5 Spectacular Trees of Britain

Adrian Houston 10 November 2021

In this extract from the upcoming book, A Portrait of the Tree by Adrian Houston, five celebrities celebrate their favourite trees from around Britain

Alan Titchmarsh, MBE

If you go to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, you will be able to submerge yourself into the world of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There are superb summer bedding schemes, great views down the sloping landscape towards the Solent and the Swiss Cottage with a kitchen garden where Prince Albert encouraged his children to grow fruits and vegetables. There are also hundreds of stately trees, many of them planted by kings, queens, princes and princesses during the time that Queen Victoria lived there. She died in the house in 1901, and shortly afterwards it was opened to the public, courtesy of King Edward VII. 

If you walk down the steps to the broad terrace in front of the house and turn to your right, passing underneath a wooden pergola, you will find in the centre of a flowerbed a towering specimen of the Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei. It was planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate the centenaryof the garden being opened to the public. The Queen had an assistant in the operation. Me. Well, to be honest, and without impugning Her Majesty’s horticultural prowess, I did the lion’s share of the work as she looked on.

Quite right, too. The tree was around six feet when we planted it 20 years ago. Now it must be 20-odd feet tall. Every time I see it, I feel a sense of pride, and have a memory of a wonderful day on an island where I now have a home and spend at least a third of the year. It is a magical place, and our tree—Her Majesty’s and mine—is really rather special.

Alice Temperley, MBE 

This beautiful sycamore tree sits nobly on top of Burrow Hill at our family’s cider farm and can be seen from miles around. It’s the most breathtakingly magical spot I know and sits directly on three mystical ley lines. It has 360-degree views of the Somerset countryside, the cider farm and all the orchards it rules over, the Somerset levels, Glastonbury Tor, Ham Hill and the Blackdown Hills. 

My siblings and I will always be deeply connected to this place which was a gift upon marriage from our father to our mother. We drink cider under the tree in the summer, toboggan from it in the winter and egg roll during Easter. It’s where I always go to think and be at peace.

Antony Gormley, OBE

This tree lies on the skyline at the border of our land. When you arrive here you see it immediately to the south as you come out of the woods and cross the cattle grid and the start of pasture. 

This sycamore expresses a searching vitality that spreads wide against the sky.  We built the look-out tower next to it and can now enjoy looking at it from ground 
to canopy. The stark geometry of the tower makes its striving branches all the more vigorous. 

This tree lies on the skyline at the border of our land. When you arrive here you see it immediately to the south as you come out of the woods and cross the cattle grid and the start of pasture. 

This sycamore expresses a searching vitality that spreads wide against the sky.  We built the look-out tower next to it and can now enjoy looking at it from ground 
to canopy. The stark geometry of the tower makes its striving branches all the more vigorous. 

One of our artist friends climbed this tree and standing on a horizontal lower branch called out to ask a crowd gathered around its base, “Who will join me and speak the language of the spirits?”

Joanna Lumley, OBE 

Was it from seeing them when I first came to London, aged eight, and noticed their dappled bark and sweeping branches? Was it when I saw how they spread down their arms to the river, and how their leaves crackle like cornflakes underfoot when they fall?

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel in awe of the mighty London plane tree; in parks and along the streets, in palace gardens and on recreation grounds, they tower up to the skies and suck up bad fumes and take care of squirrels and birds.

They are giants protecting us while we sleep and shading us when we wake. They roar in storms and make us sneeze in springtime. 

Their distant Asian cousin, the chinar, stood over me when I drew my first breath in Kashmir. I hope there will be one nearby when I breathe my last.


 

Raymond Blanc, OBE 

This magnificent tree is part of the proud history and landscape of Le Manoir. The greatest memory I have of it is when the Queen Mother and her entourage of knights and ladies-in-waiting drank champagne and Dubonnet in the shadows of this glorious tree. 

Sadly this tree is diseased and is no longer with us; Adrian Houston through his art has captured its beauty and grandeur so perfectly for us all to remember it.

A Portrait of a Tree by Adrian Houston (£30, Greenfinch) is available now 

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