Wednesday, 12 October 2016

BOOKS: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Unlike arborists, who care for significant trees in parks, gardens and public amenities, silviculturists look after the care and general health of commercial forests leading up to the time of harvest. Their skills are diverse but are informed by closely observing the changes in their arboreal charges, season by season, decade after decade.

Image result for the hidden life of trees

Much has been written about the art of growing and caring for trees. It is not a new genre and authors have approached the subject in many different ways. The author of this book is a German silviculturist of thirty years standing, although he unpretentiously describes himself simply as a forester.

The Germans, in particular, have always had a close relationship with their trees and forests and this has imbued much of their national culture and identity. This book steers away from Romantic mythology and concentrates on what makes wild and cultivated forest trees and their ecosystems so dynamic and wonderful.

This could have been a dull work, but the author brings his subject alive with good writing. Although clearly acquainted with the latest academic research on trees and forest ecosystems, Wohlleben successfully treads the narrow path between accessible language and technically informed detail with apparent ease.

“I thank you, dear reader, for having explored some of the trees’ secrets with me – only people who understand trees are capable of protecting them.”

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Peter Wohlleben

Through the close examination of the tree species under his long-time charge in Germany (mostly beeches, oaks and conifers), Wohlleben observes how trees like to grow in natural forests. We learn how they communicate with each other through their roots (the ‘wood wide web’), and how ‘mother trees’ deliberately slow the development of their progeny so they don’t grow too quickly. We discover that these young plants ultimately develop stronger trunks and root systems this way which in time help guarantee a long life.

The author compares the slow start of forest trees to the specimens planted by gardeners in urban settings. These pampered root pruned plants – Wohlleben calls them ‘street kids’ - often grow well initially but never reach the size, strength and longevity of many of their wild cousins. Much of the book examines the many reasons for this.

Ultimately, Wohlleben makes a provocative appeal for humans to break down the barriers between the kingdom of animals and plants. Acknowledging that in recent decades we have begun to treat animals with more respect and dignity, he argues that this should be extended to trees. 

While anyone with an interest in the natural world will enjoy this fine work I think arborists and horticulture students will especially benefit from reading it as it helps the planter and carer of urban trees better understand the frailties of growing trees divorced from their wild kin.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. 
Black Inc, $29.00 Paperback ISBN: 9781863958738

This review, by Silas Clifford-Smith, was first published on the Gardendrum website

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Sage Advice - Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman
(image courtesy Wikipedia)
"The word paradise is derived from the ancient Persian - 'a green place'. Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children - spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals."

Derek Jarman (1942-94)
Film Director, Artist and Gardener

Saturday, 1 October 2016

BOOKS: The House and Garden at Glenmore

In 2002 Viking published The Garden at Bronte. It was a ground breaking book that tells of the restoration of Leo Schofield’s Victorian-era garden in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs during the 1990s. Schofield’s delightfully written volume showed how he, and others, had researched the history of the heritage property and how this informed the design of the restored garden. As well as the focus on the grounds Schofield’s book included interior shots of the house which highlighted his exquisite taste for decorating.  Although similar books had been published overseas The Garden at Bronte was the first of its kind in Australia and helped kick start a sub-genre of works on heritage garden and house restoration.

In similar vein comes The House and Garden at Glenmore by the Sydney interior designer Mickey Robertson. Robertson’s subject is her 1850s sandstone home - on the southwestern edge of Sydney - which she purchased with her husband in the late 1980s. For those familiar with the restoration genre - think Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs – we see the transformation of the house from a rundown country property into a tastefully restored property, in this case, decorated in what I call the ‘Heritage-Modern’ style. Heritage-Modern homes are airy and light (think butler’s sinks, lime washed walls, toile curtains and antique wooden furniture) and have all the modern conveniences (which you never see) but honour and embrace the age of the property.

This book is divided into several sections. It begins with a memoir on the history of Robertson’s involvement with the property and shows how she restored and recreated Glenmore. While this was informative I felt there was only minimal detail on the many difficulties of doing such a major project. Most of Kevin McCloud’s programmes focus on this problematic period as it not only entertains but informs us whether the end result was truly successful. It would also have been interesting knowing more about the history of the house, its occupants and local memories of the property.

The second section focuses on the author’s interior designs. She is clearly a designer with great taste (not too feminine) and her interiors work well with the house if you embrace the Heritage-Modern look. I particularly liked the colour schemes and the diverse and interesting textiles used throughout the house which made it look very livable.

The third section looks at the garden. Almost all the images show the grounds today and the end result is very much in the Gardens Illustrated style (heritage vegetables, jute, gum boots, bamboo canes and potted bulbs – you know the look). The area of Sydney where Glenmore is located gets light frosts, hot summers and below average rainfall. The owners should be commended for keeping these harsh conditions in mind as the garden was planted out.

Without doubt the most dramatic plantings are a group of mature glaucous grey Agave Americana planted at the front of the house. These slow growing majestic succulents were relocated from Denbigh, a nearby heritage property. It would have been great to see photos of the removal and replanting of these dramatic plants and some images of the gardeners at work. 

I’m sure this beautiful volume - with lovely photos by Daniel Shipp - will appeal to many who drool at the idea of owning and restoring an old house with land. I look forward to viewing the property one day and congratulating the owners in person on doing such a fine job.

The House and Garden at Glenmore by Mickey Robertson ISBN: 9781743365823
Hardback $59.99 RRP Murdoch Books
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