Dr Tim Cutler reviews our choice of book - and tells us about his beloved Physic Garden
In 1996 Thomas Pakenham enthralled us with his "Meetings with Remarkable Trees". This was a new kind of book which owed little to conventional botany. The criteria for selection and inclusion of the trees were size, age and personality, and he selected 60 magnificent specimens, all with a story to tell, photographed by himself in wonderful settings in the UK and Ireland.
This time, in "Remarkable Trees of the World" the theme continues, but on a global scale! If you have not been lucky enough to have been given this beautiful book for Christmas I do urge you to go out and buy one immediately.
In this book of 190 pages, richly illustrated with photographs of breathtaking quality, Mr Pakenham shows us another 60 carefully selected trees from round the globe. His inspiration for this new volume came from two sources: firstly, the sight of the huge Pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) which dominates the main street in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, an island off north east USA, and secondly a trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, where he clearly developed a love affair with the giant Baobabs (Adansonia). Indeed, many pages are devoted to these weird giants which range from Botswana to Australia, and especially the magnificent Avenue of the Baobabs at Morondava, Madagascar. The final photograph in the book of these trees at sunset is unforgettable.
This really is a wonderful selection of trees to delight us all. It includes the oldest living trees on earth - the bristlecone pines of California (Pinus longaeva), magnificent camphor trees in South Africa (Cinnamomum camphora), a spectacular Magnolia grandiflora in an equally spectacular courtyard in Padua, venerable olives in Turkey, huge mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in Australia, and so many more. What pleasure he must have had in tracking down these specimens and in photographing them so well.
This book is such a delight to pick up and browse through at random. It provides an instant escape from the gloom of the world’s current problems and is the next best thing to actually hugging the tree yourself. I do hope we will not have to wait too long for "Even More Remarkable Trees of the World" and trust Mr Pakenham is on the trail of the next 60 trees even now.
Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Price £25.00. ISBN 0-297-84300-1
A Garden for Tree Lovers in London
The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673. Pisa University had opened the first physic garden in Europe in 1543, and in 1621 the first one in Britain was founded in Oxford. Physic gardens were essentially training grounds for physicians and apothecaries, as plants were the major source of medicines (and many still are), and these gardens provided a protected environment where the plants could be grown and instruction in their use could take place. In time, most of these gardens have come to be known as "Botanic" gardens and only Chelsea, with its strong tradition of medicinal teaching and research, has retained its original title.
The Society of Apothecaries chose their site of 3.5 acres (2 hectares) in a riverside village which already had notable gardens and orchards surrounding the great houses that had belonged to Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Sir John Danvers and other prominent men. We have to visualise Chelsea then without Wren’s Royal Hospital, without the Kings Road as a public highway, and as a place only safely and conveniently accessible by river. This certainly influenced the choice of site for the Garden, with steps at its southern gate approached by boat. No doubt the inherent qualities of the site - its free draining soil, its shallow south facing slope - also played their part. If the spread of London has today engulfed this once rural setting, and left it a trapped "green island" in a sea of buildings, these buildings themselves provide added protection, radiating heat in winter and keeping out chilling winds, so creating a micro-climate which enables rare and tender plants to thrive.
The Garden is trapezoidal, with Royal Hospital Road to the north-west, Swan Walk on its north-east and the Embankment to the south-east. The main buildings and glasshouses are at the north end and major paths divide the Garden into unequal quadrants. Many medicinal and other useful plants are grown in the traditional area at the north end. Systematic order beds occupy the south-east quadrant. The formality of the design is diversified by fine and rare trees. In the north-east quadrant the largest outdoor olive tree (Olea europea) in Britain grows happily, near to a large cork oak (Quercus suber). This sector also has a large pomegranate (Punica granatum) growing with its back to the sunny west-facing wall. Other trees of note in this area include the Caucasian Wingnut (Pterocarya fraxinifolia), white and black Mulberries a large Catalpa, a Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) and a magnificent Magnolia grandiflora. The north-west quadrant contains borders of historical interest, with plants relating to several famous previous Curators. Trees in this area include a Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Zelkova serrata, Zanthoxylum, Ehretia dicksonii and a Northern pitch pine (Pinus rigida).
The south-west quadrant contains the newly refurbished cool fernery, which contains many rare and endangered species of ferns, and a nearby a large collection of grasses and bamboos. Important trees in this area include the Chinese persimmon (Diospyrus kaki), two maidenhair trees (Gingko biloba) - the tallest in the Garden, the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), the paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), with common and black Walnuts and many more.
In the south-east quarter stands a fine Yew, and other trees of interest in the quarter are the Kentucky Coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioica), the Date Plum (Diospyros lotus), the Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) and a fine Swamp Cypress beside the pond.
In total, the Garden can boast over 130 trees, so I have only listed a few of the vast selection that the visitor can admire and study.
The Garden is well worth a visit, whether one is interested in medicinal plants or trees. There are helpful printed guidebooks available, and knowledgeable guides run Garden tours, when the Garden is open to the public on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons from April to October.
For more details, phone 0207 352 5646 or write for membership information to:
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS