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A Sanctuary of Trees

November 15, 2012

‘We are all treehuggers’ is the opening sentence in this delightful book by American Gene Logsdon but he doesn’t mean simply for sentimental or environmental reasons.  He says  ‘ … there are grimmer indications why we should be thinking about wood these days … we are entering an era when there’s simply not going to be enough push-button heat to go around’.  He advocates wood for home heating and offers a detailed chapter on how big a wood one might need for fuel independence and another for advice on planting your own grove if space is available.  Encouragingly he says there are more trees in the USA than a century ago and that most trees in their natural habitat will seed themselves thickly in their first and second year. ‘ …if we stopped mowing, every yard in the USA would return to forest in 20 years’.

This is relevant to Dutch Elm disease which experts predicted would wipe out all American elms.  Logsdon says  the elm bears seed at an early age well before the disease can kill them so while old trees die new ones sprout.  With few big elms to  feed the bugs that spread the disease the bug population is dwindling.  In the USA young elms are living longer and spreading more seed. Whilst it would be very unlikely that this rejuvenation could help the ash tree devastation in Europe, the disease is fungal, it’s a comfort that the natural landscape could be replenished by saplings of other species more rapidly than we might have imagined.

Logsdon’s  profound love and respect for trees shines through every chapter of the book and reflects his experience and knowledge in managing and caring for woodlands. ‘Trees kept stretching out their arms to embrace and comfort him’  he says, ‘offering sanctuary both physically and literally over many decades’ . But with fossil records showing the ginkgo tree in existence 270 million years ago and sycamores 100 million years ago he suggests that a love of trees is embedded in the DNA of all of us. There are vivid accounts showing  Native Americans as masters of the woodland and without the benefit of saws, hammers and nails they built log cabins and fenced off their land.  Hickory nuts, walnuts and sweet acorns were ground and made into bread flour and witch hazel oil was used to soothe and heal rashes, cuts and bruises. This relationship with trees was fundamental to their survival and they passed on the skills and folk medicines to early settlers who then developed and traded tools and  furniture from wood.

This keenly observed and unsentimental book puts forward strong arguments to encourage a return to a wood-based culture. It has left me with a renewed awareness of the enormous role trees have played in our evolution and why they will increasingly have s significant role in all our lives.  A Sanctuary of Trees is published by Chelsea Green Publishing and is available from

Today I swept the paths of leaves but I decided not to clear them from the borders,  inspired by reading the book. The abundance of leaves that fall in woodlands is never cleared,  it’s simply left to the worms to pull them through the soil surface enriching the earth to feed the tree for the next year. There was enough on the paths and hard surfaces to bag up two large sacks which I put behind the shed. The four from last year were hiding there and were distributed round the shrubs.

Instead of buying flowers for the house I bought three pots of Hellebore ‘Winterbells’  from the local florist for containers outside the kitchen door. It’s early for them to be flowering so my guess is they were brought on in greenhouses in Holland. However they are  hardy perennials so will survive whatever the weather and when they’ve finished flowering I shall find a space in the garden.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 1:22 pm

    I love the sound of this book and so timely with the threat to our ash trees. I don’t think we appreciate trees enough any more. When I say ‘we’ I mean in general terms 😉 Maybe because they are just there we stop actually seeing them. Maybe the threat to our ash might make us think again about the role trees play in our lives. It’s feeling chilly today so it won’t be long before I’m lighting our woodburner. :))

    • November 15, 2012 3:28 pm

      It was such a nourishing read and yes rather like the recent Hockney paintings some people can open our eyes to the things we take for granted. He writes very positively on the subject of wood burning stoves which is exciting since ours arrives next week.

  2. November 16, 2012 5:36 pm

    Book sounds like a very good read. Jealous of your wood burning stove!

    • November 16, 2012 7:16 pm

      The book by chance totally confirms the stove.

  3. November 18, 2012 9:04 am

    Loved this post, being a big tree fan. I sdometimes think we don’t show them enough respect and I am also grateful that they keep me warm during winter.

    • November 18, 2012 10:07 am

      Yes we tend to take the larger landscape for granted until it’s under threat that is.

  4. November 18, 2012 3:21 pm

    The book sounds perfect for the Mr’s Christmas stocking!

    Pretty hellebores … I wish our florist sold such useful things!

    • November 18, 2012 5:02 pm

      Logsdon’s relationship and love and respect for trees shines through every page and it taught me a lot.

      I meant to say I enjoyed your piece on blog etiquette and I should at the very least have re-tweeted it. It is so difficult finding time to respond to good blogs and I feel bad I don’t leave more messages. Yours is one I regularly seek out and I recently forwarded the link to a friend (she wants to take the plunge) as an excellent example of interesting and varied subjects and it’s always beautifully written.

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