Categories
Books London is a Forest

The Low Down on the New Edition of London is a Forest

I’m excited to announce that the New Edition of London is a Forest will soon be published. It’s more than just a makeover: the New Edition has been fully revised and updated, AND it contains a brand new seventh urban forest trail. The new book has 32 more pages, a lush and luminous cover, and a fancy gold badge, making it an even more desirable tome.


Pre-order your signed copy now


The new chapter describes a route from Harrow to St Pancras. It takes in some splendid trees, some memorable views, and green spaces that certainly surprised me.

Kensal Green Cemetery
Alive and kicking: Kensal Green Cemetery is home to a significant group of mature oriental planes, could this be the finest clump in London?

The first edition was published in 2019, since when it has sold steadily and by Christmas 2021 it was pretty much out of stock. The publisher decided they would reprint, and asked if I’d like to make any updates. There were one or two things that I thought could be improved, a couple of individual trees I’d misidentified and there were a few things missing from the nerdy species lists too. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, we decided it would be great to include a new trail – I’d always felt there was a bit of a north west London green hole – and this was the opportunity to make amends.

Here’s an excerpt from the new chapter, this snippet introduces Acton and a memorable swamp cypress that resides on a residential street:


“The North Circular marks the start of a gradual transition from outer to inner London as Ealing becomes Acton, another area of Victorian expansion. Acton has very old roots. Its name is derived from the Old English word for tree, ‘ac’, which is also remembered in the common names ‘oak’ and ‘ash’, as well as the Latin Acer, the maple genus. These enigmatic names for different tree species are thus very, very old, coming from a single, simple word – more a sound, really – that contains myriad influences, meanings and questions. An ‘ac’ might be an obstacle, resource or landmark – the sound of things that are frequent and boundless. How were trees differentiated in the past? Certainly not by modern taxonomic methods. More likely it was by practical means. Pollard, coppice, spinney, copse, frith and penge are all terms associated with trees that have very specific meanings but are now largely forgotten. It seems implausible for a place to have been named after something generic, so the ‘ac’ of Acton must have referred to a noteworthy feature, perhaps a single oak, a multitude of landmarks, or a place noted for the quality or fecundity of its trees.

Acton is not known for its trees today, but offers frequent evidence of a boskier past. Alongside Ealing, it was a popular location for country houses, handy for London, but definitely not the city. These estates would have been grand and leafy, but are now only remembered in street names and open spaces given over to other uses. Springfield Gardens is one such space, while Shalimar Gardens remembers an estate of that name, and Perryn Road is named after Sir John Perryn, a local landowner who left his estate to the Goldsmiths’ Company. Where Shalimar Gardens meets Julian Avenue, a monumental reminder of Acton’s past soars above the Edwardian terraced cottages. The considerate developers of this corner of London thought fit to build around a tree that now takes over half a carriageway of the narrow street. Unlike Ealing’s Elephant Tree, this one has a protective kerb to reduce its exposure to frustrated motorists. It is a huge and aged swamp cypress, its size emphasised by its surroundings.”

Categories
Ancient trees Books Street Trees Urban landscape

Calling Mancunians, Glaswegians, Dubliners, Cardiffians and Urban Tree-Fanciers Everywhere!

I’m very excited to have been commissioned to write a book about the great urban trees of Britain and Ireland. Research is underway and, hopefully, I’ll be travelling all over these islands to see as many of its great trees as I can over the coming months.

Visitor Attraction: A rare and distinctive ‘Baobab’ London Plane in Canterbury

There are some towns and cities I know well, but there are many more I know less well, and so that’s why I’m asking for your help. I’d love to hear about the special trees in towns, cities and villages all over the UK and Ireland. They might be in town centres or in urban woods, they might be in parks or on estates. They could even be street trees, or glimpsed over a wall in a school or a hotel. Ideally they’ll be ones that people can visit and see for themselves just why they’re great.

I’m interested in discovering the trees that are local landmarks or historical markers, the trees that in one way or another define a place. These are not necessarily the biggest or oldest trees (but of course, I’m interested in those ones too), they will be those that have stories associated with them, or those that mean something to the people who live with them. They might be survivors from a bygone age, or trees planted to remember a particular event or a moment in history. They could be those that are threatened by a future development (some may recognise Sheffield’s Chelsea Road Elm from the top of this post), or they could be trees that have been saved by people who care about them.

London has its Planes, and Manchester its Poplars. Edinburgh, like Brighton, is famed for its Elms. Plymouth has a pear named after it, Strawberry Trees are native to Killarney, Exeter has an elm, and I’m sure other species have urban connections too. I want to find the best examples of all these species!

Outstanding in it’s (Urban) Field: A splendid Spruce in Ballater town centre, Aberdeenshire

I’m interested in the intermingled history of towns and trees too. There are grand landscapes that bring trees right into cities like Phoenix Park in Dublin, Cardiff’s Bute Park or the Pollok Estate in Glasgow. The Victorians have bequeathed their great legacy of public parks, botanical gardens and arboreta like those in Belfast, Nottingham, Birkenhead, Derby, Lincoln and Walsall. Urban growth has grown around ancient churchyards and country estates, and remarkably, woodlands survive in the most unlikely places. Towns and cities have been associated with the great plant collectors and nurserymen of the last 200 years, and their arboreal traces surely live on too.

Smaller towns and villages have great trees too, and I’ve come across the old fenced in Ginkgo in the Cotswold town of Chipping Camden, the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs tree in Dorset or a huge Cedar of Lebanon at Tredegar House in Newport. But these are, I’m sure, just the tip of the iceberg.

So, please let me know about the great trees of Truro, Lerwick, Haverfordwest, Cork, Bradford, Sunderland, Dunbar, Gloucester, Aberystwyth and Dundalk, to name just a few. These are just some of the places I’ll be looking for trees, so if you can think of any others, or know of any trees that I must see, please do let me know about them using the form below.



One For the Road: The old Ginkgo gracing the main street in Chipping Campden
Categories
Books Urban landscape Walking

Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 2

This is my second half dozen, for the first six, see Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 1.

In the first post, I wrote about how my lockdown urban nature rambles turned into my new book, London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Through the Green Metropolis. Lockdown allowed me to really get to know parts of the city near where I live in north London, and as the rules eased, I ventured further afield, mostly on two wheels, and occasionally on public transport, allowing me to get to the tropics of Acton, Fulham, Pimlico, and beyond.

Out Now: London Tree Walks

The book consists of twelve walks in many corners of London from Brockley to Walthamstow, I hope these brief arboreal portraits will offer a taste of the book.

Here are the second six:

7. Churchill Gardens Chinese Tree Privet

The most prominent of several fine examples of mature Chinese tree privet trees in Pimlico’s Churchill Gardens Estate, one of the Architectural Utopias Among the Trees.

Modern: A mature Chinese tree privet in early March

Churchill Gardens is one of central London’s finest modernist housing estates. It was largely constructed in the 1950s, and the young architects responsible, Powell and Moya, worked with a former head gardener at Kew to devise the planting*. Seven decades later, and the estate is awash with fine, and often unusual trees. One species that makes its presence felt, particularly in winter, is the evergreen Chinese tree privet, the finest example of which stands outside Wilkins House towards the western end of the estate.


8. Fulham Oak in Fulham

Fulham oaks really do originate from SW6, and a rare example can be seen in Hurlingham Park on the route tracing Rock Family Trees.

Old Peculiar: Fulham oak acorn and leaves

There are lots of different hybrid oaks, and to confuse us, there are lots of different named cultivars of hybrid oaks too. The Fulham oak is a cultivar of the hybrid between cork and Turkey oaks: Quercus x hispanica ‘Fulhamensis’ (or Q. x crenata to some). It is so named because it was offered for sale by a Fulham nursery, Osborne’s, around 1760, when semi-evergreen oaks were popular. It is very similar to Lucombe oak, another cultivar of the same hybrid, but is far rarer, so it’s good to know there’s at least one alive and well in Fulham!


9. Acton’s Swamp Cypress

On the way to discover How the Elephant Got its Trunk, Acton’s huge old swamp cypress is a very surprising sight.

Road Hog: The magnificent swamp cypress on Julian Avenue

Swamp cypresses are one of those curious conifers of the deciduous kind. Other types you might come across are soaring dawn redwoods, a tree much planted around London, or one of the larches (trees more likely to be encountered on a Scottish mountainside than in suburban Acton). So it will be even more surprising to discover this one, and a very large one at that, on Julian Avenue, W3. It’s been here for many years, possibly a couple of centuries, it certainly appears to predate the Edwardian terraces that now surround it. Intriguingly, it grows in its own build-out into the road (it must be cursed by impatient drivers), suggesting it may have been protected by the Edwardian developers from some earlier landscape. If so, it must have already been a tree of note over a century ago.


10. St. Paul’s American Sweetgum

Tucked away in one of the Green Corners of the City is the towering American Sweetgum growing against the southern wall of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Heavenly: The towering sweetgum in St Paul’s Churchyard

St Paul’s Churchyard is stuffed with great trees including several magnificent and aged London planes, but the American sweetgum is perhaps the most interesting tree here. It is an exceptional example of a species much planted in London in recent decades, giving us a hint of how big these trees might become. It is by far the largest one I know, an even more remarkable fact when you discover it is a mere 70 years old.


11. The Inner Temple Manchurian Walnut

Between Holborn and Temple lies Legal London, a part of town renowned for Lincoln’s Inn, the Royal Courts of Justice and the sanctuary of the Temple, within which a delightful and  rarely opened garden can be experienced.

Your Worship: Is this fine spreading tree a Manchurian walnut?

Inner Temple Garden doesn’t get too many visitors as it’s only open for an hour or two on weekdays, so make sure you plan your visit in advance. It’s a charming place boasting a splendid tulip tree, a lovely Atlas cedar and a rare hybrid strawberry tree among dozens of fine trees. But the one that stands out for me is a spreading Manchurian Walnut tree – it’s the only one I’ve seen, and I’m still not 100% convinced that I’ve correctly identified it…


12. The Honor Oak

No book about trees in London could be complete without mention of the London Plane, and in The Embankment’s Nineteenth-Century Planes, there’s a whole walk devoted to them. But there are one or two other species making a guest appearance too, including the Palace of Westminster catalpas.

Right Honourable: The catalpas at the Palace of Westminster date to 1859

Of the other trees, there are several characterful southern catalpas or Indian bean trees to discover in the gardens along the Embankment. Many of these date from their opening in 1870 and, unlike the long-lived and far more abundant London planes dating from the same period, they are showing their age. Catalpas are relatively short-lived trees, and the oldest of the bunch, in fact the oldest trees on this route, are the wonderful wizened group in New Palace Yard just below the Elizabeth clock tower housing Big Ben and behind the security fence.


There are of course many, many more trees to see on each of these routes, and they are detailed in the book. As well as hundreds of photos and dozens of features, the book contains detailed OS maps to aid your passage.

If these half dozen arboreal stars have whetted your appetite, check out the first six trees, and get the book. It’s available from all the usual places including Bookshop.org, Stanfords and directly from me (signed of course!)

* Read more about the Churchill Gardens estate on the brilliant Municipal Dreams blog.

That wonderful avenue of mature London planes at the top of the page can be found on the Legal London walk.

Categories
Books Urban landscape Walking

Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 1

During Lockdown 1.0, I spent as much time as I could outdoors. Like many, I found it gave me an opportunity to appreciate nature on my doorstep even more than usual. Combined with a beautiful spring and the dramatic reduction in pollution, it seemed especially piquant. My lockdown urban nature explorations turned into a project which came to fruition in October with the publication of my new book, London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Through the Green Metropolis. 

Out Now: London Tree Walks

The book consists of twelve walks in many corners of London from Acton to Walthamstow, and during the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting two blogs featuring a tree on the route of each walk. I hope these will offer a taste of the book.

Here, then, are the first six:

1. Queen’s Wood Hornbeam

A charismatic hornbeam can be found near the start of this seven mile circular walk from Highgate Tube station exploring North London’s Ancient Woodland.

Rippling: Dramatic sinewy trunk of the Queen’s Wood Hornbeam

Hornbeam is a common species in all London’s precious pockets of ancient woodland. It was a tree favoured for its hard wood, a valuable commodity in days past when Londoners relied on wood, charcoal and coal shipped from Newcastle to heat their homes and power their businesses. This is a particularly characterful example, one that appears to have been spared the regime of coppicing and instead seems to have fulfilled a role as  boundary tree, tucked away in the dense undergrowth of Queen’s Wood. From Queen’s Wood, this walk takes you through no less than three other tracts of ancient woodland.


2. Wood Street Horse Chestnut

The Wood Street Horse Chestnut is a local landmark on this circular walk from Walthamstow Central: Surprising Trees Between River and Forest.

Awesome: Walthamstow’s landmark conker tree

The iconic Wood Street Horse Chestnut in Walthamstow is a fine example of the much-loved conker tree. It’s difficult to say how old this one is, but the clapboard building, now a health food shop but once a butchers, is around 200 years old. Like all London horse chestnut trees, this one suffers from leaf miner attack resulting in the leaves appearing brown and shrivelled from the late summer. It’s a problem caused by the caterpillar of a micro moth eating the leaves from the inside. While it doesn’t seem to stop trees rebounding each spring, it must surely be gradually weakening them. Enjoy this tree while you can. 


3. Mentmore Terrace Bee-bee Tree

It’s almost impossible to select a single tree that sums up London’s Urban Arboretum, another circular walk, this time from Hackney Central, but the bee-bee tree is one of the most unusual.

Sweet spot: Hackney’s unusual bee-bee trees are irresistible to pollinators

Typical of Hackney’s exciting and diverse tree canopy is this example of a rare east Asian bee-bee tree near London Fields, seen here laden with berries in late summer. This walk offers a taste of the borough’s ambitious and surprising modern tree planting, but also traces the legacy of Loddiges nursery, a botanical institution located in Hackney during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


4. Wapping’s ‘Baobab’ Plane

On the route of Docklands Old and New between Wapping and Canary Wharf, I discovered a rare ‘Baobab’ London plane.

Doggone: The striking swollen bole of a ‘Baobab’ London plane

There must be less than a hundred ‘Baobab’ planes in London, so it’s always a thrill to come across one I hadn’t heard of before, like this one in Wapping’s St John’s Churchyard. Called ‘Baobabs’ because they have peculiarly swollen trunks, it’s thought these are an unusual, and now forgotten, Victorian cultivar. From picturesque Wapping, this walk leads east hugging the river before exploring heroic modern tree planting nestled between the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.


5. Tree of Heaven on Enid Street

On the trail of Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey, between Borough and Rotherhithe a splendid mature Tree of Heaven is encountered.

Angel’s Delight: Tree of heaven seeds and leaves in SE1

Trees of Heaven are synonymous with Bermondsey. They were the tree favoured by tree planting pioneer and local heroine Ada Salter from the 1920s. Salter set about transforming the former borough of Bermondsey (now a corner of Southwark) partly through planting thousands of trees there. Many of those early twentieth century trees can still be seen, and this fine specimen on Enid Street was resplendent with deep red seeds when I walked the route in August this year.


6. The Honor Oak

The surprisingly bosky, not to mention, hilly route from Honor Oak Park to New Cross Gate, A Local Community Gets Involved, takes in great views and great trees.

Your Honour: One of south London’s finest

Both can be experienced at the top of One Tree Hill where the Oak of Honor grows a few metres from one of the finest views over London. The current Oak of Honor was planted in 1905 to replace a much older oak that reputedly had the ‘honor’ of shading Queen Elizabeth I who passed this way en route to Lewisham… The walk also leads through the flatter ground of Crofton Park and Brockley where trees planted by the inspirational grassroots charity, Street Trees for Living can be found.


There are of course many, many more trees to see on each of these routes, and they are detailed in the book. As well as hundreds of photos and dozens of features, the book contains detailed OS maps to aid your passage.

If these half dozen arboreal stars have whetted your appetite, look out for the next six trees which I’ll be posting in a week or so. And if you would like to get hold of the book in the meantime, it’s available from all the usual places including Bookshop.org and NHBS, and I have signed copies available too.

And if you’re wondering about the Canary palm… it’s outside Hackney Town Hall and can be seen on the London’s Urban Arboretum walk.

Categories
Books Street Trees Urban landscape

London’s Street Trees gets an update!

Three years ago, my book, London’s Street Trees was published. Since then it’s been through three print-runs and has been the subject of kind comments and favourable reviews. And today, I’m very pleased to announce that a new, expanded and fully revised edition has been published by Safe Haven Books.



Tree Nut: One former Islington urban forester clearly had a thing for C
aucasian Wingnuts, planting dozens of these huge, spreading trees across London’s most densely populated borough

In that first edition, I calculated around 300 species and cultivars could be found on the streets of London. I have since discovered Hackney alone has over 350. And while that borough has the most remarkable and diverse collection of street trees in London, there are still species not present on its streets that can be found elsewhere: Islington has over 100 Caucasian Wingnuts, there’s at least one rare Catalina Ironwood in Chelsea and a handful of Cork Oaks in Southwark. 

This new edition is larger in every way – it’s physically bigger, has more pages and includes more tree species. It also includes hundreds of new photographs, the result of three years of my continued obsession with London’s trees.

Rare fruit: A persimmon ripening on a Stoke Newington street tree

But just as the number of species has increased (a decade from now I would not be surprised to count upwards of 500 species and cultivars), so has Londoners’ interest in them. What began as the novel idea of one or two guided walks to inspect the street trees is now, nearly three years later, a regular activity. Even in the current health emergency, I have been able to harness the latest technology and lead virtual walks allowing people to join from all over the world. Above all, I report how Londoners are raising funds to plant their own streets with resplendent species like Persian Silk Tree, a species admired in the pages of this new edition.

Anything but: Plane trees mature into handsome trees that define London

The diversity of today’s urban forest is relatively new. A century ago, A. D. Webster wrote in ‘London Trees’ that ‘nothing very remarkable is to be found in the way of street trees in London.’ Sixty per cent, he estimated, were London Planes, then the height of arboreal fashion. Now, it’s only around 3%. But that is because the overall number and diversity of trees has increased dramatically, not because we have lost thousands of Planes. So, to Webster’s generation, and those before him, we owe a debt of gratitude for the mature giants that now define this city, and the very desire to plant street trees at all. It was only fifty years earlier that the first street trees were systematically planted along the Embankment. Now it would be hard to imagine London, or indeed any city, without them.

We could think of the last 150 years as a great experiment, and one we are still engaged in. The pace of change in the urban forest is rapid. The humble Field Maple, the glamorous American Sweetgum and the rare Paper Mulberry thrive in what appear pretty unfavourable conditions. 

Space invader: Trees of Heaven, once the favoured tree of Bermondsey’s tree planting heroine, Ada Salter, are now a notoriously invasive species

Of earlier species like poplars, by contrast, only aged examples of these magnificent billowing trees can be seen on the street. The attractive, fast-growing Tree of Heaven was once commonplace in places like Bermondsey, but its propensity to jump ship and opportunistically take up residence wherever it can has made urban foresters less keen on what was once considered a wonder tree. But as the looming climate emergency makes the benefits of trees in cities more obvious, one of the most remarkable, and hopeful, things I’ve noticed is just how fast trees can grow on London’s streets. In just a few years, a vulnerable sapling can transform itself into a confident adult tree. 

Then again, since this book first came out – Sheffield happened. Campaigners had to fight a long battle to save hundreds of magnificent, mature street trees from the axe. It shows, I think, just how much we value our urban trees, and how far we are prepared to go to protect them.

Street trees reflect the aspirations of a city, the conditions of the present and our legacy for the future. In London, grand oaks and planes offer a direct connection with the glories and inequalities of its past; exotic Olives and Crêpe Myrtles celebrate our multicultural world city as well as its changing climate, while Tulip Trees, Dawn Redwoods and Ginkgos will grace our streets for generations to come. I hope you enjoy discovering them all.  


If you’d like to buy a copy of the new edition, it is available from Amazon, direct from Safe Haven and from me too!


Categories
London is a Forest Urban landscape

Trekking through the urban forest

In August last year I walked through Epping Forest from Epping tube station to Chingford. It’s an amazing walk with incredible beech pollards and prehistoric earthworks, musclebound hornbeams and rare wild crab apple trees to be seen along the way. It’s just a section from one of the trails through London, from the greenbelt to the inner city, I describe in my new book, ‘London is a Forest‘, published by Quadrille Books on 2nd May.

London is a Forest Endpapers trails
Trail Mix: The six forest trails in London is a Forest

As well as Epping to London Fields (its eventual destination), I walked five other urban forest trails, High Barnet to Barbican, Erith to Canary Wharf, Richmond Park to Westminster, Croydon to Deptford and Tower Bridge to Heathrow.

GPS coordinates for dozens of landmarks and fascinating individual trees have been included in each trail, allowing them to be plotted. I hope this book will hold as much appeal for intrepid explorers armed with phone, map and compass, as for those who prefer the comfort of an armchair or a seat on the tube. Along the trails, I attempt to outline what the forest is and how it takes the form that it does. I explore the rich diversity and interdependence of species through the fragile and entangled relationships between places, plants and animals, including us humans. 

Of course, today’s urban forest has been shaped over many centuries, and I have included insights and anecdotes about the history, heritage, ideas and people that have influenced it too.

The trails have been turned into beautiful graphics by Fieldwork Facility, and feature as the end papers from the book, and each landmark has been plotted on a Google Map. In the book, these appear as GPS coordinates in the margin, so the truly adventurous might follow the trails independently. And here’s the map:

Want to read more? You’ll have to wait until 2nd May when the book will be published, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon or Waterstones.

Categories
Street Trees Urban landscape

The London Street Tree Publishing Event of the Year, Possibly

I have an announcement to make: my book, ‘London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest’ will be published by Safe Haven Books at the end of May 2017.

Final Cover hi-res

This book documents my own journey of discovery, not just of the great variety of London’s street trees, but also their fascinating stories. I’m extremely pleased to include a Foreword from London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who will face the challenge of improving our air quality during his term in office, I’m sure that planting many more trees in the city will be part of the solution.

To quote A.D. Webster, who wrote the – dare I say – ground-breaking book London Trees; Being an Account of the Trees That Succeed in London, with a Descriptive Account of Each Species and Notes on Their Comparative Value and Cultivation. With Guide to Where the Finest London Trees May Be Seen in 1920: ‘Nothing very remarkable is to be found in the way of street trees in London.’ Nearly a century later I can confidently report that this is no longer the case. I have counted well over 150 distinct species, and at least another 150 cultivars or varieties. I am sure there are many more than this and I am also sure this number will only increase.

Londoners need only walk a few minutes from their front doors to encounter a hugely diverse and endlessly fascinating urban forest. My book is a celebration of the forest, its diversity and its beauty. It is a guide to the many unexpected, even improbable, species to be found around the capital, from Anerley to Walthamstow, and an attempt to shed light on things many of us never knew about the trees on our streets.

Most people will be aware of London’s own eponymous street tree, the London Plane – in itself unique among cities – and no doubt many could recognise one, but according to the London i-tree eco project report, Plane trees account for less than 3% of London’s street trees. I hope this book will go some way to helping you identify the other 97%.

Here’s a few spreads from the book to whet your appetite:

Chequer This Out: Wild Service Trees can be found on London’s streets

Feature Rich: One of many articles about the urban forest
Trail Mix: One of four London street tree trails

You may want to read more, if so, you’ll have to wait until the end of May, but you can pre-order on these sites:

Amazon

Book Depository

Waterstones

I hope to do some events around the publish date including walks and talks which I will announce on Twitter closer to the time.