Whilst it is a genre which I perhaps do not read much, I love nature writing, and Fiona Stafford’s The Long, Long Life of Trees felt to me like the perfect autumnal read. Here, the Oxford University lecturer presents ‘a lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings’. I had never read a book which was purely about trees before I came to this one, aside from, I suppose, Sarah Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest.
The book’s introduction is far-reaching, and Stafford’s passion for the natural world certainly shines through. Each chapter focuses on one particular species of tree, from the yew and oak to the cherry and apple. The historically rich pasts of the trees, and how they have been treated by humans throughout the ages, was striking. I love her descriptions too; on describing the formation of the gardens at Cumbria’s Leven Hall in the 1690s, for instance, she writes that the topiary has ‘gradually grown into a looking-glass world of fantastic forms: giant top hats and helter-skelters, startled mushrooms and stacking rings, birds and beehives, pyramids and chess pieces, an evergreen tea party of cups, cones, dark doughnuts and irregular jellies’.
The breadth of Stafford’s research is breathtaking; she covers everything from the Renaissance to Sylvia Plath. All of the photographs and illustrations which accompany each chapter were a lovely touch, and made for quite a delightful read. The Long, Long Life of Trees is not a book which I absolutely adored and will find invaluable for the rest of my life, as I am sure others will, but I feel as though I have learnt a lot, and would definitely recommend it to green-fingered friends.