The Original Garden Visitor's Guide

March 2018 - Westonbirt, the National Arboretum

Without doubt one of the finest collections of trees in Britain is to be found in Gloucestershire at Westonbirt the National Arboretum.

Westonbirt is located just three miles south of the Cotswold market town of Tetbury and virtually next door to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’ home at Highgrove.

Over the past thirty years Westonbirt has become one of the major visitor attractions of the Cotswolds and rightly so, for it really is a spectacular landscape.

The original trees of the arboretum were planted in 1829 by wealthy Gloucestershire landowner Robert Holford. After his death, his son Sir George Holford and other family members continued to manage and expand the arboretum with trees collected from all over the temperate world.

In 1956 the Forestry Commission became responsible for managing the collection on behalf of the nation and more than half a century later that is still the case.

Image of the Month

Westonbirt 3

Today, the number of arboreal specimens exceeds 18,000, spread over an area of approximately 240 hectares (600 acres) and accessed by a series of ‘easy on the legs’ way-marked trails and footpaths. Along each trail interpretative panels identify some of the biggest, oldest and most interesting trees in the collection. The overall effect is both beautiful and fascinating and easily enjoyed by those just out for a walk in pleasant countryside as well as by those with a particular interest in woody plants.

Such is the scale of Westonbirt that it is not possible to see everything in just one visit.  However, members of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity run a voluntary advisory service from a splendid, recently constructed, oak-framed hall and will suggest the best areas to walk on the day of your arrival.

Autumn is probably one of the most visually pleasing times to visit Westonbirt, when thousands of Japanese maples, Persian ironwoods and American hickories, put on magical displays of leaf colour. However, spring is also particularly attractive when magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas bloom on large tracts of naturally deposited acidic loam. Having said that, the sheer size and diversity of the collection means there is always colour and interest whatever time of year you choose to visit.

Tony Russell

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