Magazine article The Spectator

'The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century', by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century', by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet - Review

Article excerpt

Credit: Oliver Rackham

The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-first Century Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet

Bloomsbury, pp.390, £50, ISBN: 9781408835449

John Evelyn (1620-1706) was not only a diarist. He was one of the most learned men of his time: traveller, politician, town-planner, artist, numismatist, gardener and opponent of air pollution. He was a founder of the Royal Society and gave one of its first presentations, which was expanded into Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber . The 350th anniversary of this famous book is commemorated by the present large and grand volume.

Sylva was not only about forest trees and timber trees: it included other trees like the then new horsechestnut, it pointed out remarkable individual trees, and had an appendix, Pomona . . . concerning fruit-trees in relation to cider. Evelyn is often thought of as one of the fathers of modern forestry: for example he proposed digging up ancient woods and replacing them with plantations. But he had more interest in landscape design, which was to become an English art form, much more famous than English forestry. How much influence he had in his time has not been properly investigated by studying places where he worked and identifying evidence of his achievements: 17th-century landscape design is a neglected subject. His book ran to 12 editions and revisions up to 1825, and may have had its greatest influence in the 19th century.

Gabriel Hemery, author of the text of this book, is a 'silvologist' (blame Evelyn for this ugly term), co-founder of the Sylva Foundation. He writes, like Evelyn, about trees in general with a bias towards growing timber. His book is based on Sylva , which he quotes extensively and expands to incorporate subsequent changes and discoveries. He adds chapters on timber trees like sitka spruce that were unknown in Evelyn's time. He includes non-forest and orchard trees and trees down to the stature of spindle-tree, but there is no appendix on cider. The book ends with sections on silviculture and forest produce and future forests, which are broadly an account of how modern forestry in its German tradition works, or used to work.

This book is an excellent successor to Sylva , well written and full of interesting information about trees and their propagation and the properties and processing of different timbers. …

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