It’s a constant disappointment to me that some people just don’t care about trees.

There are people with homes and families and responsibilities, the trappings of adult life, for whom trees are nothing more than an embellishment or an adornment.

An Alniaria, formerly a species of Sorbus, glows in the sun

I Love Trees

Have you ever stood at the bottom of a nice big tree and looked up? With winter arriving across much of the northern hemisphere it’s a good time to look up and marvel at the bare canopy of deciduous trees.

See how the mighty trunk splits into large branches, then these in turn split into smaller branches before splitting again into the fine twigs that bear the leaves.

Acer palmatums, or ‘Japanese Maples’, are famed throughout the world for their autumn colours

Looking at this naked skeleton in winter, it’s possible to really appreciate the natural architecture of trees. Of course if you do this in the autumn you might find yourself enjoying rich colours too.

Looking Forward

I have as little in common with the landowners of the 19th and early 20th centuries as a zebra has with a deer.

Their world was vastly different to mine. Society is coming to terms with the fact that some of the figures of the past were actually pretty obnoxious (sometimes by modern standards, sometimes by the standards of their time too). Regardless of status, contribution or general demeanour, when it comes to my enjoyment of trees I am grateful to them.

Cercidiphyllum, or ‘Katsura’, reaches for the sky

There was a time when anyone who was anyone had a big house and a collection of trees. The bigger and more diverse the collection, the higher the status compared to the neighbours.

It was the predecessor of the modern super-rich buying yachts, private jets and frighteningly expensive cars.

The legacy is that today we have old arboreta that people like you and me can enjoy.

Tree Zoo

I was once asked what an arboretum was.

“It’s a zoo for trees” I replied.

My throwaway comment made sense at the time, but now I’ve come to understand how accurate the idea of a ‘tree zoo’ really is.

A species of Euonymus, or ‘Spindle’, with pleasant pale autumn colouring

So many zoos and arboreta started out as collections for the amusement of people, but now they’re usually involved in conservation efforts too. Both have become scientific institutions involved with conservation of species in their natural habitat, or in situ conservation.

Go Visit!

One day I might suddenly become wealthy enough to have my own arboretum. I probably won’t, and even if I did then there is no way that I would live long enough to see my trees reach their full potential. By visiting an old arboretum I’m able to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s dream, and to enjoy the trees they are no longer here to enjoy.

The Dutch botanist Aljos Farjon described Pinus bungeana, an Asian ‘Lacebark Pine’ which develops beautiful bark over time, as a “tree to inherit or bequeath”; to a greater or lesser extent all trees are like this.

Anyone with space and money could plant an avenue like this, but you’d need to wait well over 100 years for it to reach this maturity

By visiting an arboretum and spending time among the trees we can ‘inherit’ trees planted by past generations. Granted we can’t take them home but we can walk along avenues of magnificent trees, listen to the breeze in their branches, marvel at their scale and form, and we can then go home without having to worry about the cost and responsibility of maintenance.

Outside the key spring and autumn seasons, the latter in particular, so many arboreta are barely visited. I’m as guilty of this as anyone (there’s an arboretum 20 minutes up the road but I haven’t visited for months), but I really should make amends for this transgression during 2024.

Hybrid maples, in this case Acer ‘Jeffersred’, brightening up an almost empty car park

I need to get out and look at trees.