Continuing my account of my visit to this woodland park with its nationally important collections of exotic trees, at the time of year when they are at their most glorious.
This is the fourth part of a series. To begin at part one, click here.
Of course there is much more to Westonbirt than maples, even in the autumn. In this part I’m going to show you some of the other species that caught my eye walking around the two halves of the arboretum.
One sign of the approaching winter is berries on the holly bushes.
Photo 11: Holly branch (photograph by author)
In contrast to the bright autumn colours, the inside of this twisting yew tree was dark and gloomy, but rather atmospheric and definitely a draw for the children who were clambering over the branches that bend down almost to the ground.
Yew trees are a traditional feature of English churchyards. There are several possible explanations: that the longevity of yews was a symbol of the stability of the Church, to provide yew branches to use instead of palm fronds at Easter, or to discourage farmers and herders from allowing their cattle into the churchyard (yew berries and leaves are poisonous). Yew was also used in Medieval England for making longbows – the properties of the wood were ideal for this though since many yew trees are twisted the actual trees used had to be selected carefully.
Photo 12: Yew tree (photograph by author)
One noteworthy tree is the ancient coppiced lime in the middle of Silk Wood. Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, this is actually one plant, the clusters being younger shoots spread out from a centre that has long decayed and disappeared. The original tree that gave rise to this is estimated to be 2000 years old. The appearance is due to coppicing – a common practice in olden times of chopping young trees down to just above ground level leaving a stump that would sprout new shoots. After a decade or two these shoots would have grown thick enough to be harvested as poles to make woven wood panels and for burning to make charcoal. This process could be repeated over and over and significant areas of woodland were cropped this way in Medieval times.
Photo 13: ancient coppiced lime (photograph by author)
The photograph below, taken from inside the coppiced lime, better shows the clusters of useful poles that this technique provides.
Photo 14: interior of ancient coppiced lime (photograph by author)
Continued in part five…