergilla major (Witch Alder).

Mark Ballard

A Welcome Building update

Friday, October 18th, 2013
Sophie Nash is Project Manager for The Westonbirt Project. She organises the logistics of the project, working with architects and project managers for various elements to deliver the works. 

The timber frame is going up really quickly. We have one final timber frame section to go, and the entire Welcome Building frame will be complete. The contractors are now moving on to the roof finishes and the cladding.
 Timber frame Steel plates, washers and bolts.
Four sections of the timber frame in place. Each section is held together using a steel plate and fixed into position with very large steel washers and bolts.
Welcome Building Crane 
The crane is used to lift the timber frame into position, now there are six sections of the timber frame in place.
Welcome Building Timber frame
Half of the Welcome Building timber frame is now complete! This half of the Welcome Building will include the new male, female and disabled toilets as well as a new mobility scooter store and a mezzanine floor storage area.
Timber frame Welcome Building
In the second photo you can see the curve of the Welcome Building is becoming more noticeable.
Welcome Building
Eleven sections of the timber frame in place. This half of the Welcome Building will include ticketing, information, interpretation and an office space for staff and volunteers.
 Timber frame Welcome Building Welcome Building frame
The Welcome Building shape can be clearly seen in picture two. You get a feel for its height in picture 3!


Going up!

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

As the Welcome Building timber frame continues to go up and into its final position, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride in an air balloon in early October to get a very different perspective of the arboretum and the Project and most importantly to get some new aerial photos.  
I’ve never quite realised how large air balloons are until your stood next one whilst it’s being inflated!

Hot air balloon
The balloon about to take off, which was much more gentle than I had imagined

Hot air balloon taking off
The autumn colour was just starting to appear. This is a photo taken of the Old Arboretum, you can see Holford Ride at the top of the photo, as well as Specimen Avenue and Mitchell Drive.

Old Arboretum
The new car park and Welcome Building. If you click the image, you can see the disabled car parking spaces, a row of lighting bollards and the two new picnic areas (that look like Pictionary pieces from the air!) and the Welcome Building. The finishing touches to the car park including new signage, benches and trees start to arrive and will soften and blend the car park into the landscape.

Car Park and Welcome Building
The whole arboretum today. We hope to be able to go up again in an air balloon later next year once the Welcome Building is complete and the existing car park is removed.

Westonbirt Arboretum

An autumn walk with… Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Well, the colours are progressing nicely here at Westonbirt and I have been out on more than a few mad dashes in the last few days capturing what I can and will highlight just a snippet of what has been catching my eye (and nose!).

Starting in Silk Wood and up Willesley Drive, glimpsing into Sand Earth is a fantastic view of a young Cercidiphyllum japonicum, the Katsura tree from Japan and China, really doing its thing. But hurry, this one has a tendency to lose its leaves at rather short notice!

Further along the marvellous scent of candy floss (or similar – you decide!) wafts its way down the path as you near a more a more mature example of this fantastic species!

Katsura  Katsura

Moving onto Broad Drive and to a group of Carya species on both sides of the path, with the foliage at slightly different stages of turning their characteristic butter yellow colour. If your lucky you might catch sight of the fruit of this species, which if you can get your nose up to, is well worth a good sniff! Again, I’ll let you decide what these smell like – everyone’s sense of smell is slightly different after all!! Let us know what you think!

Carya Carya

Heading down The Link and aswell as some of the maples, the North American birch species are starting to turn. Betula alleghaniensis and Betula lenta both turn a good yellow and the metallic bark of the former – a good identification characteristic used to differentiate between the two – looks just stunning caught in the autumnal sunlight, though I might leave this one to the real photographers to capture!

Betula alleghaniensis

Well, as I am sure everybody is aware, it is a great year for fruits! Three of my favourites this year belong to the genus Sorbus and can be seen along Palmer Ride. Close to the bottom of The Link are fine examples of Chinese species S. glabriuscula (40.0039), with white fruits, and those of S. olivacea (40.0238) showing a good pink – stunning!

S. glabriuscula S. olivacea

Heading down Palmer Ride towards Waste Drive, two examples of S. scalaris, another Chinese species, are absolutely laden with fruits, to the point that you almost wonder if the branches will succumb under the weight. This could all change once the birds come across them, though I am expecting the foliage to provide a good show slightly later on also. A great tree for the garden I would say!

S.scalaris   S.scalaris

Into the Old Arboretum and you won’t want to miss the purple(ish!) fruit of another member of the Rosaceae, Crataegus schraderiana, a hawthorn species native to areas in the south east of Europe and appreciative of the summer heat we enjoyed this year.

Crataegus schraderiana

I won’t say too much about Acer Glade other than it is well worth wandering through, as always!! But do take your time! Here and the adjacent Colour Circle are coming on nicely and at the entrance to the latter, a few flowers can still be seen on the late flowering seven son flower, Heptacodium miconioides. Another Chinese species, the flowers are pleasantly fragrant, and are worth a whiff!


Moving back round Loop Walk and the Enkianthus perulatus is also beginning to show some good colour. One of a genus in the Ericaceae more known for its bell-shaped flowers in spring, its autumn colour is also there to be appreciated!

Enkianthus perulatus

And finally for now, and as mentioned in Mark’s blog entry earlier this month, the Symplocos paniculata are really coming into their own now. An abundance of fruit on three plants growing side by side along Circular Drive are looking just stunning with their sapphire blue berries really standing out in the crowds. Just as well these may be around for a little while yet, as they (as with all else, I might add!) are well worth multiple visits for admiration!

Symplocos paniculuta

Timber frame time!

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

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

The Welcome Building has changed quite dramatically since the last Project blog as our timber frame has arrived!
On the first day of October, in heavy rain, our timber frame and a very large crane arrived. The Douglas Fir timber frame is UK sourced and has been manufactured in Hull and has been predrilled in a workshop so the steel plates and bolts can be slotted and fixed into position on site.

The crane has arrived and has been used to unload the timber from the delivery lorries.

Below: the crane in action


Below: Each section of timber frame is constructed on the ground before being lifted into position.

Timber frame

Below: the first section in place

Below: the second section is lifted into position

Each timber section is slowly lowered into position and is carefully manoeuvred to align with the steel shoes.


Timber frame

Raising our sights!

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Volunteers helping with the Westonbirt Project had a unique opportunity recently to have a look at the view from the Treetop Walkway, before we even have a Treetop Walkway!A big thank you to the tree team for letting us borrow the cherry picker.

 Volunteers looking at the view from the walkway

It was fantastic to get up into the trees and see first hand what an amazing experience the Walkway will provide.  To find out more about our plans for a Treetop Walkway, the route it will take and how you can get involved, please come along to one of our information events

An autumn walk with. . . Simon Toomer, Director

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

I was lucky enough to be working over the weekend and took a couple of walks around the arboretum to ‘see what I could see’ and get a feel for the progression of autumn colour.  It’s still early days and I’d expect it to be another week or two before we see the main wave of colour arrive. Having said that, there are lots of early colouring species standing out from the green crowd and an array of fruits and fungi to look out for. Here are a few highlights from my walk starting with an early morning picture in Maple Loop to give you a feel for the overall colour.

Maple Loop

Not far inside Waste Gate close to the end of Palmer Ride, there’s a smallish tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) that always colours early and this year is no exception. The autumn leaves of this American species always display a variety of colours.

Nyssa sylvatica

At the northern end of Savill Glade I noticed the abundant fruits of Dipteronia sinensis. This relative of the maples has a fringe (rather than a pair of wings) that runs right round the ‘nut’ to aid dispersal.


On an old oak tree I spotted a large beefsteak fungus. The name is apt not just for the appearance (red and moist like prime beef) but also the edibility of this prized species.

beefsteak fungus

Also in the Old Arboretum I found a trio of Japanese species: Vitis coignetiae is an ornamental vine grown in many large gardens for its rich crimson turning leaves. I’ve seen it growing in the wild where it clambers over large trees and lights up the forest canopy in autumn. The rare snake-bark maple Acer morifolium is best known (not surprisingly) for its beautifully patterned bark but this tree close to Main Drive was putting on quite a leaf display. Zelkova serrata is known in Japan as keyaki but travels well and has become a popular street tree in many parts of the world. Its wood is highly prized for making furniture and the traditional Japanese taiko drums.

Vitis coignetiaeAcer morifoliumzelkova serrata

The fruits on the Japanese strawberry trees (Cornus kousa) are abundant this year and are just at the point of turning from pale green to red. They may be edible but don’t get excited as they’re not that tasty!

Cornus kousa

But finally, one fruit that is edible and really abundant this year is the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) and it just so happens that the magazine of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum contains a recipe for sweet chestnut cake on page 55!

Sweet Chesnut