Oliver Rackham

The Man Who Plants Trees, by Jim Robbins – review

Remember the ‘Plant a Tree in ’73’ campaign? Forty years on, has anyone inquired into what happened to all those trees and how many are still alive? Since then, planting amenity trees has grown into an industry, and turns out to have its down sides. One is that little trees are imported in industrial quantities

The Tradescants’ Orchard, by Barry Juniper – review

Elias Ashmole, fortune-hunter, scholar and collector, bequeathed his coins, curiosities and books in 1692 to form the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The books were later taken over by the Bodleian Library. One of them is called The Tradescants’ Orchard, from a tenuous association with John Tradescant I, Keeper of Gardens, Vines and

Of knowledge, life, good and evil

The British Museum contains more about trees than one might expect: trees in paintings, drawings, sculpture, and all kinds of small artefacts of wood and bark. Frances Carey, sometime Deputy Keeper of Prints and Drawings, discusses trees as viewed through the collections. She deals not with trees themselves — for that one goes to the

Leaves on the line

What is happening to trees in Britain? Horse chestnuts now turn brown in July. A microscopic caterpillar eats out the green insides of the leaves; only the outer skins remain. Horse chestnuts also weep dried blood from their bark, and sometimes the huge trees spectacularly die. Alders have been weeping bloody tears and dying. Newspapers

Seeing the wood from the trees

This book is a work of art by an artistic photographer. It deals mainly with a large minority of the world’s trees whose bark, as the trunk expands, peels off in pretty patterns: snake-bark maples, arbutuses and the like, as well as the familiar London plane. The author has travelled all over the world to

Animals without Backbones

What is a Bug? For this book, any animal that is not a Beast: the whole invertebrate realm, from the humble amoeba, through insects (more than half the book), to octopuses and sea-squirts (the distant forbears of you and me, lords and ladies of creation). Its scope, as with Flora Britannica and Birds Britiannica, is

Long live the weeds and the wilderness

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane Robert Macfarlane is a Cambridge don, Fellow in English at Emmanuel College, with an artistic eye for wild and lonely places. He was a friend and follower of Roger Deakin, whose last book I reveiwed three weeks ago. Deakin swam in strange waters; Macfarlane sleeps — or spends the

Child of the New Forest

Roger Deakin was a swimmer, old-fashioned socialist, carpenter, broadcaster, tree-planter, chair-bodger, ‘quasi-hippie’, art critic, naturalist, Cambridge graduate, traveller, north-east Suffolk man, champion of local individuality, anti-globaliser and explorer of the links between nature and culture. (Guess how many of these attributes he shared with this reviewer.) He founded Common Ground, the organisation that gave the

All roots and branches

This book covers all the trees that now live or have ever lived: what they are, how they function, how they grow, their relation to environment, plants, animals, and the human species. It is full of curious information, traditional and recent: there are fascinating new developments in long-familiar stories, such as the part played by

Trees with personality

The English have loved ancient trees for centuries, have celebrated them in story and poetry, have given them names, sung songs and danced dances in their honour, have invested them with railings, plaques and chains. Artists and photographers have tried to portray special trees, along with special horses, people and pigs: notably Strutt in 1822