The annual snowdrop walk took place on Sunday 14th February. Our visitors wandered through the Pinetum at their own pace, enjoying the large drifts of snowdrops and views through the woodland in the weak winter sunshine. Afterwards, there was a cream tea in the Main Building and we pretty much had a full house – some 60 people attended. Thanks to everyone who helped prepare (and clear up) the refreshments.
Regular visitors will know that the hut in the Entrance Area was without its door for some time because the door post had rotted quite badly at the bottom and so the door had dropped and was scraping the floor. We have now repaired it with a new post made from our own timber! The wood came from the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) bordering Southern Meadow that many years ago fell across the stream. The soft red-brown timber is aromatic and has a high resistance to decay, so it is widely used in outside construction to make posts, decking, cladding, fences and shingles. We managed to chain saw off a substantial limb which was converted into a square post using our Alaskan mill. The new post was bolted to the shed frame and, with some new pintel hinges commissioned from our regular blacksmith, the door was rehung. This all occurred over several weeks and everyone involved was very proud of the result. Well done Edward, Mike, John and Ian.
It is really pleasing to say that our membership is the largest it has ever been. Amongst our members there will be a wealth of talent, ideas and enthusiasm for our project – that is why you are a member (if you are not why not join). We want to encourage members to get involved where they feel they can. You hear regularly about our work parties and read regular pleas to join one but there are other ways you could show your support, if a work party isn’t for you. You may have skills in fundraising or organisation or perhaps you could give a talk that would be of interest to other members.
More stone and brick work has been completed on the Summerhouse base at the apexes, on which the supporting poles will stand. Work has continued, slowly, on trying to locate and repair leaks in the leat. The water level now stays much higher than it used to but still not quite high enough to cover all the shelves on which the limestone rocks sit. We persevere!
We held our 16th AGM on Thursday 19th November. The meeting itself was preceded by a buffet supper with an excellent selection of savoury food and lots of desserts. Our Artistic Promotions Secretary, Jan, put together an exquisitely presented art display, using contributions from members, including turned wood bowls, textiles, photos, drawings and other crafts. Thank you to her and the contributors.
It is almost November and autumn is well into its stride. It is a colourful time in woodlands as the leaves change from green to yellows, oranges and reds and this is also true of the Pinetum. Of course we have plenty of deciduous trees, shrubs and undergrowth amongst the conifers producing these colours and, although the majority of conifers retain their basic green colour throughout the year, a very few are deciduous and their leaves change colour, too, before they fall. The dawn redwood becomes a deep coppery bronze and larches go yellow, as does the ginkgo.
The damp weather seems to have encouraged some really good fungi. White Pine Triangle has seen a succession of spectacular parasol mushrooms. Next door in Central Firs there has been a good crop of fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) which associates particularly with birch and pine.
Seasonal tasks in the Pinetum have included giving the Southern Meadow its annual cut. We do this late in the summer to allow as many species as possible to flower and set seed. The cuttings are removed so that the soil doesn’t become too fertile and the grasses are kept in check, allowing wild flowers to establish. The other seasonal task has been to bring the Norfolk Island pine, which spends the summer in its pot in the pit by Don’s Hut, back under cover in the glasshouses for the winter. This relative of the monkey puzzle from the sub tropical Pacific is not frost hardy.
The Cypress area has been cleared of bracken and some young sycamore saplings and shoots removed to give the cypresses more light and room to grow.
We also took the decision to remove a small oak in the Spruce Plot for similar reasons. The spruces beneath it were very much in the oak canopy’s shadow. Because there was no room to clear fell it, we had to use a ladder and hand saws to cut off the branches before removing the trunk. Well done John and Mike – under Edward’s supervision! The crab apples, also in the Spruce Plot, have fruited prolifically this year but are getting very tall and tangled, so we have started to prune them, which should rejuvenate them. to edit.
When does autumn start? Meteorologically, each season is a 3 month period and autumn is September, October and November. Astronomically, Earth's position relative to the sum is used to define seasons. So autumn begins around the Equinox on 21st September when days and nights are of equal length and ends on the winter solstice on 21st December, when daylight hours are shortest. A third method is based on phenology - the process of noting signs of change in plant and animal behaviour. Autumn starts when leave begin to change colour or ripe berries appear or winter migrant birds arrive.
In the Pinetum, we have plenty of ripe sloes, elderberries and blackberries, but leaves are not changing colour yet. We are on the cusp of summer morphing into autumn.
On the work party front, there has been a lot of maintenance, especially keeping paths and open spaces open. We decided that the lilac in Southern Meadow needed some rejuvenating, so have reduced its height and separated what is in fact two lilac shrubs to reveal the full length of the Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) and its upswept branches when viewed from Southern Meadow.
We encourage people to visit and use the PInetum and so on 16th July, I was pleased to give a tour to a group of tutors from the University's health and social wok department, as part of their planning away day held at Bayfordbury.
Last month, one of our members asked if they could hold a charity yoga class in the PInetum to raise money for Nepal disaster relief. We were happy to agree and the class attracted some 20 people.