Archive for October, 2014

A busy time of year in more ways than one…

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Today I got to escape my office for a few hours, with the aim of finding suitable locations for some of the 300 young trees and shrubs that have been lovingly grown in our very own Propagation Unit. I was joined as always for this important annual task by Penny, our amazingly talented Propagator. We were on the hunt for places that would meet all the individual needs of each new plant, taking into account a multitude of factors such as shade and soil depth, so that these new additions can hopefully flourish at Westonbirt for generations to come.

On route around Silk Wood we took the opportunity to enjoy some vibrant autumn colour, which in some ways can appear even more spectacular on a damp day such as today. As always, you will have to excuse my very limited photography skills and cheap digital camera, as I can assure you that everything looks much better in the flesh.

First up is a fine Winged Spindle (Euonymus alatus) on Waste Drive. I have been lucky enough to see this species in the wild back in 2008, and to collect its seed near the edge of a stream at the Ogawa Research Forest in Japan.


Next we spotted a group of three young Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) from North America, adding alternative seasonal interest to Cherry Glade.

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Just nearby and adding further brightness amid the drabness is a Red Maple cultivar (Acer rubrum ‘Tilford’).


Then on Broad Drive a performer that never lets us down, a Spanish Maple (Acer opalus ssp. hispanicum), which provides a mass of orange to red leaves year on year and without fail.


Perhaps a tree that is not often thought to add autumnal interest, is the European Larch (Larix decidua), seen here with golden needles providing a nice contrast in Maple Loop.


Along Willesley Drive you cannot miss this striking Yellow Wood (Cladrastis kentukea) at the moment, this specimen was planted in 1992 and as the botanical name suggests it hails from the USA.


Finally, as autumn slowly turns towards winter, I would advise everyone to keep an eye out for some beautiful examples of tree bark. You can find this Pere David’s Maple (Acer davidii ‘Cantonspark’), part of the aptly named snake bark maple group, positioned near to where the Treetop Walkway will gently touchdown in the not too distant future.


Mission accomplished for now, I head back to the office to catch-up on some much less exciting but nevertheless important health and safety matters…

Mark Ballard

Collections for the arboretum

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

In the final week of our seed collecting expedition we collected under the expert guidance of Ron Lance, who has led us to places where our target species are.

The week began with ventures to parts of the Appalachians, at far higher elevations than we had previously visited. We were on the look out for seed of different Acer species, though this year has proved particularly poor in terms of seed production, though we were able to make a collection of the only snake bark maple native to the U.S, Acer pensylvanicum. We also collected seed of Nyssa sylvatica – another autumnal gem to add to the collection at Westonbirt!

nyssa sylvatica nyssa sylvatica fruits

We then travelled further south and back to low elevations for Carya myristiciformis, which as I mentioned previously is the rarest of the North American Carya hickories. We were taken to the only population in Georgia, where we sampled a population of mature trees – far far larger than the two specimens growing along Broad Drive, though much older it must be said. A real pleasure to see and to collect from!!

Edge-of-the-Carya-myristiciformis-population Jon and the Appalachians

This left us with one final Carya to collect – the water hickory, C. aquatica and after exploring a number of areas, it appeared that this one may elude us. But after a tip off as to where we might find it, we received permission to collect and headed to ‘Little Hell’ in South Carolina. The extra miles paid off and very soon after parking up, we came across our tree on the banks of the Savannah River – Amazing!! Whilst it wasn’t the biggest in the area, it had plenty of good seed on and we took full advantage.


This was a great climax to our collecting and what was more, the surrounding area was replete with some of the most amazing trees any of us had ever seen – monstrous Nyssa sylvatica and incredible Taxodium distichum with ‘knees’ up to our waists!! This was incredible to experience and further contributed to our admiration and appreciation of the trees of North America.

Living the dream!

We have been privileged to see so many different habitats on our travels in the States, where many of our more known exotics come from. To see them doing their thing on their home turf has been incredible and being able to collect seed from some of them for our wonderful collections is truly special and we are all truly grateful for being afforded the opportunity to do so.


Going out with a bang!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Acer canopies in Acer Glade

Acer Glade

We get lots of phone calls at this time of year – all asking the same questions – when is the best time to visit for autumn colour? When will the maples be at their best?

Acer leaves

Acer palmatum (maple) leaves

These are tricky questions to answer… part of the beauty of having a collection of trees from around the world is that they don’t all show their autumn colour at the same time. Even among the native trees this is true. Autumn by its very nature is a succession of ever-changing colour.

Acer leaves

Acer leaves

So, the best we can do is to show you some highlights from our forays out into the tree collection.

Juglans nigra - black walnut

Juglans nigra - black walnut

We start off with a real stop-you-in-your-tracks, take-your-breath-away autumn stunner… the bright yellow leaves of Juglans nigra, the black walnut. You’ll find this particular specimen on Main Drive, as you head towards Acer Glade.

Sorbus pseudohupehensis

Sorbus pseudohupehensis - mountain ash

Also on this route, just before you veer left onto Specimen Avenue, you’ll see the abundant fruit of Sorbus pseudohupehensis (mountain ash). Sorbus can be overlooked during autumn, but we think you’ll agree that the colour of the fruit here is stunning!

Parrotia persica - Persian ironwood in Colour Circle

Parrotia persica - Persian ironwood in Colour Circle

There are several routes into Acer Glade, if you’re willing to don your Wellington boots and risk a little mud. If you approach via Colour Circle, you’ll see flaming leaved Persian ironwood and smell the wonderful burnt sugar scent of Katsura.

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

In Acer Glade itself there is some delightful colour right now. Catch it in the right light and many of the specimens seem to give off a bright glow.

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

The variety of colours on display may also surprise you. Not just red, but orange, yellow and even purple!

Acer Glade

Acer Glade

Savvy photographers arrive here when we open our gates at 9am, allowing them to catch the best of the autumn colour in the morning light. Whatever time of day you visit, you won’t be disappointed… these trees really are going out with a bang!

Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

If you’d like to share your photographs of Westonbirt with other visitors in our Welcome Building, why not add them to our Flickr pool?

All eyes on the Old Arboretum!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Today I went out into the Old Arboretum, braving the rain and wind, to see how the colours were looking in our most spectacular season here at Westonbirt.

An early trip to Acer Glade proved more than worthwhile. As I got closer the view became more and more mesmerizing. The ruby reds, neon oranges and bright yellows were a joy to photograph. The raindrops brought out the autumn colour even more, as the glossy leaves shone in all their glory whilst fluttering in the wind – proving their beauty no matter what the weather!

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There were plenty of visitors also braving the elements and exploring in their waterproofs and wellies. So why not pop down and have a look for yourselves? It really is a sight to behold!

For more autumn colour photos, make sure to follow us on instagram: @westonbirtarb.

Marketing Support Officer

The future of Westonbirt Wood Sales

Monday, October 13th, 2014

In the next few months we are due to start work on the new Tree Management Centre, as part of Phase Two of the Westonbirt Project. Part of this work will be to demolish a building that we all call ‘The Sawmill’ to make way for a new welfare building and Tree Management Centre. Currently, this is where the Westonbirt wood sales group are located and unfortunately we don’t have alternative spot for them at this time. This means, for now, we are going to suspend the wood sales group until we can relocate them hopefully later in the New Year.

The next dates for wood sales are the 8th & 9th November. The last wood sales will then be held on the 13th & 14th December, so make sure you come along and grab yourself a bargain!

Andrew Jane
Operations Support Officer

Bivouacs and Bacon Butties

Monday, October 13th, 2014

On a Friday night in early October, 24 senior guides and their leaders from Mid Gloucestershire Division braved the elements, the wildlife and the dark (even the compost loo), to be the first community group to spend the night at Westonbirt Arboretum. Opting to make their own bivouacs rather than pitch tents, the group set up their temporary homes in Silk Wood before cooking dinner for 30 on the campfire.


After washing up by torchlight, we headed out into Silk Wood to explore the trees by moonlight. Not a great deal of wildlife was heard except a lone female tawny owl  – no one was brave enough to shine their torches into the trees to see what could be seen moving around in the undergrowth.

Back to camp for chocolate bananas (lots of chocolate bananas!) before bed and for some, their first ever camping experience. A predicted weather change in the early hours meant a few midnight adjustments to the community team’s shelter! All was then quiet apart from the loud sound of the strong breeze in the trees and the occasional owl or two, who chose to hang out above our shelter.


Thankfully the rain stayed away until nearly 7am – which was time to wake up anyway. As the girls dismantled their shelters, staff cooked up the bacon and one group started on the mammoth task of buttering 100 slices of bread!


All fed, but slightly damp and very tired, we headed back through the woods to meet waiting parents. Packing is never as neat on the trip home and both girls and wheel barrows were loaded up as high as possible, much to the amusement of the few early dog walkers!


Thank you to all who took part and made this wild night out possible.

Community Youth Officer

The wonders of seed collecting!

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

So for most of the past week we have been travelling through the wilds of Missouri in search of Carya seed. Under the guidance of George Yatskievych and colleagues from Missouri Botanic Garden, we have been able to collect a number of our target species, including C. tomentosa and C. glabra. We have also been able to make further collections of species collected earlier in the trip. It will be most interesting to see how those collected in different regions perform back home at Westonbirt!


Along with the Carya species we have also managed to collect from some interesting species that grow in association with them. These include Aralia spinosa, Nyssa sylvatica and Diospyros virginiana – all species that will contribute to the wonderful Westonbirt landscape.


We continue to have to work hard for seed, however, and whilst we have arrived in many areas at a good time for the ripeness of the Carya seed, we are always racing the squirrels to be first to them!

As well as this, so far we are finding that we are either too early or too late for collecting seed of some of the other species we are coming across. Taxodium distichum, the swamp cypress, is one such example. As the common name suggests, it grows in swamps and we have been privileged to see it doing its thing in south east Missouri, where it can be found growing with Carya aquatica and a number of other interesting plants. To see this in its native range was truly special and while it was somewhat fustrating to find that the seed was well under ripe, this did not stop us from simply marvelling at these trees. Awesome.


After a speculative yet productive quick stop in Tennessee, we have now reached North Carolina, where we shall head to high elevations for a few other species of particular interest, before heading south to continue in our quest for Carya. We hope to collect southern variants of some that we already have in the bag, as well as others that have so far eluded us. Then there is the rarest of the North American representatives of the genus, Carya myristiciformis.



Top five tips for autumn photography

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

We’re still early into autumn colour here at Westonbirt, so for our first blog, here’s a different perspective on how to enjoy the spectacular season!

Autumn is Westonbirt’s busiest time of year, when our trees put on a natural firework display and go out with a bang. Here are our tips for capturing the best of seasonal colour.

1. Get up close! Try to capture some more unusual images by getting up close and personal to the trees. Leaves have fascinating details close up, and the rich colours will look great too!

2. Go low. Don’t forget that autumn isn’t just about leaf colour – it’s the season for fungi too, so keep an eye to the ground and don’t be shy, shots taken from ground level can be dramatic!

3. Light fantastic! Morning and late afternoon are great times for photography because the sun is low in the sky. Seek out the rays streaming through the leaves to maximise those vibrant autumn tones!

4. Contrasts. Robert Holford’s planting sought to use natural contrasts to create impact. Take advantage of this in your photography – dark green yew makes a dramatic background to bright red maple leaves…

5. It’s all about the people! We love sharing Westonbirt with our visitors. Have fun and include family, friends or just yourself enjoying the autumn colours. From portraits to selfies, Westonbirt in autumn makes quite a backdrop!

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Join us on Instagram (new to Westonbirt this autumn!), Facebook and Twitter to see more of our autumn images – and use the hashtag #westonbirtautumn when sharing your own images on social media. We’d love to see them!

Gina Mills
Marketing Support Officer

Documenting America

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Travelling through Missouri with our plant collectors has been an eye opener to say the least. I’ve been lucky enough to witness seed collecting in action: I’ve been given a pass into the world of the Tree Team!

I truly feel like I’ve been part of something unique on this trip. We have been taken to parts of Missouri that even some of our Missouri-born colleagues hadn’t been to yet! We have seen wildlife that we never imagined we would out here, a particular highlight (or decidedly NOT a highlight I should say…) would be nearly stepping on a tarantula as it walked across my path. Although the look and sound of sheer horror from me was highly amusing to everyone else!


Then there was the racoon that popped up on the side of a river, not too far from a few floating logs which had turtles happily basking in the sunshine; while turkey vultures circled their prey in the fields on the other side of the river, and deer jumped away into the distance.

And then of course to the main attraction for us: the trees!! Certainly my highlight would have to be seeing the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) in its native habitat at the Mingo Nature Reserve. But I will let Dan Crowley tell you about that…

Of course this is all in conjunction with the real work which is the seed collecting itself; and let me tell you, it is hard.

As we all know, America is a HUGE country. We have had long drives, searching for known populations of the tree species we are looking for. The team then have to identify the key species they are targeting, followed by either shaking the seed off the tree using a throw line, or cutting them off with pole pruners in order to bag them up. Voucher specimens (dried cuttings of leaves and seeds/fruit) are taken and then pressed; labels are written; and then on we go to the next tree!

Susanna in recording mode

But the work doesn’t stop when you get back to the hotel: the seeds have to be cleaned and prepped for transport back to Westonbirt so our propagator can work her magic; notes must be written up; and the voucher specimens sorted in their frame.

So yes, we have seen incredible things; but we have also worked incredibly hard to bring seeds back which will help the Westonbirt landscape to evolve, and build important relationships with arguably one of the most important botanic gardens in the world: Missouri Botanic Garden in St Louis.

I have been recording everything (much to the annoyance of my colleagues who probably felt like the paparazzi were in town…!); and when I get back to the office I will start the editing process so that you can share in the experience too!

Jon not happy Jon recording


The Hickory hunt continues!

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Yesterday we headed to the Shaw Nature Reserve, which is part of Missouri Botanic Garden. Here we met James Trager, Naturalist at the Shaw Nature Reserve, who joined us in our quest to find the hickory species which are found here.


We spent the day in search of trees with seed, which we found to be few and far between. However, we did make collections from two species – Carya ovata and C. cordiformis. One collection of the former was particularly interesting, relative to what we had seen so far, with 7 leaflets per leaf, as well as 5, with hairyness and texture rather variable in different parts of the crown.


It was particularly interesting to observe the different habitat types as we moved from upland woodlands to floodplain and back again. The trees growing in the uplands were unsurprisingly not as large as those of the floodplain, with the species make up strikingly different. For example, Platanus occidentalis was entirely absent at 190m above sea level, but around 50-60 metres lower, they are huge!!


Today we met with George Yatskievych, author of the Flora of Missouri, who gave us some tip offs in areas which we will not be visiting later on, so we are off to spend some time there today, before heading further afield with George tomorrow. The quest continues…