A sumptuous photographic celebration of the finest, tallest, oldest and in some cases oddest trees in Great Britain and Ireland. A quirky and original arrangement that starts with native giant oaks and beeches, moving on to cover American imported specimens, including the British Isles' tallest tree - a 212-foot Douglas Fir at the Hermitage, Dunkeld. On then to imports from the East, including cedars of Lebanon and gingkos - a tree species whose evolutionary lineage is so ancient that it first appeared before leaf-eating insects, and so remains untroubled by them to this day.
Author Thomas Pakenham then tires of organising things geographically, celebrating instead trees as shrines (sacred trees, poets' trees and `trees of liberty' like the sycamore beneath which the Tolpuddle martyrs met to plan the first Trade Union), trees as fantasies, and finally, appropriately, trees as ruins and relics. These include a decaying oak at Bowthorpe, its hollowed-out trunk so large that twenty people can dine inside it.
The photos are, almost without exception, stunning, mixing fine detail of bark and leaves with more panoramic shots. Pakenham's accompanying brief texts are always informative, often with literary allusions or a poetic turn - he says of the Nymans cedar in Sussex: `in the hot wind we could smell the resinous tang of Solomon's temple' (64). You sense a genuine love of the trees he describes and the part they have played in our natural and social history, no more so than when he laments the decayed or dying state of those affected by the hurricanes of 1987 and 1990. A wonderful hymn to trees in all their magnificence.