Tag Archives: planting

2 December: A letter to Doctor Johnson about trees.

Monymusk today has mature trees

Doctor Johnson would have been pleased to receive this letter praising his observations on the lack of trees in Scotland, but his reaction shows how human nature does not like its motivations, nor its indifference, to be challenged. We’ve seen how timber was treated as an ‘extractive industry’ with no eye to grandchildren’s future, leaving bare hillside.

“‘SIR ALEXANDER DICK TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON. ‘Prestonfield, Feb. 17, 1777.

Sir, ‘I had yesterday the honour of receiving your book of your Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, which you was so good as to send me, by the hands of our mutual friend, Mr. Boswell, of Auchinleck; for which I return you my most hearty thanks …

Indeed our country of Scotland, in spite of the union of the crowns, is still in most places so devoid of clothing, or cover from hedges and plantations, that it was well you gave your readers a sound Monitoire with respect to that circumstance. The truths you have told, and the purity of the language in which they are expressed, as your Journey is universally read, may, and already appear to have a very good effect. For a man of my acquaintance, who has the largest nursery for trees and hedges in this country, tells me, that of late the demand upon him for these articles is doubled, and sometimes tripled.

I have, therefore, listed Dr. Samuel Johnson in some of my memorandums of the principal planters and favourers of the enclosures, under a name which I took the liberty to invent from the Greek, Papadendrion (Father of trees).

I am told that one gentleman in the shire of Aberdeen, viz. Sir Archibald Grant, has planted above fifty millions of trees on a piece of very wild ground at Monimusk: I must enquire if he has fenced them well, before he enters my list; for, that is the soul of enclosing. I began myself to plant a little, our ground being too valuable for much, and that is now fifty years ago; and the trees, now in my seventy-fourth year, I look up to with reverence, and shew them to my eldest son now in his fifteenth year. I shall always continue, with the truest esteem, dear Doctor, ‘Your much obliged, ‘And obedient humble servant, ‘ALEXANDER DICK

Johnson observed some weeks later: “Sir Alexander Dick is the only Scotsman liberal enough not to be angry that I could not find trees, where trees were not. I was much delighted by his kind letter.”

Life of Johnson by James Boswell, via Kindle.

More about Sir Alexander Dick here.

More about Monymusk here.

image from Wikipedia by Lecored1

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1 December: A survivor? The Happy Man Tree

The London Plane was planted widely in England’s capital because it resists pollution. Its bark flakes off naturally, so that any clogged up pores are discarded and a new, pale, outer layer takes over. You can see this happening above the wide red scarf and down by the roots in the photo. When we lived in Hackney, London, in the 1960s, the tree would have survived thanks to this adaptation.

The Happy Man Tree was named after a demolished pub that stood behind the builders’ hoarding. It was voted England’s tree of the year because it is loved by the local community but condemned by the borough council in order to build more homes for local people.

No-one is against much needed social housing but other plans have been outlined that preserve this tree while not losing any new homes. Will the campaigners save this tree?

The infant Jesus was in danger of his life, saved through Joseph’s wisdom in interpreting his dreams and taking action. This tree is a reminder that we have to interpret our dreams of saving the planet by taking action. Can you save or plant a tree before Easter? It could be one planted on your behalf by an organisation such as the National Trust. A Christmas present to the planet?

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November 29: Doctor Johnson and the Survival Tree.

The once lone rowan, dubbed The Survivor, near Moffat is now surrounded by emerging native woodland.
The Survivor Tree

More than 200 years ago Dr Johnson was visiting Scotland, and commented often on the desolation caused by the lack of trees. It’s taken the climate emergency for action to be taken but that action is paying off. First, Dr Johnson:
“It is natural, in traversing this gloom of desolation, to inquire, whether something may not be done to give nature a more cheerful face, and whether those hills and moors that afford heath cannot with a little care and labour bear something better?  The first thought that occurs is to cover them with trees, for that in many of these naked regions trees will grow, is evident, because stumps and roots are yet remaining; and the speculatist hastily proceeds to censure that negligence and laziness that has omitted for so long a time so easy an improvement. To drop seeds into the ground, and attend their growth, requires little labour and no skill.  He who remembers that all the woods, by which the wants of man have been supplied from the Deluge till now, were self-sown, will not easily be persuaded to think all the art and preparation necessary, which the Georgick writers prescribe to planters.  Trees certainly have covered the earth with very little culture.  They wave their tops among the rocks of Norway, and might thrive as well in the Highlands and Hebrides.

He that calculates the growth of trees, has the unwelcome remembrance of the shortness of life driven hard upon him.  He knows that he is doing what will never benefit himself; and when he rejoices to see the stem rise, is disposed to repine that another shall cut it down. Plantation is naturally the employment of a mind unburdened with care, and vacant to futurity, saturated with present good, and at leisure to derive gratification from the prospect of posterity.  He that pines with hunger, is in little care how others shall be fed.  The poor man is seldom studious to make his grandson rich.  It may be soon discovered, why in a place, which hardly supplies the cravings of necessity, there has been little attention to the delights of fancy, and why distant convenience is unregarded, where the thoughts are turned with incessant solicitude upon every possibility of immediate advantage.

from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)

And here is a hopeful story from Scotland; a video clip on a remarkable and inspiring tree being helped out of loneliness.

This is still a good time to plant trees in our neighbourhood.

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