From seed-hunting expeditions in the Andes to grim encounters with the timber trade, this memoir of an intrepid tree obsessive stands tall

Few have ever indulged their inclinations on a grander scale than Thomas Pakenham, whose passion is for trees. The scarlet maple was his first love, the ginkgo remains his favourite, and he would give his eye teeth for a Magnolia sargentiana. He says he is prepared to die for the silver fir that guards the approaches to his crumbling Irish castle, where the blue pine in his Chinese garden waggles her sinuous brown hips for him “like a dancing girl … in a shimmering skirt of blue-green needles”.

This is an exuberant tale of greed and gratified desire by a romantic who, for 50 years and more, has been planting trees by the thousand on his family estate at Tullynally in Westmeath. Pakenham is currently in his 82nd year, and buying magnolias like a madman “in what the Germans call Torschlusspanik” (last-minute or door-closing panic). He wants a packet of monkey puzzle seeds from Patagonia so that “when I am old I shall look up from my wheelchair lost in a forest of monkey puzzles”. They grow 20cm a year at best, so there should be plenty of time for further instalments of Pakenham’s ongoing tree saga that started nearly 20 years ago with Meetings with Remarkable Trees. His fourth volume, The Company of Trees, chronicles a year in its author’s life of planning, planting and travelling in pursuit of the great plant-hunters, Joseph Hooker, George Forrest and Ernest Wilson, who scoured the world for 19th-century garden-builders like the Williamses at the Cornish castle of Caerhays, and the Holfords of Westonbirt in Gloucestershire.

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Source: Guardian Environment