Category Archives: urban forestry

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

Love and care for the ancient trees in Greenwich Park

This is the right way to look after England's ancient trees

In 1661, Louis XIV was King of France, Charles II was King of England, Australia had been ‘discovered’ but not colonised, the Qing Dynasty and Harvard University were new – and this Castanea sativa was planted. The ugly 20th century bitmac path cut across its roots has been troubling me for years. So please join me in toasting the Royal Parks for re-routing the path to respect the tree. Better still if they had ripped up the beastly bitmac and replaced it with flint gravel, but one can’t have all one’s dreams come true in one week. They will just have to move the path again in a ?200 years time. See the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Forum and the Guardian’s photos of Ancient Trees.

Might King Will and Queen Kate restore pagan tree-worship to its rightful place in British culture?

Sacred trees entering Westminster Abbey and contemporary Britain?


The Daily Mail reports that ‘Miss Middleton, 29, who studied history of art at St Andrew’s, has devised a theme which she says ‘pays tribute to the Language of Flowers’ – an idea that is bound to have gone down well with her gardening-obsessed father-in-law, Prince Charles, who famously admitted that he talks to his plants’.
One wonders if her history of art course included what little is known of paganism in the British Isles. Prince Charles wanted to become the ‘defender of faiths’ (instead of merely the Defender of Faith (Fidei Defensor). As the AP photograph shows, she has used trees to decorate Westminster Abbey. Tree worship was common throughout Europe before the advent of Christianity. I might become a strong supporter of the monarchy if the King Will and Queen Kate restore paganism to its proper place as one of the world’s major ‘religions’. It has a kinship with Hinduism, Daoism, Shinto and the religions of pre-Islamic West Asia.
I wish the young couple well but was not pleased to hear that the Metropolitan Police would deal harshly with protestors. Why shouldn’t we protest against vicious despots being invited to Britain and protected with millions of pounds from the public purse? It made me wonder about a small protest of my own. The best I could think of was sticking a postage stamp to the pavement outside Westminster Abbey and taking a video of people treading upon it. Instead, I will remember the trees and send and send Will & Kate every good wish from Gardenvisit.com. Like them, I am an alumni if St Andrews University.

City farming with Castanea sativa, the sweet, beautiful and delicious chestnut

Charles II planted avenues of sweet chestnut in Greenwich Park in 1660 - and they continue to yield a good crop of delicious nuts

Charles II planted avenues of sweet chestnut in Greenwich Park in 1660 - and they continue to yield a good crop of delicious nuts

The yield from a mature woodland of Castanea sativa is similar to the yield of rice from a paddy field, both nutritionally and in terms of harvested weight:

  • Chestunt yields range from 1-5 tonnes per hectare (this figure could be raised by careful management).
  • A good individual chestnut tree may yield up to 25 kg per year.
  • Rice yields, in the Phillipines, were raised from 1.16 tons per hectare in 1960 (according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) to 3.59 tons per hectare in 2009. The yield from organic rice is about one third the yield for intensively farmed rice.
  • Chestnut timber is highly valued and is said to be more durable that oak when used outdoors.
  • The land beneath and around the chestnut trees in Greenwich Park was used for grazing deer, which provided organic  meat.
  • When growing chestnuts, you do not need to spend half your life bent double in muddy water being eaten alive by insects which enjoy the hot steamy conditions more than you do
  • Harvesting chestnuts provides healthy autumn exercise for urban populations

So here is my call to the world’s landscape architects: plant parks and road verges with Castanea sativa, the Sweet, Beautiful and Nutricious Chestnut Tree! You can make a substantial contribution to (1) world food supply (2) world biodiversity (3) combating global warming (4) nutrition, exercise and health. The health benefits of chestnuts are as follows:

  • Chestnuts, unlike other nuts and seeds, are relatively low in calories; contain less fat but are rich in minerals, vitamins and phyto-nutrients that benefit health.
  • Nutritionally, chestnuts are similar to other starchy foods such as sweet potato, sweet corn, potatoes etc, consisting of mainly starch. However, they also contain high quality proteins.
  • Chestnuts are good source of dietary fiber; they provide 8.1 g (about 21% of RDI) per 100 g. Fiber diet helps lower blood cholesterol levels by remove excess cholesterol absorbing in the intestines.
  • Chestnuts stand out from other nuts and seeds because of their nutrition contents. They are exceptionally rich in vitamin-C. 100 g nuts provide 43 mg of vitamin C (72 % of DRI). Vitamin C is essential for the formation of matrix in teeth, bones and blood vessels. Being a strong anti-oxidant, it offers protection from harmful free radicals.
  • Chestnuts are the one of the nuts rich in folates. 100 g nuts provide 62 mg of folates (or 15.5%). Folic acid is required for the formation of red blood cells, DNA synthesis. Adequate consumption of food rich in folates during peri-conception period helps prevent neural tube defects in the fetus.
  • Chestnuts are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fatty like oleic acid (18:1) and palmitoleic acids (16:1). Studies suggest that monounsaturated fats in the diet help lower total as well as LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels in the blood. Mediterranean diet which is rich in dietary fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, omega fatty acids and antioxidants help prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
  • Chestnuts are an excellent source of minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Provide very good amount of potassium (518 mcg / 100 g). Potassium helps counter hypertensive action of sodium, lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Iron helps prevent microcytic-anemia. Magnesium and phosphorus are important components of bone metabolism.
  • Chestnuts are also rich in many important B-complex groups of vitamins. 100 g of nuts provide 11% of niacin, 29% of pyridoxine (vit.B-6), 100% of thiamin, and 12% of riboflavin.
  • Chestnuts, like hazelnuts and almonds, are free in gluten and therefore popular ingredient in the preparation of gluten free food formulas for gluten-sensitive, wheat allergy and celiac disease persons.
  • The Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) is particularly rich in vitamin A. It provides 202 IU per 100 g.

Price comparison: organic rice and organic chestnuts:

AND DON’T FORGET: Chestnuts are delicious.


Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

How green is my neighbourhood?

One of the unfortuneate consequences of the fight against urban sprawl, which has been largely taken up in the name of Jane Jacobs, is the loss of green space and the urban forests of many communities. They are disappearing in the manner environmentalists call ‘death by a thousand cuts’, that is (sometimes) slowly and incrementally.

Sherwood Forest is one of the old, upscale, districts of Detroit, ‘the city of Neighbourhoods’;

“Developers thought that the area should resemble an English village; thus, they selected appropriate English names and curved and winding streets. You will not find a rectangular street pattern here or in old English villages. There are about 435 homes, most of them built before the Depression terminated housing construction in the city. Many of them are Georgian Colonials or English Tudor homes in keeping with the English theme. Some of the homes are newer, having been constructed after building resumed in 1947. They are large, even by the standards of early 21st-century architecture since they average about 3,600 square feet with four to six bedrooms.”

In the adjacent suburb of Palmer Woods is the Dorothy Turkel House by Frank Lloyd Wright, which undoubtably also relies on its leafy surrounds for its ambience.

British biologist Professor Jeff Sayer in his lecture at James Cook University asked the apt conservation question, ‘Conserving the forests for whom?’

Urban trees and benches should be aspects of urban forestry and urban design

The placing of benches and trees seems to bring out the worst in public authorities. Having created good SLOAP (= Space Left Over After Planning) they try to ameliorate the problem by calling up the landscapers and asking them to stick in a few benches and trees. Damn them! The correct policy is to treat urban trees not as ‘ornaments’ but as part of a multi-objective urban forestry programme. The objectives could and should include:

– improving the microclimate (eg by providing shelter and shade)
– improving views
– creating spatial containment
– helping to combat global warming
– producing fruit
– creating habitats for wildlife and increasing biodiversity
– producing firewood for local residents (eg from coppice trees)
– managing surface water (SUDS LID)

The below photograph shows Bryant Park in New York City. It was re-designed in the 1980s using ideas drawn from the greatest landscape planning theorist of the twentieth century: William H Whyte. The photographs shows urban seats which are NOT fixed in position, paving which is NOT sealed and trees which deserve the accolade ‘urban forestry’.


Top image courtesy RP Norris Lower image courtesy Ed Yourdon

Attitudes to life, death and trees in western culture and 'civilization'

Attitudes to trees in Ancient West Asia and Early Christian Europe

Attitudes to trees in Ancient West Asia and Early Christian Europe

The illustrations show a Tree of Life (above left) in ancient West Asia, the felling of a Sacred Tree by St Boniface (Thor’s Oak, above right) and a Hanging Tree during the 30 Years War (below).

Jacques Callot, The Hangman’s Tree, 1633,

Jacques Callot, The Hangman’s Tree, 1633,


What do the illustrations tell us about changing attitudes to trees in western civilization? Here are some possibilities:

  • the ancients saw trees (and forests) as symbols of the natural forces which control the world
  • the early Church regarded tree-worship as idolatrous, because there is only one true God
  • both trees and people were destroyed in the religious wars of the seventeenth century

In clearing and ‘managing’ what is left of the world’s forest cover we may be marching in the path of the Easter Islanders. At present, the most densely wooded countries are Finland (86% of the total land area), Sweden (57%) and Austria (47% ). Australia, suprisingly, has 20.1% forest cover. The European countries with the least forest are Ireland, with 8% of the land as forested and the United Kingdom with 11%.

Urban forestry and landscape architecture

    In addition to being beautiful, the trees and gravel in the Place des Vosges are good for microclimate, wildlife and hydrology.

In addition to being beautiful, the trees and gravel in the Place des Vosges are good for microclimate, wildlife and hydrology.

All good foresters know that tree planting must serve multiple objectives: beauty, timber production, habitat creation, water management, public recreation, carbon cycle re-balancing etc. Urban landscape architects, on the whole, are less enlightened. Too often, they think of tree planting as decorative activity akin to the placement of public art in cities. Urban foresters should broaden their horizons, as rural foresters claim to have done.

Image of Place des Vosges courtesy of cripics