A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011

New ancient chestunt tree in Greenwich Park

There used to be a Horse Chestnut tree planted here. It died and was left as a 750mm stump for a few years, in which time it was much used by children and by those parents who liked to see their offspring acting as statues. When the heartwood began to rot they dug up the stump and planted a Sweet Chestnut last month. Yesterday they placed the circular seat around the tree. I see this as a clear indication that the park managers are avid followers of this blog and are hoping the new tree will have a long life. The tree against which it is seen has been there for 350 years. They hope to keep a full copy of the internet on Archive.org – so I hope someone will be able to find this blog post in 3011 and take a photograph of whatever is then growing on this spot. I would also like to know how long the seat will survive (<30 years, I guess) and how long the dog litter bin survives (>100 years, I guess). Dogs used to drop their litter everywhere when I first visited Greenwich (about 30 years ago). Then some good ladies and gentlemen held a Dog Day. One of them stood by each entrance to the park for a day and very politely handed out polythene bags and asked dog owners to collect any droppings from the dogs. The idea caught on and the Royal Parks commissioned these iron dog litter bins. It has been a great success and the park is almost free of dog dirt. As Roland Barthes observed, the droppings of wild animals are inoffensive but those of domesticated pets, and humans, are offensive. Interesting.

Roland Barthes' diagram deals with the wild:domestic binary pair and applies to trees as well as animals

11 thoughts on “A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011

  1. christine

    I cannot be sure of this – but I believe the difference between the droppings of wild animals and domestic animals and humans is that wild animals tend to be less concentrated and homogenous per m2 and likewise their waste. Roland Barthes may have had another take on this?

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I have added Barthes’ diagram to the post. It explains the wild:domestic binary pair. He wrote that ‘Now, if we think of cat (s1) as a pet (S), then an appropriate contrary would be dog (s2). The contradictory of a pet cat could be a domestic animal that “earns its living” rather than merely living as a companion to its master, a category that would include both cats and dogs, let’s say as mousers and herders. The contrary to domestic animals, excluding both pet cats and pet dogs, could be wild animals, a class that includes canines and felines, as well as feral cats and dogs, rendering the implicatory relation valid without including either s1 or s2.9 Domestic animals and wild animals belong to the class of animals, which of course includes pets.’
    The point which has not occured to me before is that the argument applies to trees as much as to dogs and cats. The very name ‘Sweet Chestnut’ explains that the tree has been domesticated, as does the fact that this tree is planted in a walled park, surrounded by a circular seat and placed at the intersection of two routes. It would be an ideal spot for a philosophical discourse on the structuralist and post-structuralist aspects of planting design, not to mention the historical, cultural, anthropological, aesthetic and sacerdotal aspects!

  3. Christine

    Yes. Although this strategy is probably very difficult in some highly urbanised cities. Is there any wild vegetation? Perhaps trees? How would you recognise or reestablish native grasses? What about biodiversity? There is also the problem of the colonisation of weeds from introduced species which doesn’t present the same difficulty in an isolated wilderness area.

    Bushland areas which are considered National Parks in Sydney are one example.[ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkhome.aspx?id=N0039 ] They are not strictly wilderness areas, many have been regenerated. [ http://www.sydney.com.au/clark-island.htm ] It may be easier to recreate bushland and adopt a policy of no interference except for removing litter on an island with defined boundaries and natural barriers. (Although people will bring exotic seeds etc from their gardens and daily life around Sydney). This difficulty may require a low level vegetation management strategy.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There is definitely NO wild vegetation in British cities but we could have a category of ‘new wilds’. These would be areas which are declared inviolate and allowed to evolve as they will. Since this would exclude walking on them, it would be necessary to remove waste plastic etc by some other means. I see what you mean about the low level vegetation management but am inclined to resist it – on the grounds that this would be re-creating ‘old wilds’, rather than permitting the development of ‘new wilds’. Evolution cannot be stopped.

  4. Lawrence

    These last posts remind me of Joseph Beuy’s “7,000 Oaks” project. This project was inaugurated at Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany in 1982, in a plan which called for the planting of seven thousand trees, each paired with a columnar basalt marker measuring approximately 1.20 m above ground, throughout the greater part of the city [ http://phomul.canalblog.com/archives/2006/04/19/1729299.html ]. Brought from a quarry some thirty kilometers from Kassel, the stones were initially heaped on the lawn in front of the Fredericianum, Documenta’s principal exhibition building [http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Documenta_7_Beuys_Weiner_Fridericianum_1982.jpg&filetimestamp=20060809063340 ] [ http://artistsposters.com/popup_image.php/pID/12586?osCsid=0e52c3e742268171c6f05114fb3f84a1 ] [ http://regiowiki.hna.de/images/d/d0/Beuys-Steine.jpg ]. On March 16th of that year, several months prior to the opening of the exhibition, Beuys himself planted the first tree with its accompanying stele [ http://www.multiple-box.de/artikelbild.php?nr=33 ].

    The action continued over the next five years under the aegis of the Free International University, the diminishing pile of stones in front of the Fredericianum indicating the progress of the project. Planting in public spaces in the inner city was carried out on the basis of site proposals submitted by residents, neighborhood councils, schools, kindergartens, local associations, and others.

    The Dia Art Foundation continues Beuy’s project in America. Beuy’s original explanation of the project can be read on their website [ http://www.diaart.org/sites/page/51/1295 ]. The Documenta series is a city wide exhibition of contemporary art, taking place every 5 years in Kassel. It developed from the 1955 Federal Garden Show held in the city [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documenta ].

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the reminder – I wonder if Beuy’s policy was at the back of my mind in thinking of the Thousand Trees. It is also a good reminder of how landscape architects need to ‘raise their game’.

  5. Christine

    Your thoughts about ‘new wilds’ are entirely consistent with the heritage strategy to let the ‘new be new and the old be old’. The strategy is perhaps more suited to the UK than Australia, because here introduced species can be invasive and entirely dominate an area of regenerated bushland. However, it could be adopted in areas of a more parkland quality, similar to botanic gardens.

    Thankyou Lawrence, I very much appreciate Beuys project to create an evolving cultural landscape and public art piece with the intent of raising awareness of the value of the natural landscape. It is great that his son has continued the project and other species of slow growing trees have been included.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Not too happy with the term ‘introduced’ species. Most of Britain had no vegetation at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum so almost all the species were introduced by wind, water and animals (inc the human animal) and many have further-evolved since they arrived. Many more species evolved in Australia but others were introduced by wind, water and animals. I suppose ‘introduced’ implies ‘by humans’ but this is only an un-natural process if humans are not part of nature (which is what Roland Barth’s diagram implies).

  6. Christine

    Consider Antartica – it could go on doing its thing and not miss people being there at all. Very little has been ‘introduced’ to the frozen continent.

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with cultural landscapes (in which introduced species are part of the palette) they are just different to natural landscapes.

    It would be an interesting conversation listen to between:

    ecologist: blah blah
    landscape architect: blah blah

    Perhaps a good way to consider the fundamental difference between the two is:
    a cultural landscape is a work of art and may be sublime.
    a natural landscape is a work of creation and may be sublime.

    I think there is a saying ‘art imitating life’?


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