It’s April 2023, and I will be 70 years old. What better way to mark the occasion than to plant 70 trees, not in the ground, but in the window of the Rowley Gallery. I sent out a call to 70 artists and got lots of replies. I could plant a small forest. So here’s a small celebration of trees, of their variety and complexity, their shelter and enchantment, and all their green, filtered, numinous enlightenment.
Each generation inherits a new world and sees it differently to their ancestors. Those who thought of the trees as their home gave birth to those who thought of the trees as squatters to be evicted. A state of mind evolved over millennia. But our animal brain remembers its roots in the wildwood.
Wer wud we bee
if weed not chopt a tree
not bilt a boat
and not sayld to see
not cleerd the land
but just let it bee
Weed hav all them tree rings still in place
and all ther daze in clover
weed have more tyme to breeth ther dreemz
before the werld is over
Jonathan Gibbs, Oak Tree, wood engraving
Robert Bruce, Collioure, ink drawing
Jonny Hannah, Leftovers No.3, screen print
Victoria Elbroch, Layered Understanding, etching
Robert Moon, Wisley, 2022, photograph
David Sedaris, Fragrant Forest, mixed media
Hugh Hamrick, Eucalyptus, oil painting
Loveliest of Trees
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A E Housman, 1896
Roger Kite, Black & White 105, acrylic painting
Jon Groom, Tree Years, watercolour
Christopher Hamer, Chillida Tree IX, ink drawing on bark paper
Linda Farquharson, Tree of Life, linocut
Liz Somerville, Heroic Walnut, sgraffito
Eva Willer-Andersen, Mid March Magnolia, oil on panel
Paul Finn, Willow, oil on canvas
The Way Through The Woods
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods …
But there is no road through the woods.
Rudyard Kipling, 1910
David Wiseman, Tree By The River, acrylic on paper
Marcel Gatteaux, Antibes, Provence, oil on canvas
Christopher Corr, The Little Fir Tree, gouache on paper
Will Smith, Loughton Camp, Epping Forest, oil on canvas
Marion Sidebottom, Many Faces, Epping Forest, photograph
Dominique Bollinger, Quercione Delle Checche, Val D’Orcia, photograph
Susie Freeman, Tree, mixed media
Home-Thoughts, from Abroad
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
Robert Browning, 1845
Karen Humpage, Swedish Whitebeam, ink on leaf
Joanna Veevers, Tree Tile, ceramic
Anne Davies, Tree House, painted wood
Martin Salisbury, Portugal, linocut & pochoir
Charlotte Walker, Beech Tree at Shibden Hall, Halifax, oil on canvas
Jessie Ann Matthew, Keith Marischal Oak, oil on card
Robert Newton, Black Pine I, monoprint
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Philip Larkin, 1974
Maurice Moeri, Olive Grove, linocut & etching
Nick Samsworth, Holloway, etching
Philip Maltman, A Field In England, oil on card
Chris Kenny, Hermitage, construction with found painting
Anne Smith, Tree Cup, gouache & pigment inks on paper, mounted on panel
Romilly Saumarez Smith, Treehandle, sea fan & early 20th century handle
Jonathan Christie, Umbrella Pine: Cimitero Acattolico, Rome (Keats’ Birthday), graphite & wash on paper
The very leaves of the acacia-tree are London
The very leaves of the acacia-tree are London;
London tap-water fills out the fuchsia buds in the back garden,
Blackbirds pull London worms out of the sour soil,
The woodlice, centipedes, eat London, the wasps even.
London air through stomata of myriad leaves
And million lungs of London breathes.
Chlorophyll and haemoglobin do what life can
To purify, to return this great explosion
To sanity of leaf and wing.
Gradual and gentle the growth of London Pride,
And sparrows are free of all the time in the world:
Less than a window-pane between.
Kathleen Raine, 1977
Paul Newman, Sentinel, graphite on Bristol board
Katerina Zbortkova, A Tree For Marcus Aurelius, linocut
Sharon Hannah, Silver Tree, collage & watercolour
Annabel Keatley, Yellow Tree, watercolour
Eric Leroux, Parc Paul Mistral, Grenoble, acrylic on paper
David Hollington, Small World, mixed media on paper
Kit Boyd, The White Tree, hand-coloured etching
These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were still a performance.
Arranging by chance
To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try
To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain
And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges
A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling fight, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem more their own defense.
John Ashbery, 1956
Chris Keenan, Tree-lief, ceramic plaque on oak panel
Isobel Johnstone, Bonnieux Cedars, oil on canvas
Andrew Walton, Wytham Fog, oil on board
Daisy Cook, Autumn Tree I, oil on linen
Caroline Conran, Alder Tree, ink on paper
Blaze Cyan, A Complicated Life, wood engraving
Emi Shinmura, Branches To Trees, ink on paper
I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches
W S Merwin, 1977
Jonny Hannah, Fruit Tree, painted record cover
Fanny Shorter, Apple, watercolour
Linda Savini, Below The Fruiting Tree, watercolour
Howard Phipps, A Still Morning, Midsummer, wood engraving
Mark W Russell, Magnificence, photograph
Mary Kuper, New Tree On The Block, oil on board
Melvyn Evans, Ancient Tree Soul, jesmonite plaster
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1879
Sarah Harding, Oak Tree by a Stream, Shropshire,
egg tempera on prepared handmade paper
Debbie George, Feeding The Birds, acrylic on gesso on board
Jelly Green, Spring Birches, oil on board
Frances Ryan, Atlantic Tree, monoprint
David Parfitt, Blue Mist, watercolour
Eileen Hogan, Winter Trees, Bryanston Square, watercolour
Christopher Brown, Twelve Trees, linocut
Villages pass under the plough
In England, where there was plague,
And lets time slide over parishes
The way hedges are torn out.
Bulldozers flatten a hill:
Even continents slip,
Everything must elide or kill
As the wild aurochs died;
And our elms. We have
Barely a minute now.
Sheila Wingfield, 1983
Tim Robertson, Evening Will Come, giclée print
Clare Neasham, Espalier, gesso on plywood
Florence St George, Tree Pot, ceramic
Diane Howse, Grey Holt, oil on linen
Fanny Shorter, Sutton Mandeville Oak, watercolour
Jonathan Gibbs, The Red Tree, wood engraving
Beatrice Forshall, Giant Sequoia, drypoint engraving
In Scipio’s days
one could walk
all the way
through the north
of Africa in
W G Sebald, 2001