LIME TREE MARIA IS THE WINNER! Thanks for playing. As I noted, I will be compiling many of these wonderful comments/tree stories into a tree post. 

Longtime Rant readers know the name of Amy Stewart as one of this blog’s original founders. But I have to assume many reading this know Stewart even better for her books on gardening and beyond. They include From the Ground Up, The Earth Moved, Flower Confidential, Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs, The Drunken Botanist and – maybe most of all – 7 detective novels based on a true story, the Kopp Sisters series, which began with Girl Waits with Gun.

The final two Kopp sisters books came out during the pandemic, with #7, Miss Kopp Investigates, appearing in 2021. And now Stewart’s returned to writing about gardening – in a way. I talked to her recently about her new book from Random House, The Tree Collectors. Its official release date is July 16, but you can order it now

“I took a break after finishing the Kopp Sisters books and spent a lot of time making art. Just trying to get through the day,” Stewart says, describing her life during the pandemic. She was also trying to figure out what her next project would be, but in the meantime, she got a lot better at doing the type of drawings that would work as book illustrations.

Anyone who’s been following Stewart on social media has noticed her drawings and paintings in watercolor, ink, gouache and oils – she’s been at this for a couple decades now and has a realistic, but free-spirited style.  It makes total sense that she is finally doing her own book illustrations. Illustration is clearly her preference – just look at Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants, which could have used photography, but instead have wonderful drawings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs.

The Tree Collectors is not really a plant book. It’s about plant obsessions, fascinations and avocations – how they emerge and how they’re expressed. The people in this book – which is arranged by types of collectors rather than by types of trees – tell the stories of how they began to notice trees, what type of trees attracted them most and – most interestingly – how – and, really, HOW – you get a tree collection going. Of course, not all of them keep all their trees together on their own property, though many do. For example, Sam Van Aken plants heirloom fruit trees on university campuses, public parks and public gardens  – all over the U.S.

Jimmy Shen photographs and catalogs gingkos. Dennis Wilson collects wood samples and belongs to the International Wood Collectors Society. Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia is a botanist/explorer. 

But many of those profiled in The Tree Collectors do collect trees. They have property, whether it be a private arboretum or a family estate. Some, on a smaller scale, get as many as they can onto a typical suburban lot. One, Dave Adams, is maintaining a palm collection in Boise, Idaho. Needless to say, there’s a lot of overwintering going on.

There are many, many examples of collection strategies, including some that are all about sharing the love of trees and improving the earth by adding more. There are also – Stewart is always helpful in this regard – annotated lists of tree collections that can be visited, interesting tree facts and famous tree people. 

It is an enthralling and beautiful book. The illustrations are bright and engaging – even poignant at times. 

“At first I thought it was going to be tree nerds–a maple person, a gingko person, a conifer person,” Stewart says. “But I started interviewing people and these interviews got to be extremely personal. People were telling me their life stories.”

That being said, according to Stewart,  tree collectors can be roughly categorized. “Tropical trees, conifers, oak, fruit or maples. Almost all tree collectors are one of those five.”

If she had to choose, Stewart would do conifers. For me, I would have to do maples – Acer Palmatum, that is.

Are you a tree collector? You don’t have to be to read and love this book.

Leave your thoughts on trees in comments and Random House will send a free copy of The Tree Collectors to a randomly (see what I did there) chosen commenter. The contest closes on Sunday, 7/07, 9 a.m. EST, BUT I may gather some comments to use in a follow-up post.