Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 22 seconds
Everyone has a story. Paul Wood – by profession a web designer, by passion a dendrologist – doesn’t just love trees he’s also written a fascinating book about London’s Street Trees. Read on to find out which Islington trees he loves and even join him for an Islington Faces tree walk around Finsbury Park (see link below). Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill Photography
“It’s nominative determinism,” jokes Paul Wood when Islington Faces can’t resist saying he is well-named. But Paul over cappuccino at Vagabond close to an Almond tree with a corkscrew trunk (look out for the pink blossom in February and in the autumn a full crop of nuts). He also spots a handsome Rowan tree on the corner of Stroud Green Road and Tollington Park with a birds’ nest in it (proving street trees really are good for wildlife) plus a “classic lollypop tree, Amelanchier, or Juneberry, which looks like a tree, but is small,” by the bus stop.
London’s street trees can be tough to identify because there’s such a variety, planted for their resilience. “The street is not a natural environment, it’s 10 degrees warmer in Islington than Hertfordshire or Kent – the climatic conditions are closer to the mountains of the Balkans,” explains Paul, “so you see a lot of species from Romania, northern Greece and Bulgaria, like Silver Lime.”
>FOLLOW ISLINGTON FACES by email: a new interview is published every week.
Paul, 49, developed his tree bug whilst growing up in Dover. “There was a wood behind the garden, and in it was an enormous Beech. When I was 13 there was a mast year [masses of beech nuts], which littered the garden with seedlings the following spring. I saw them and thought ‘wow, these can become an enormous tree’. Years later, working in Southwark, he’d walk around the London Bridge area at lunch time and discovered a Strawberry Tree growing, native of Ireland. “I suddenly realised all these rare trees were growing in London and I wanted to know more…”
HOW TO LOVE TREES MORES – tips from Paul Wood
- Become a tree warden Find out how more about helping trees in Islington, here https://www.islington.gov.uk/sports-parks-and-trees/trees/how-you-can-help-trees-in-islington
- Support the Tree Council http://www.treecouncil.org.uk/
- Agitate for more trees on the street. Follow Islington Tree Wardens and the Friends of the Parks on Facebook and let them know if you think there’s a place where a tree should fit. https://www.facebook.com/groups/IslingtonFriendsOfParks/
- Water trees in hot weather. This Tree Council guide explains how http://www.treecouncil.org.uk/Our-Work/Tree-Care-Campaign
- If you would like to sponsor a tree in Islington call Contact Islington 020 7527 2000.
- If you’re looking after a tree pit, plant flowers (eg, hollyhocks and bulbs) not bushes that will compete.
- Use Paul’s book, London Street Trees, to get better at IDing your nearest street trees.
So how do you become a tree buff? Paul’s route is pleasingly random. He studied fine art, then built a career in DTP (desktop publishing) before moving into web design. In 2011 he started his blog www.thestreettree.com and not long after became a trustee of the London Wildlife Trust which runs Camley Street Natural Park (Camden), Woodberry Wetlands (Hackney) and nearly 40 other nature reserves around London.
Then in 2015 he was approached by publisher, Safe Haven Books, who suggested Paul turn his blog into a book. Paul, who lives in Islington, decided to give it a go, photographing and write about London trees over four complete seasons. The result is an urban field guide designed to help you enjoy IDing trees.
“Islington has been well-planted for decades, and is very well forested. Hackney was more recently, and abundantly, planted. Islington has 30-40,000 trees making it one of the greenest boroughs – an arboretum. Ealing, Newham and Lewisham area all playing catch up,” says Paul.
“Street tree planting is relatively unregulated and is determined by Tree Officers at borough level. Tree Officers will develop policies determining what species and management practices are best suited to their patch, (the Islington policy is here. Ultimately though, there is a lot of room for individual taste, and outside Conservation Areas, you are likely to see very diverse planting, and also big differences between boroughs – compare Hackney, Haringey and Islington for instance.” For example Islington has Ginkgo trees (off Stroud Green Road), but Paul has never seen a Ginkgo in Haringey.
In London #blossom is unofficially a thing and is photographed and shared endlessly on instagram. But there are two other big tree talking points – subsidence and tree pit gardening.
“Subsidence is an enormous issue,” admits Paul. “It’s why trees are pollarded (branches cut back to the main stem) and historically ‘inappropriately planted’ trees are replaced.” In London over the past five years 40,000+ trees have been removed by local authorities, but they’ve been replaced too, usually with much smaller varieties.
“Gardening in tree pits is great and very good for communities. Planting hollyhocks and sunflowers may mean the street tree is looked after and given water during hot weather too. There’s a London plane outside my house and it’s stopped the fly tipping,” adds Paul.
Five of Paul Wood’s favourite Islington trees
- There’s a walk in Archway, featured in my book (and close to my home) that takes 60-90 minutes. Dresden Road, near Highgate, is a street tree hot spot. There’s even a Handkerchief tree – which has enormous white flowers. It hasn’t flowered yet (it should be in the month of May once it is big enough). It could be a stunner.
- Opposite the Whittington Hospital, Magdala Avenue has unusual and magnificent elm trees which are resistant to Elm Disease. One of these Chinese Lacebark Elms is the UK’s champion tree, which means that it is the largest example of that species in the country.
- On St George’s Avenue, on the corner with Carleton Road, there’s a truly magnificent Caucasian Wingnut – a species Islington pioneered for use as a street tree – and a couple of very pruned specimens by the entrance to Camden Passage. I’ve heard that 30-40 years ago Islington’s tree officer was a real plantsman and introduced fruit trees and others. You can see that legacy.
- There are several Honey Locusts planted on Upper Street. It’s a very attractive tree but will grow enormous thorns that the council has to regularly remove on the lower branches.
However you like street trees – for their aesthetics, the I-spy challenge of identification, or as an essential way to make city living bearable thanks to their CO2 sequestration, pollution removal and flood mitigation – it is a pleasure to find someone like Paul who is able to introduce us to the trees in our streets. So now there’s no excuse not to know the names of your neighbourhood trees. Even if names can be hard to be remember we can all still enjoy their seasonal offerings from blossom to autumn colour and take comfort from, as Paul calls it, “nature on your doorstep.” Definitely a book to buy for yourself, but be warned you may also want to buy an extra copy to give to a friend.
- London’s Street Trees: a field guide to the urban forest (Safe Haven Books, £12.99) on Amazon or via Natural History Book Service
- Paul’s blog is https://thestreettree.com/
- He is a big fan of instagram @thestreettree, and/or follow on twitter @TheStreet Tree
- Meet Highbury’s street trees on Thursday 29 June – Paul is hosting an urban tree walk around Highbury N5 from Ink@84, starting at 6.30pm https://www.ink84bookshop.co.uk/product-page/thur-jun-29-urban-forest-tree-walk
- Meet Finsbury Park’s street trees on Monday 10 July by joining Paul Wood for a walk, book sale and signing. Paul will guide us from 6.30-8pm around the Blackstock Triangle’s street trees, in Islington, and then into Hackney’s Finsbury Park Road/Wilberforce Road (to compare the borough’s tree planting), to finish at the Brownswood Pub, 271 Green Lanes, N4 2EX (nearest tube Manor House). Please book in advance – cost is £3 (reimbursed if you buy Paul’s book on the day). Meet outside the Auld Triangle pub, 52 St Thomas’ Road, N4 2QW from 6pm (walk starts at 6.30pm sharp). Advance booking essential. Booking via Eventbrite . Rain won’t stop this walk!
- Enjoy more Kimi Gill Photography here
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.