Archive for September, 2014

American interpretation

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Something I never thought I would do in my life is accompany a seed collecting trip. Indeed I’m not even sure I knew they still happened before I started work at the arboretum!

In my mind they were a story of the past: intrepid adventurers spending years clambering through inhospitable terrain; navigating their way through civil wars and surviving through some of the worst weather imaginable. All to get to that one tree; that one tree they’ve dreamed of discovering during their tumultuous journey and from whom they would take seeds, in the hope that they would return to their native shores with a jewel in their pockets ready to grow into a majestic beauty for everyone to see.

And how do we know all this? From various records, we are able to piece together their journeys and learn stories about working in such remote, undiscovered areas.

I work for the Education Department, and my role specifically is to support interpretation for the Westonbirt Project. I spent a lot of time working on the exhibition in our new Welcome Building, and as such I delved into the historic records which make Westonbirt what it is today. What you inevitably find is that many historic documents have been lost to time, and plant hunter stories are no exception.

Modern day plant collecting trips are just as important and exciting as those of old (if a little more focused on health and safety…); and the current expedition to East USA will have records galore thanks to two cameras, an audio recorder, a microphone, a tripod and a multitude of spare batteries and SD cards!

I’ve flown out to Missouri where I was met by three modern day plant collectors! Westonbirt’s Dan Crowley and Rich Townsend, along with Jon Harmer from RGB Kew Wakehurst Place who are collecting seeds to further enhance our Plant Heritage National Collections.

I have joined them for 10 days to document how collecting is done; who records what; how seeds are cleaned; chats with local experts; the list is endless! They will act as an important archive for future interpretation, and help to update some of our exhibits in the Welcome Building.

So keep an eye out for my next blog… I will keep you up to date with any interpretational gems!

Interpretation Support Officer

The pink pegs

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

You may have wondered what the pink pegs are next to the Welcome Building. Some of you have already guessed that these pegs are marking out the route of the new Treetop Walkway!


A surveying team spent several days carefully marking out the positions of the pegs which represent the timber legs for the Treetop Walkway. They have also surveyed the position of the new footpath from the Welcome Building, the new road and checked the tree positions on the original survey.


This picture is taken from the new footpath next to the Welcome Building and shows the start of the walkway. We plan to create some exciting interpretation here to mark the start of the 300 metre journey through the trees.


From the start the walkway gently rises and then flattens as it reaches its highest point of 12 metres in the valley near to Skilling Gate. Here it will curve to the left of the Blue Atlas Cedar, shown in the picture above. Here the walkway then delves into Silk Wood.


Now we have marked the locations of the walkway legs on to the ground, the architects and engineers will now check the size and types of foundations needed for each pair of legs. The tree team will also carry out some pruning work so we are ready for the walkway to be constructed. The photo above shows a ‘Y’ shaped Yew; we had hoped the walkway would pierce through the centre. Instead the tree team will prune the left side and encourage the yew to grow around the Walkway.

Project Manager

Our arrival to America…

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Having arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, we spent a day at the marvellous Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois on Tuesday where we utilised the herbarium before heading to the living collection to study plants we hope to collect throughout our time here in the States.

We were treated to a tour led by Ed Hedborn, who gave us a real insight into a number of trees we will come across. Our thanks go to all at the Morton for inviting us to spend time with them and their trees. Fantastic!

DanCrowley and Ed Hedborn Ed Hedborn, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer Richard Townsend, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer

We then travelled south to meet Guy Sternberg and spent the day collecting with him and elsewhere around Petersburg, Illinois. Among the first collections we have made are Carya texana and Juglans nigra – both members of the Juglandaceae, and among our high priorities for the trip, which is excellent!

Those collected so far...

We will visit other sites in Illinois, before heading south to Missouri…

Dan Crowley.

We’re going on a Hickory hunt!

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Next week, Tree Team supervisor Rich Townsend, RBG Wakehurst Place arborist Jon Harmer and I are jetting off to the United States on a rather exciting mission – to collect seed of tree species which will further enhance the wonderful collections here at Westonbirt and beyond! We are particularly keen to boost our Plant Heritage National Collections of Juglandaceae, Acer species, Tilia and Staphyleaceae and shall explore areas where we hope to find seed of these that will help us achieve this. We shall travel from Illinois through Missouri towards the south eastern states of North and South Carolina and Georgia – regions that are home to more than a few of our National Collection species, notably the hickories (Carya spp.), which are renowned for their autumn colour and stature in the landscape.
On our way we shall also collect seed of species which grow with our key targets and are hopeful that in time (and with more than a little TLC from our excellent propagator) what we collect will bring some more American flavour to the Westonbirt landscape.

On the way we shall visit botanic gardens, utilising herbaria to further familiarise ourselves with the diverse range of plants we hope to have the opportunity to collect and will be working closely with regional experts who will aid us in our quest to boost the Westonbirt collection both in terms of species and plants of known wild origin. Fantastic!!!!!!!!

For part of the expedition we will be joined by Interpretation Support Officer Susanna Byers, who will be documenting the trip on camera and film for interpretation purposes!

Seed collected will also be shared with our partners at Bedgebury National Pinetum Forestry Commission (including Forest Research), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (including Wakehurst Place), Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and University of Oxford Botanic Garden (including Harcourt Arboretum).

We shall endeavour to provide words and pictures along the way, to give a flavour of how the trees grow in their native range and a glimpse of some of the species we hope to see more of here at Westonbirt in the not too distant future!

Dan Crowley