Tag Archives: Roger Deakin



IMG_4606Bronze green and 23.5 carat gold railings, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

It has been a hard, grey start to the year. Just as spring is on its way I have been struck down with every kind of cold and reduced to spending many hours doing very little on the sofa.

I am cheered up by a splendid parcel of single snowdrops in the green from the charismatic Cambo Estate near St Andrews – see my October 2015 post on Cambo.

The snowdrop bulbs are wrapped in perfectly moist moss and then wrapped again in sheets of Cambo’s own newspaper. The cheery assertion that the Cambo Courier is ‘Scotland’s Leading Snowdrop Newspaper’ makes me smile and is clearly the tonic I had been missing.


Whilst sofa bound I wander dreamily over Scottish mountainsides and remote moorland courtesy of Robert Macfarlane’s passionate book about the powerful relationship between language and place, Landmarks.


In Landmarks Macfarlane describes the work of the writers whose “books have taught me to write, but also …to see”. I am already a fan of his beloved Roger Deakin, but I am riveted by Jaquetta Hawkes, a bisexual, icy, daring, Primrose Hill academic who “knew she had had written an unclassifiable work” with her 1951 bestseller A Land – a combination of geology/anthropology/history/literature “flamboyant enough”, writes Macfarlane, “that I can imagine it re-performed as a rock opera”. Another passionate introduction is to Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) who spent hundreds of days and thousand of miles exploring the Cairngorns on foot. Macfarlane’s enthusiasm for Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain, is intoxicating. “The Living Mountain is thick with the kinds of acute perception that come only from staying up (in a certain place) ‘for a while’. ‘Birch needs rain to release its odour’ Shepherd notes. ‘It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day one can be as good as drunk with it'”. “I had never noticed the ‘odour of the birches’ ” comments Macfarlane “but now cannnot be in a stand of birch trees on a rainy summer’s day without smelling its Courvoisier whiff”.

Threaded throughout Landmarks are collections of words – some regional, some technical, some poetic – which precisely describe an aspect of landscape in a way which stimulates and enriches. A tiny sample of my favourites:

clock-ice: ice cracked and crazed by fissures, usually brought about by the pressure of walkers or skaters, Northamptonshire.

smirr: extremely fine, misty rain, close to smoke in appearance when seen from a distance, Scots.

endolphins: swimmers’ slang for the natural opiates (endorphins) relaeased by the body on contact with cold water (Roger Deakin, poetic).

Shockingly, just as Macfarlane comes across the Peat Glossary (a treasure trove of collected terms for elements of moorland on the Isle of Lewis) he is made aware of extraordinary deletions from the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words “no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood” included “acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, willow”. Replacement words included “attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, cut-and-paste”. Clearly room must be made for new terms which form part of contemporary life, but it is chilling to think that a dictionary effectively endorses the idea that a modern day child does not need to also describe an acorn, a young swan, a catkin.

emmaFirst Court, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

And so I find myself in the middle of March in the middle of Cambridge – I am an Open Day escort for a child who no longer uses a junior dictionary. I feel that the first place I should head once I have dropped him off is Emmanuel College for, when not roaming rainy hillsides, Dr Robert Macfarlane enjoys this immaculate and elegant environment in his role as Director of Studies for English. He happily acknowledges the irony: “Cambridge is, unmistakably, a curious place for someone who loves mountains to have ended up. I live in a country so flat (as the old joke goes) you could fax it”.

Flat it is and quite a jolt after the world of Landmarks. It is nonetheless an ordered, uplifting space and must be a brilliant place to think and work. I admire the expanses of cobbled path, the elegant yellow stone architecture and perfectly striped lawn. I am particularly taken by these stone curlicued lawn corners:


Decorative stone lawn corners

A serene colonnade divides First Court from the extensive gardens beyond but – despite the luxury of green space/benches/ponds – I am disappointed by a slightly heavy, municipal gardening style after the crispness of the first courtyard.

IMG_1603Emmanuel College, colonnade

There is a moment of sugary prettiness – low-slung pink cherry, pink bergenia, and darker pink hellebore (plus white van):

cherry bergenia and hellebore white van Pink cherry, bergenia and hellebore

And across the pond, bright white silver birch trunks and the ornamental plum blossom – Prunus cerasifera – make a handsome pair – but the rest could be a park pretty much anywhere.

cherry silver birch

I am happier in the First Court of Christ’s College – a masterclass in training plants perfectly to cloth buildings. None of the plants are unusual, but they are all grown very well and work hard to add another layer of texture and life to their privileged framework.christs                                         First Court, Christ’s College, Cambridge

Here a ballgown of a Magnolia grandiflora bulges glossily in the corner adding light and evergreen richness to the scene. To the right of the doorway a gnarled, sculptural wisteria frames a set of eight windows and will look spectacular in a few weeks’ time. christs                       Magnolia grandiflora and wisteria, Christ’s College, Cambridge

wisteriaTrained wisteria, First Court, Christ’s College Cambridge

On a shadier wall a Hydrangea petiolaris is a chunky three dimensional presence framing a pair of windows. The feisty, surprisingly long, green buds are just beginning to smatter the russet mass of branches with dashes of bright green.

mystery plant christs

On the opposite wall a Jasminum nudiflorum looks great too – shaggy, green-stemmed and dancing with illuminating star-shaped yellow flowers:

jasminum nudiflorum nudiflorum close up

Jasminum nudiflorum, Frist Court, Christ’s College, Cambridge

And further along a hard pruned wall-trained Chaenomeles – flowering quince – is beginning to glow with scarlet flowers:

chaenomeles chaenomeles 2Wall trained Chaenomeles – flowering quince, First Court, Christ’s College, Cambridge

Perhaps my favourite of the wall trained plants is this delicate Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’. The apricot flowers from red calyces really do add tiny points of light to their sober stone backdrop.  ‘Kentish Belle’ will only ever grow to about 3 metres, probably less, and is semi evergreen. It should flower from June to November but, in a sheltered position like this, will hold onto its leaves and flower perpetually. A not particularly fashionable plant – but one we should definitely use more often.



abutilon close up

Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’, First Court, Christ’s College, Cambridge.

I nip into Pembroke College. Most of the garden is looking hard-pruned and shut down until spring, but I like the wave-like mounding shrubs that form a run against the Chapel wall and note the classic combination of Viburnum davidii and Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna that nestle so comfortably around the sculpture of William Pitt.

willliam pitt pembroke william pitt pembroke

Pembroke College Chapel with close up of Vibrunum davidii and Sarcococca hookeriana at the base of the Pitt sculpture.

I walk over to Clare just to admire the brilliant bulb-spangled grass verges that I know will be there. I am not disappointed. As well as the neatest sheafs of Narcissus ‘February Gold’, there are crocus, powder blue Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’ and the richer royal blue of the tiny star shaped, Chionodoxa lucilae. Of the latter, Christine Skelmersdale of specialist bulb suppliers Broadleigh Bulbs, writes “in the spring tapestry there has to be something to tie it altogether and these little bulbs do just that”.





Path leading to Clare College, Cambridge with bulb rich grass verges on either side

I am smitten yet again by the elegant stone balustrade and cobbled shadows of Clare College Bridge in combination with the two razor-sharp yew domes of the Scholars’ Garden beyond.

IMG_1540 IMG_1543View across Clare College Bridge to the Scholars’ Garden

Peering into the Scholars Garden itself the yews continue to be a distinguished and brilliantly sculptural presence. I ache slightly to be here so early in the year. The borders are prepared and mulched and just waiting for the seasons to progress:IMG_1547 empty border                                         Scholars’ Garden, Clare College, Cambridge

My walk takes me past a tree that fills the shadowy space between the west end of King’s College Chapel and the wrought iron gates. The tree is Prunus ‘Taihaku’ – the great white cherry.   Sarah Raven wrote an excellent piece for The Telegraph about this tree in 2001. Her father was a don at King’s and she describes the way the tree “glows” with its ‘”huge, pure white, straight-edged flowers … as if lit from inside”.  For now the tree is a hardened winter network of fine branches which play lightly against the lacy architecture of King’s Chapel. It is exciting to think of the transformation of this space next month.

IMG_1548 IMG_4539Prunus ‘Taihaku’ against King’s College Chapel, Cambridge
2399222517_25aea94968Prunus ‘Taihaku’ flowers

From this point on, Cambridge is at its headiest with brilliantly different architectural styles coming at you from every direction. I walk past the intricate, sandy-stoned, 16th Century Gate of Honour belonging to my old college, Gonville and Caius:

IMG_1550Gate of Honour, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

In huge contrast is the neighbouring Senate House – formal, white, austere with a completely plain lawn and vast Roman Urn – a 19th Century bronze copy of the ‘Warwick Vase’ from Hadrian’s Villa Tivoli. I smile at the extremely neat, elongated shadow the urn casts on the enormous lawn:


IMG_4546Senate House, Cambridge, with Bronze copy of the Warwick Vase

Immediately next to this, the looming shape of King’s College Chapel is perfectly echoed by the surging dome of a two hundred year old horse chestnut tree. A magnificent pair when the horse chestnut is in its skeletal winter guise, but how much lovelier when the chestnut is in leaf and laden with its candle-like flowers?kings 2 CROCUS UNDER HORSES                                 Kings College Chapel and Horse Chestnut tree

I head to the Fitzwilliam Museum – just to turn the screw a little on the memory lane experience – but before I go in I am thrown by the outrageously glamorous green and gold pineapple railings which guard the stone balustraded entrance. Had I really never noticed these before? I am relieved to discover that the railings were only repainted in their “original livery of bronze green with 23.5 carat gold leaf ornaments” in 2014 having been quietly painted black for decades. The railings, I tell you, are now some of the finest you will ever have the pleasure to see.


IMG_4608Bronze green and 23.5 carat gold railings, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

I have just enough time to step into ‘Crawling with Life: Flower Drawings from the Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest’. The exhibition is held in an enclosed cabinet-like exhibition space and contains just a small number of exquisite 17th and 18th Century drawings of flowers – with their accompanying insects.

There is a feeling of dark playfulness in the air – it is like entering a sedate drawing room where you discover that no one is quite as respectable as they initially seem to be. Jacob Marel’s ‘Venetian Glass Goblet with Flowers and Insects’ is radiant with spring colour but the jewel-like insects which lace themselves slightly secretively throughout the composition have an unsettling effect.

IMG_4570 IMG_4576

Marel open wicker basket Venetian Glass Goblet with Flowers and Insects, Jacob Marel, 1634, plus a detail from ‘An Open Wicker Basket of Flowers with a Frog and Insects, Jacob Marel, Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest, Fitzwilliam Museum

There is a more clinical, very handsome, series of drawings of carniverous plants by George Ehret including this unnervingly stolid drawing of a Stapelia – the carrion flower – a South African plant that generates the odour of rotten flesh to attract specialist pollinators.

IMG_4565Stapelia, George Dionysius Ehret, 1765, Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest, Fitzwilliam Museum

But from the moment I enter the exhibition my eyes are drawn to the pair of drawings by the Dietzsch sisters whose shared style of adding layers of opaque and semi opaque water-based pigments over a blackish ground results in powerfully quiet, almost ghostly paintings that tell knowingly of the fleetingness of life:

IMG_4581Primula auricula with a Clouded Yellow Butterfly, Barbara Regina Dietzsch (1706-1783), Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest, Fitzwilliam Museum

IMG_4584Common dandelion with a garden tiger moth, Margaretha Barbara Dietzsch (1726-1795), Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest, Fitzwilliam Museum

It is nearly time to retrieve Arthur. A quick misty-eyed glimpse at the bike-cluttered History of Art faculty which was pretty much my home for a couple of years.

IMG_4601History of Art Faculty, Cambridge

I am struck by the delightful difference in mood struck by the History of Art department’s fading nameplate against peeling stucco and the action-man (albeit of a certain era) stainless-steel-against-brick lettering of the Engineering faculty next door.

history of art









History of Art Faculty nameplate

IMG_4605Department of Engineering nameplate

I am less misty-eyed that the favourite café for art historians and architects has changed its name from Martins – to Hot Numbers.


No time to sneak off to the Botanical Gardens with its glasshouses, dry garden, scented garden and systematic beds which will be soft with mulch and ready for the spring – but just time to tell you about my husband’s traumatic experience aged about 7 and at school in Cambridge.  An exciting outing was proposed to the MECHANICAL GARDENS –  how disappointed was he to find himself with a day of looking at trees and shrubs in the Cambridge BOTANICAL GARDENS.

IMG_1619Cambridge Botanic Garden Systematic Beds (grouped in plant families) – I only went in for a moment!

I meet up with Arthur by a railing smothered timelessly in University posters. He has emerged appropriately and unashamedly excited by the idea of tackling ‘ridiculously difficult’ German poetry and agrees cheerfully to visit one more garden on the walk back to the station.

IMG_4609Poster smothered railing, Cambridge.

On Trumpington Street, next to Peterhouse College, we scoot in to the almost always open gardens of Little St Mary’s Church. You know you are onto a good thing when a Church sets a playful tone on page one of its website “Why ‘Little?’ Because down the road is the well known University Church, Great St Mary’s. We are smaller, but higher”.

This tiny semi-wild churchyard is a magical place, a listed City WIldlife site and brilliant because it is specifically gardened to nurture the feeling of wildness and seclusion.

mary 1Path leading into Little St Mary’s Churchyard
mary 4 foxgloveGravestone with foxgloves

mary 4 graveMoss covered tomb seen through a screen of winter branches

mary 6 petasitesmary 7 petasites pathNarrow curving paths through lush heart-shaped leaves of Petasites fragrans

mary 9Soaring yew and magnolia against the Church

IMG_4610Roses, Philadelphus and yew share the space with ancient headstones

The transformation into this romantic and informal garden was masterminded by Robert Lachlan  – a former churchwarden, Fellow of Trinity and distinguished mathematician. In 1925 the churchyard had become derelict. Lachlan used fragmented or fallen headstones to create a series of gently winding interlocking paths which entice the visitor to explore. Species roses and other flowering shrubs were planted to live alongside wild strawberry and sweet violet and the tradition of a secret garden, where the more invasive plants are kept in sufficient check to allow other plants to flourish, was begun.

mary 10 grave path

mary 11 grave pathHeadstones used as steps and path

The air throughout the garden is heady with scent from a champion Sarcococca confusa and there is a feeling of thoughtful layers to the planting, careful placing of benches, cherishing of new plants. A quiet example of this is the fleet of gravestones running down the side of the church, each with a small cloak of snowdrops floating steadily in its wake.

mary final little fleet snow dropsA fleet of gravestones each with a small cloak of snowdrops floating steadily in its wake.

Applying to Cambridge these days is as hard a mountain to climb as any Northern peak tackled by Dr Macfarlane. But for everyone who succeeds, this would be an excellent secret place to disappear to once in a while.

IMG_1664 (3)Dancing seedheads against late afternoon light, Little St Mary’s Churchyard, Cambridge.




We are excited in our Camberwell kitchen – one of my twin sons has spotted that a movie of Sondheim’s wonderful, funny and of course ultimately dark musical, ‘Into the Woods’ opens – with Meryl Streep! – on Christmas Day. We are all fans and both twins know that singing the hilarious Princes’ song ‘Agony’ (when the two Princes moan about not being able to secure the hands of Rapunzel and Cindarella respectively despite their undoubted marvellousness) will be obligatory (from my point of view, anyway) at some significant party or other in the future.


Still from Disney’s 2014 “Into the Woods”

Outside the days are getting shorter and the world is turning rust and gold. Fired up by dreams of woodland adventures I am keen to put on my coat and get a blast of it.  But like all journeys into the woods, the path to the magical world in my head is not always an easy one.

A week ago today I am chauffering the same twin through the Essex countryside, agonisingly, (yes indeed), late for an audition.  As we finally leave the A road, the mist thickens and starts to rise softly about us. At the same time the red-rust of the black limbed oaks and the yellow-gold chainmail of stands of mature beech seem to loom more richly from the swirling gloom. Old fashioned wooden signposts emerge from the haze, directing us to ‘Flatford Mill’ and ‘East Bergholt’.  I have unexpectedly found myself in Constable country! I am surrounded by exquisite, lacy, rust coloured woodland against the dreamy palour of a fading November afternoon.  My camera is in the car, my heart is racing … but so is my son’s and nervous snatches of a Handel aria remind me that we need to press on to his appointment in a chilly school hall a few miles further on.

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by  John Constable

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Constable

I mark out a day the following week to try again.  I remember a trip to the Valley Gardens near Windsor, years ago, when I was studying Plants and Plantsmanship at the English Gardening School.  I have a vivid image of  a rather wonderful basin like parkland with groups of fantastic orange berried Sorbus trees and crab apples with jewel coloured fruit …

I decide to visit the neighbouring Savill Garden first – a serious and richly planted garden – famous for its Magnolias and rhododendrons in the spring and early summer – at its most ideal, a testament to plant hunters past and present.  I will not bore you for too long with the layers of my disappointment: the grim lunch – a  chilly tuna roll on its huge porcelain tray of a plate with a little mound of garnish – lost and lonely – at one end, the aggressive entry and exit procedure which makes you feel as if you are in a heavily bureacratic airport and not about to enter a world of natural wonder:

intercom line engaged

The non stop retail opportunities and bland ‘garden guide’ with attractive seasonal photos and not enough excitement about what is currently happening in the garden and important plants not to miss.


By the time you get into the garden the tightly manicured paths make even the stands of fine birches look like props for an expensive railway set. Ihorrid rubbber treeThe extremely tidy Savill Garden

But like a teenager who has just managed to reach the peak of annoyance, the garden suddenly produces moments that make my heart melt.  As I look back up to the main building, a proud swathe of majestic Fagus syvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’ glint and cast elegant shadows in the winter sun:

Dawyk gold x 5A majestic stand Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’

Then a glade ofJapanese maples in the smallish Autumn garden begins to make me smile.  I love the open spreading form of this pair of yellow leaved Acer palmatum. Although a newly planted tree may take many years to grow to this size, it is so worth leaving space around it.  Planting in pairs  – and in turn giving the pair space –  can be very beautiful too.

acer establishA pair of yellow leaved Japanese Maples

Close up I get a satisfying whiff of fairy tale as I admire the cinnamon tinge of the neat, star-shaped leaves.

anna's ginger ginger thin 2 I am reminded of the delicious spiced biscuits which my boys loved as children – and still do now, when I happen to buy some – ‘Anna’s Ginger Swedish Thins’


Nearby, a wonderful Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’ has brilliant pink petioles and pink veins in contrast to the butter yellow of the leaf:

IMG_8245Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’

And a little further into the woods I am startled by the depth of red against black of straight Acer palmatum. For a near guarantee of such a brilliant red, tree specialists Bluebell Nursery recommend Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’.

acer palmatum how red is redAcer palmatum

For me Japanese Acers have always been like high heeled shoes – something too tricky to bother with, to be enjoyed by other people but probably never by me.  Bluebell Nursery has comforting advice, however, clearly explaining on their website some things l already knew – that Japanese maples “prefer a situation sheltered from the most severe wind, that they are more sun tolerant than some maples but appreciate a little shade if possible” – and then reminding me of the magic trick required to enjoy their rich colours wherever you garden: “The autumn colours of many maples, especially selections of Acer palmatum, is very dependent on the pH (acidity / alkalinity) of the soil. They prefer lime free soil, so here (in Ashby de la Zouch, Derbyshire), on our almost neutral ground, we are applying an annual dressing of sulphur granules round our maples at the rate of 1 or 2 oz per square yard, to make the soil more acid, and year by year the intensity of the autumn colour increases”. Aha!

One last treat before I make my way out of here – the blazing red-orange foliage of Sorbus sargentiana. Sorbus – or Mountain Ash – are arguably much fussier about growing conditions than Acers.  They are happiest on fertile, well-drained soil – indeed think mountain slope – with moist summers (as drying out is hopeless) and yet damp soil around roots in winter is not appreciated either. If you have the right conditions this small, slow-growing tree, famous for its plump, sticky, crimson buds in spring, is a wonderful choice.

saville sorbus against sky

Sorbus sargentiana

Once in the Valley Gardens itself, I feel freer but again it is hard to feel immersed in the hugely spacious parkland or find particular specimens as the emphasis is on jolly not-very-well-labelled pram trails (well I think the best person to be when visiting this garden may be young parent pushing a buggy) rather than inspiring or well thought out directions to some of the wonderful trees.


The irritating and often illusive trail signs, Valley Gardens

But again it does not take me long to forget my crossness and no sooner have I left behind the rather splendid Obelisk – erected by King George II following the death of the Duke of Cumberland in 1765 who had contributed much to the landscaping here – I am quickly enchanted.

IMG_2336The Obelisk, The Valley Gardens

As I follow the path into the gardens, an avenue of fine columnar trees lures me forward.  The route is magnificently lined with enormous tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera – a majestic North American import, for very large scale gardens only.  They are called tulip trees for the yellow and green tulip shaped flower it bears in early summer – although do bear in mind that if you plant one tomorrow you may have to wait 20 -25 years until it flowers.

monumental tulipA curving avenue of tulip trees

single tulipA handsome tulip tree specimen

Tuliptree_flowerFlower of Liriodendron tulipifera

I love the way the now-golden, spade-shaped leaves flash and flap slowly and calmly in the light, as if they are on a very fine, magical hinges:

single winking tulipTulip tree leaf, November, Valley Gardens

A little later, one of my favourite Sorbus trees, Sorbus huphehensis catches my eye – I love its dull, rounded,metallic bronze foliage against the sky:

sorbus huphehensis gold blueSorbus huphehensis autumn foliage

And the handsome clusters of porcelain berries on dark pink stems:

sorbus huphensis fruit

Sorbus huphehensis fruits

Elsewhere there is a lovely young crab apple, Malus yunnanensis, with glowing foliage and red blushed yellow fruit:

malus yunnanensis establsihMalus yunnanensis

malus yunnanensisMalus yunnanensis fruit

But the trees really worth coming for today are again the acers – they are here in every shade from palest yellow tinged with pink and brown:IMG_8444to deeper yellows and oranges:IMG_8493To rich salmon:IMG_8481and soft crimson:

IMG_8459I love the colour contrasts between the swooping branches of two neighbouring, contrasting acers:

sweeping red and yellow acersweeping yellow with red burstThe contrast continues when the leaves have fallen to the ground:

Back in the Savill Garden there was a wonderful red leaved Acer palmatum next to a magnificent ballgown of a yellow leaved Parrotia persica and again the two sets of intertwined foliage (once you got right in underneath the branches) made for a dizzyingly beautiful pairing:

parrotia persica portriatRed leaves of Acer palmatum and the autumn yellow of Parrotia persica growing into each other

parrotia persica establishParrotia persica

Stepping back for a moment from the magnificent girth of the Parrotia – or Persian Ironwood  tree – I remember the wisdom of great planstman, Bernard Tickner who at 90 still gardens at the lovely Fullers Mill in the middle of the King’s Forest in Suffolk.   His advice to a young gardener is never to plant a Parrotia too close to a path.  In his sixty years of gardening he has never known a gardener who has not ended up having to move a path to accommodate his ever burgeoning specimen tree.

As I leave the Valley Gardens feeling better about, but not quite sated with, the autumn woodland, I soften one last time at the sight of huge bundles of mistletoe in a network of bare branches making great eerie patterns against the sky. IMmistletoe establsh

IMG_8511 Huge bundles of mistletoe amongst bare branches scratching out glowering monochrome patterns against the sky

Back in Camberwell for the weekend and the wettest Sunday anyone can believe.  It is my birthday and our house is excellently full of boys who have travelled home from both ends of the country.  The only solution is to stay inside,  light the fire, curl up and dream about trees from the comfort of my chair.

I wonder first at the the extraordinary way trees have entered our minds and have been used for centuries as a fundamental way to explain ideas and organise our thoughts.  Manuel Lima has found exquisite , often staggeringly inventive examples of this kind of thought mapping in his new book: ‘The Book of Trees, Visualising Branches of Knowledge’.Lima

One of the most memorable and beautiful examples is this delicate ‘visualisation of the words used in eight hundred of US president Barack Obama’s speeches from January 2009 to November 2011… words were sized according to the number of times they appeared and were plotted in an arboreal layout, with less frequently used words placed farther from the main trunk in a succession of increasingly smaller branches:

obama 2
But when I am tired of being fascinated by the agility of minds that can for example represent ‘the organisational structure of a company with roughly four thousand employees’ in a graphic, ‘hyperbolic tree format’ –  I turn back to my favourite of all books on trees, Roger Deakin’s’Wildwood’.
WildwoodIf you have not already read this wonderful, free, quite beautifully written book – it was published in 2007 so you may well have done so –  I would beg you to add it to your Christmas list, or if you have read it already, do as I did and read it again.  This is the real thing.  Here is a man who can explain better than anybody the wonder of sleeping outside under a tree, Roger Deakin is the warmest, most modest, open-eyed companion to take you with him to find the original apple trees in Kazakhstan and the most observant, respectful guide to the way the sculptor John Nash approaches his work with wood.  Anyone who can get you excited about the walnut veneer found on the finest Jaguar cars “Burrs are found only on large, old trees, perhaps one in a thousand. They are like pearls in oysters. The veneer used in Jaguars comes from the old walnut orchards of the valley of the Sacramento River in California …” is a true magician.

All too soon it is time for one of the boys to head off back up North to St Andrews where he is at University.  I remember the rather ethereal walk we took – and the eerily lit wild-looking tree we saw – the night before we dropped him off for the first time in early September.  Now this is the kind of tree I have been searching for all week. This is the kind of tree that draws you in and I am sure it is the kind of tree that has many a story to tell.


Windswept tree, Stirling, Scotland