Thursday, 20 June 2013

Living, Growing, Dying

Westonbirt arboretum was created in the early 1800s by an ambitious and equally wealthy man by the name of Robert Holford.  Holford, as was his want, created the arboretum for his own pleasure. However, to say that the arboretum was created can come across as mildly misleading, a more appropriate wording would be to say that this is when it began. The reasoning behind this wordplay being that Westonbirt is an ever changing, living, growing and dying collection. It almost exists itself as an organism. When one tree gets to the end of its life another‘s is just starting. One of the many things Holford spent his money on was financing plant-collecting expeditions. Plant collectors such as David Douglas would bring back species from all over the world, many of which still grow in the arboretum today. 

Since then the arboretum has grown and developed, spreading across the valley into Silk Wood until in the 1950s when it was placed into the hands of the Forestry Commission where it remains. Westonbirt has now grown to become the premier tree collection in the uk. You would be hard pressed to pick up any good book on trees, flick to the index, run a finger down to 'W' and not find Westonbirt's name. The arboretum now comprises of over 2500 different species from around the world. It is an invaluable source of education and understanding, not to forget a great day out. 

Several seed collecting expeditions have happened over the years, the most recent of which was to Japan. The trip helped to develop the arboretum’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples amongst other trees. The trip also forged a good relationship with the University of Shizuoka and the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute of Japan. These are key successes that we wish to repeat with our upcoming trip to Korea. 

The Holfords may be gone from Westonbirt, but their passion for gathering new plants and expanding the collection still remains.  Evidence of this can be found in the words of Simon Toomer, the director of Westonbirt, who has said…

"New trees and shrubs are the life-blood of the arboretum and seed collected from naturally-growing trees is invaluable for collections with scientific objectives such as Westonbirt."

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