The Friends e-bulletin, September 2013
Our e-bulletin is published every four months, between the Friends’ newsletters, to give up-to-date news and features about the Garden, the Arboretum and Friends’ events and activities. If you are a Friend and you would like to be sent an e-mail notification when a new bulletin is published (January, May and September), please contact: email@example.com. The next e-bulletin will be published in January 2014.
Friends' events: Friends' reception (12th September); AGM (10th October); Plant Sale (1st June 2014); Garden visits; Friends' coffee mornings at the Garden; Sunday plant tours at the Garden; Insight tours at the Arboretum; Half term at the Arboretum
I hope you have all enjoyed the last four months; the late spring and warm summer have resulted in some glorious sights at the Oxford Botanic Garden and the Harcourt Arboretum. The bluebell wood (right) looked stunning at the Arboretum, and now we have a giant pumpkin (below) resulting from the warm summer in the vegetable garden. It will only be taken in when the first frost arrives so do look out for it - and until 30th October you can enter a competition to guess its weight. Perhaps the most exciting event at the Arboretum has been the erection of the cruck frame barn. There's an article at the end of this bulletin by one of the people who helped to craft this, describing his experiences, including camping at the Arboretum – it is fascinating.
Three important dates for your diaries: this week, on Thursday 12th September, we have the Friends' Reception at Harcourt Arboretum; on Thursday 10th October the Friends’ AGM will be held at Nuffield College in Oxford and next year, we have the Plant Sale on Sunday 1st June. In the meantime, if you have children to entertain during the October half term, do look at the activities laid on at the Arboretum.
I've included photographs of the Friends who contribute to this bulletin and run events, to help you to put faces to names and email addresses. Do approach these people when you see them, they'd all be happy to hear any suggestions or comments.
All the Garden photographs which I've included were taken at Friends’ events. I hope these will tempt you to try the Friends' coffee mornings at the Garden or the Insight Tours at the Arboretum, which give such a good view of the fascinating work being done at both sites. I've included a large number of photographs because I think that they tell the story much better than words! If you have photographs which you'd like to include, do send them to me.
As always, please contact me with comments, suggestions or contributions for the next e-bulletin. Many thanks.
Seonaid (pronounced Shornid) Danziger, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join us for this special evening for Friends only. The event is free but please let us know you are coming by emailing email@example.com
The business will be followed by a talk by Alison Foster, Senior Curator (right), who will be telling us about the medium-term strategy for the development of the Garden and Arboretum.
Please let us know you are coming by completeing a returning this booking form.
Mary Isaac (left) writes: This will be our major event for 2014. It takes a huge amount of organisation, beginning now! We start preparing by taking cuttings and splitting herbaceous plants, so if you are doing this in your garden, please do pot up some plants for the Plant Sale. We need all sorts of plants - herbaceous, shrubs, vegetable seedlings, herbs, tender perennials - anything that will grow in a garden would be suitable.
We rely entirely on donations for all our stock and you - the Friends - make an enormous contribution.
We also need plenty of help on the day and leading up to the day. If you would like to be involved please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to help with teas, please contact Sally Orriss (right) at email@example.com. Many thanks.
These are very popular and our thanks are due to the team which organises them - Pauline Coombes, Harriet Bretherton and Jane Annett (shown left).
There are still places available on the following visits (please book using this booking form):
Ablington Manor on 15th September
Waddesdon Manor on 23rd October
Further details are available in the Friends' newsletter.
Please note that these visits are now fully booked: The Japanese Garden on 18th October and Beckley Park on 25th October
The first Friday of every month (except January and August) in the Garden’s Conservatory, 10:30 to 11:30am. After coffee a member of staff leads a tour of the Garden. No fee and no booking required.
These tours are with the Director Timothy Walker, structured around plants of particular interest for the time of year. They are crammed with botanical information and horticultural tips and are great fun. A plant list is provided. The next tor will be on Sunday 10th November, 10.00am to 11.30am, Friends £2, guests £6 (includes entry to the Garden), no booking required, just turn up.
Friends are very welcome to join these free tours, which are a great opportunity for Arboretum staff to show off the latest developments, and for visitors to give their thoughts and opinions as well as to ask questions.
Wednesdays 2nd October, 6th November, 4th December, 8th January, 2.00pm to 3.30pm, no fee and no booking required, just turn up.
Guy Horwood explaining that this giant lime tree had to come down because it had a fungal disease which might make it a risk. Its fate had not yet been decided. Apparently this wood is sought after by sculptors.
We will have a special autumn-themed family-friendy trail running all week, and on Tuesday 29th October, make the most of autumn colour with our family friendly afternoon "Autumn Art at the Arb" (1pm to 4pm). We will use natural materials to make spectacular seasonal works of art. Free with entry to the Arboretum, no need to book.
Volunteers, undaunted by rainfall, dividing and potting irises – ready for the Plant Sale next June
Would you be interested in volunteering at the Garden or the Arboretum? If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you more information and send you an application form.
Working parties at Harcourt Arboretum: One Wednesday a month, volunteers work as a team and do a variety of jobs depending on weather and time of year - anything from tree planting to clearance.
A hedge laid by volunteers last winter can now be seen growing healthily
Working teams at the Garden: Weeding groups have been at work all summer, but soon this will end for the winter. But we'll be holding open days in February and March 2014, when interested volunteers can come along, meet the team from the Botanic Garden and find out more about what is involved. Volunteer activity will start again at the Garden in March 2014. Further details will be sent to Friends in the next newsletter.
"Making Time for Plants"
Those who have helped at the Botanic Garden and/or the Arboretum over the previous year were invited to tea at the Arboretum. Many of you will have been there. 392 years ago (in 1621) the founding ceremony for the Botanic Garden took place opposite Magdalen College in the meadow that was to become the Garden, and this year the Arboretum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its ownership transferring to the Garden.
Director Timothy Walker (left) explained the ambitious 10-year programme, "Making Time for Plants", on which the Garden and Arboretum are embarking. There are several strands of activity:
Our species recovery programmes will save at least ten more plant species from extinction - we want to give these plants more time on Earth.
The tender plants will get new glasshouses at the Garden, giving them another 10 years of time.
We shall expand our digital outreach to bring plants into people’s lives by every means possible making time in people's lives for plants.
So that we know how to support plants into the future, we need to learn more about them and we do that by scientific research. For example we are helping Stephen Harris in the Herbarium to develop his rapid botanical survey techniques. For research we shall need to grow more plants and for that we shall build a new propagation and quarantine unit especially for the new species coming back from Tom Price's and Ben Jones' expeditions to Japan. The meadows and woodlands at the Arboretum will be monitored annually for all aspects of their biodiversity, records that will become more valuable as every year passes. We shall seedbank the collection, including the meadow’s seeds, to give those plants hundreds if not thousands of years more. The meadow is a great example of the transformation that can happen when people like the Friends support us. In 2006 we were able to purchase Palmer’s Leys and transform it into the beautiful hay meadow that it now is. I have heard people question the process of conservation as being never ending and simply restoring the status quo – how will we know that it has been successful? A pragmatic and practical answer to this question is that we will know that we have made difference when we no longer have to tell people not to pick the flowers. This happened to me in Palmer’s Leys this summer where we had so much ragged robin that a class of students could pick as much as they needed. In just 7 years we have made time for ragged robin plants.
As we approach the 400th anniversary of botany and plant sciences at the University – the first experimental science department – I have a dream. I want to be able to stand here in 10 years' time when we celebrate the diamond anniversary of the Arboretum and report that we have been successful in Making Time for Plants and that we can pass on our botanical inheritance to our children in great condition.
Professor Richard Mayou (left) is the Chair of the Friends who leads the team that works so hard to support the Garden’s and Arboretum’s activities. Professor Roger Ainsworth (right) in the Chairman of the Visitors of the Botanic Garden and Arboretum. The major task of the Visitors is to approve and have oversight of the delivery of the Strategic Plan, the success of which is heavily dependent on support from the Friends.
Accommodation for our trainees - a request from Alison Foster, the Senior Curator
Each year, two horticultural trainees come to work at the Botanic Garden for 12 months from mid September. Our trainees are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable accommodation in Oxford and potentially excellent trainees often withdraw their applications because they find that they are can't afford to live in the city. We are therefore hoping to build up a list of people who have spare rooms which they would be willing to rent to our trainees for a reasonable price. Ideally, rooms would be in Oxford, with easy access to the Garden by bicycle or public transport. If you would be willing to host a trainee then please e-mail me on email@example.com. Trainees starting in September 2013 have accommodation, but we would like to be in a position to help the 2014 intake (who we will be interviewing in March 2014). Many thanks.
Tom Price, Gardens Curator, writes: The Garden has looked stunning this summer. Despite a late spring, the plants have flourished with the heat and intermittent downpours. Everything has put on a flush of growth and more than caught up.
The stars of the show have undeniably been the new Merton Borders (right). They too have flourished and have been wooing and enchanting our visitors over the past three months. It's been a tough ride with this new development, with many people questioning our reasoning initially. However, we knew it could work, we had seen it done elsewhere with great results (RHS Wisley, the Olympic Park, Tom Stuart-Smith's own back garden). But even we began to falter when, after having sown the new borders in autumn 2012, the River Cherwell burst its banks, flooding the area three times over Christmas and the New Year. The Borders have taken time to establish, but this was part of the point: our role is to communicate the importance of plant diversity and our impact upon it to all users and visitors to the Botanic Garden. When you consider that 25% of all know plants are threatened with extinction in the next 50 years, the need to communicate this message becomes very clear. One way we can promote reducing our impact on biodiversity is to live more sustainably. So, when redesigning the Lower Garden, we also chose to redefine it. It has always been an ornamental collection, in contrast to the very scientific role of the Walled Garden. However, it always felt like we were missing a trick. Could we produce and maintain something that was ornamental, yet sustainable?
Friends admiring the Vegetable Garden
We have been growing vegetables on a large scale in the Lower Garden for four years now. Each year we learn more about the vagaries of our site and strive to improve the display here. But the display is just an opportunity for us to communicate that same message: sustainability and sustainable development. By growing vegetables we can raise the profile of eating locally, reducing food miles and subsequently reducing our carbon footprint, which in turn reduces our collective impact on biodiversity. This was step one. The Merton Borders were step two. Could we produce an ornamentally breathtaking planting, established from seed? One that would be sustainable in the long term, requiring minimal input of resources such as water? It turns out that we can. The Merton Borders are now in their second year and flowering beautifully. The plants are filling out and establishing very well, which when you consider that they were all hand sown in situ in Nov 2012 and March 2013, and were mere seedlings last spring and summer, is pretty remarkable.
The Bog Garden (right) has looked verdant. We are working on improving the plantings here this autumn, introducing further structural specimens to break up the swathes of Iris, Carex and Hemerocallis.
In the Walled Garden, the front Family Bed adjacent to the ticket office will become an interpretation bed for the layout of the Family Beds, explaining plant families and the evolutionary arrangements of the flowering plants within the Walled Garden. This will be a very ornamental bed, including representatives from the main groups of flowering plants across the evolutionary tree, which visitors will encounter further as they explore the Family Beds.
The Asteraceae beds will be improved. Material has been sourced from botanic gardens across Europe. Our intention here is to improve the aesthetic display whilst bolstering the collection with more material of known provenance. This is particularly important as we expand our involvement with research because well-documented plant material is the gold standard for collections supporting research activities.
The lawns are about to receive their annual maintenance schedule of scarification, aeration and top dressing. This looks drastic, but rest assured, it does the lawns good, the result being a sward that is much more able to cope with drought conditions and the level of pedestrian traffic it experiences.
Ben Jones and I embark on our next seed collection trip to Japan at the end of September. This year we are focusing on Hokkaido and north-west Honshu. We are away for four weeks, each day of which will be spent collecting seed, herbarium specimens, conducting botanical surveys, cleaning seed, updating field data to support the seed collections and travelling from site to site. In our final few days we will visit the National Seedbank in Tokyo, where we plan to deposit some of our seed collections. We will deliver a talk on our project at the University of Oxford Development Office in Tokyo as part of their science and research lecture programme. The project is the first of its kind involving Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum staff in collecting, documenting and conserving the flora of a global biodiversity hotspot.
Ben Jones, Arboretum Curator, with a tree grown from seed collected by him
Ben Jones writes: The growing season started very slowly this year, clearly demonstrated by the lateness with which the rhododendrons flowered. Soon after, the temperatures soared for a good few weeks and, seemingly in no time, autumn is now here. Each season brings its particular highlights. Whilst spring is eagerly anticipated, not just for the rise in temperature, but for wonderful display of bluebells, so is autumn in its own way!
Here at the arboretum, our woody plant collection represents all six continents. Be it European, North American or African maples, late flowering Eucryphias from South America and Australasia or a whole plethora of trees and shrubs from Asia, such as oaks, limes or alders, we have autumn colour in abundance. Whether you’re walking through the meadows, admiring our oaks or heading along the Serpentine Ride, our temperate woody plants from all corners of the globe will soon create an incredible autumnal palette of colours for all of us to enjoy.
Philip Solt who helped to build the barn, writes: I own 50 acres of ancient woodland near Olney in North Bucks and in March this year heard through the Oxford Woodland Group about the Arboretum’s plans to build a barn via a timber-framing course. I was a week from retirement from the Met Police and about to launch my second career managing my woodland as a going concern so this fitted perfectly with my plans to build my own woodland structures using hand split wood. To be doing this at a place like Harcourt, using their own timber…Forget the money, I had to be in on this!
So, come May, there I was at Harcourt with tent and adze itching to get stuck in. I’m not sure why I was surprised that most of my fellow students were as grey as me but we were still a pretty heterogenous group – all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds, skills and desires. The one thing we all shared was a passion for wood. Our oldest member, Cyril, was a scarily good carpenter, which made the presence of Robert, the house-husband, particularly re-assuring. Adding a colonial flavour, we had Alan, the computer geek from South Africa, and Kiwi Peter who had come all the way down from Inverness to be in on the act. It was fantastic to be joined on the course by Harcourt’s very own Guy Horwood, our youngest team member, who, having felled the actual timber himself, was able to fill us in on the background of every piece of wood we were to work with (it was 17 different species in the end, all harvested from the Arboretum). Approximately ten of us in all, we were led by carpenter Henry Russell, all chaos and curls, and the diminutive Barbara.
We were first confronted with a timber yard on the grass and then a marquee full of antique hand tools and ancient lumps of wood. It felt like a museum. Little did I know that I would end up using every bit of this vast array of antiquity – adzes, augurs and all. My favourite was the giant frame saw which made its users look like they were straight out of a mediaeval print. The barn was built entirely using hand tools, and every joint is different because this building was used as a teaching exercise.
For me, the two weeks were a blur of rain showers and wood shavings. Totally compelling! Henry told us that he wanted ‘sophisticated sloppiness’ and this became our mantra. Straight away we were chiselling the most tortuous of joints – scarves, dovetails, laps and cogs – and millions and millions of mortice and tenons. Lovingly, with minute precision…the excitement and pride when the bits actually fitted together was immense. There were some particularly fantastic moments like when our cruck came together and a whole wall assembly, complete with those massive upside-down braces, raised vertical for the first time. My personal triumph was my dog teeth design on one of the jowl posts (see the photo of me, above left).
By the end of the two weeks, Henry professed to be delighted with our labour and we had a large pile of chisel-numbered pieces of wood (curly numerals for the front, straight for the back). A geometry lesson on how to calculate hip rafters in a storm-billowing marquee on our final morning left most of us scratching our heads but the job was done and our heads were crammed full of the social history and regional variations of traditional timber-framing into the bargain. Thanks Henry!
Back for the raising of the barn, six weeks later, Harcourt was a different place. Rhododendrons past their peak and that bitter, wet and windy May had been replaced by shorts weather, thank goodness. Everything went smoothly enough, albeit we weren’t able to put the whole building together on the Saturday but the twin crucks looked magnificent and we were able to feast happily on the hog roast (thanks to Ben) that evening. So benign was the weather that I spurned my tent and slept under the stars using the shelter of an ancient oak to keep the dew off my sleeping bag.
Finishing the barn off on the Sunday should have been a doddle if we hadn’t started running short of pegs. Being a glorious day it got pretty hot clambering around whacking up rafters. Finally in mid-afternoon it was done and it was only when we came down off the roof that we experienced the amazing zebra shadows within the building.
A film of the barn being raised can be seen on the Arboretum website. Its roof was covered with wooden shingles in August.