256 pages, 40 plates with colour photos and b/w illustrations
Thomas Pakenham, indefatigable champion of trees, narrates a story of exploration and discovery, and of life-cycles that are longer than our own. Lavishly illustrated, The Company of Trees recounts his personal quest to establish a large arboretum at Tullynally, his forays to other tree-filled parks and plantations, his often hazardous seed-hunting expeditions, and his efforts to preserve magnificent old trees and historic woodlands. The Company of Trees is structured in the form of a travel diary. Almost every chapter shelters stories about the life of his large trees. He takes us on a tour of Tullynally's demesne and its trees, evaluating the condition of the oaks, alders, ash and limes that were among the first plantings.
He travels to the Tibetan border in search of a magnolia (magnolias are Pakenham's particular passion), to Eastern Patagonia to see the last remaining giants of the Monkey Puzzle tree, while the first of the Chinese-inspired gardens at Tullynally was planted entirely with seeds from south-west China. An expedition to Tibet's Tsangpo Gorge goes awry only to lead to a fruitful exploration of the Rongchu Valley, which yields more than 100 bags of seeds, including the Tibetan golden oak, the Tsangpo cypress and blue-stemmed maples. All of the collected trees and plants are thriving at Tullynally.
Whether writing about the terrible storms breaking the backs of majestic trees which have stood sentinel for hundreds of years, or a fire in the 50-acre peat bog on Tullynally which threatens to spread to 'the main commercial spruce-woods to the west of the peat bog'; his fear of climate change and disease, or the sturdy young sapling giving him hope for the future, The Company of Trees is never less than enthralling. Pakenham is a passionate writer, educator and entertainer, and brings both wit and wisdom to a subject of universal appeal.
"The more you read of the various Earls' attempts to create beautiful views across their parkland, the more you realise they struggle with the same problems the rest of us face when designing our own little gardens. The only difference is that they're working on a massive scale, and thinking in centuries instead of years [...] Raising all his own saplings from seed, he comes across like a real-life version of P. G. Wodehouse's amiable (if unworldly) Lord Emsworth, pottering about with his seed trays and compost in his ancestral kitchen. But he engages fully with the 21st-century threat of global warming, as well as the four new diseases threatening our trees: acute oak decline, sudden oak death, ash dieback and Pseudomonas syringae – a lethal canker of horse chestnuts that has infected 49 per cent of the tree species in England, according to a recent survey"
– Helen Brown, Daily Mail
"The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime's Quest, brings readers along a journey from the 1,500 acres of farm and parkland of the family estate at Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath, to planthunting expeditions in Asia and South America, and more [...] told in monthly chapters that will charm a readership beyond those who don't need to Google 'arboretum' for a definition. There is a sense of adventure in travel diary revelations where the energetic Eighth Lord Longford (though he doesn't use that inherited title) tells of shinning up rocky banks near the foothills of the Himalayas and nearly breaking an ankle in the quest for seeds. He being in his 80th year, mind [...] Good-humoured revelations of triumphs that sometimes end in failure contribute to an engaging openness"
– Valerie Shanley, Irish Mail on Sunday
"At Tullynally, his estate in Ireland. Thomas Pakenham is growing his own woodland. In this lively diary of his travels to the Himalayas and Patagonia in search of seeds, and his tours of the thriving plantations where he plants and preserves trees, he gives seasoned advice on garden design and landscaping, and worries about the diseases that have devastated ashes, elms, oaks and chestnuts"
– SAGA magazine
"Historians make very good tree people because they respect both the past, with its particular and changing atmospheres, as well as posterity. After all, most trees span more than one human lifetime, and the story of trees has been part of the story of the land and even the people. And historians can salt the worthy fare of plant descriptions with tales of plant hunters and gardeners from the past. Pakenham's writing is brisk, clear personal and pleasantly epigrammatic [...] Readers should finish this book with a lively sense of the importance and allure of trees, even if they have never so much as planted an acorn"
– Ursula Buchan, The Spectator
"Few have ever indulged their inclinations on a grander scale than Thomas Pakenham, whose passion is for trees. 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) [...] Trees are, as this book points out, "the biggest living things in these islands, taller than most buildings, older than many ancient monuments", and, like the Williamses at Caerhays and the Holfords of Westonbirt, the planting Pakenhams have done them proud in person and in print"
– Hilary Spurling, The Guardian
"Botanical history and travel are two of the underlying elements of this absorbing year in the life of tree-loving Thomas Pakenham. Eloquently written as a diary and illustrated with an array of colour photographs, this informative and entertaining read describes the arboretum and garden areas he is creating on the family estate in Ireland. The book reveals his observations, experiences and lessons learned"
"Thomas Pakenham could convert a property developer into a tree-hugger [...] If The Company of Trees is a diary, it is also a journey – into the author's life and Tullynally's past. The book's photographs are as beautiful and glossy as conkers; anecdote and information fall like autumn mast [...] I closed the book and went to look at my own trees. Thanks to the joyful hours spent in its author's company, I saw them anew. His book is a plum among autumn's publishing fruits"
– John Lewis-Stempel, Country Life
"Gardeners who love beauty, not arboreal ethnicity, now have an eloquent ally [...] The Company of Trees is beautifully illustrated with his own excellent colour photos [...] it tells a story which has touching continuity across generations"
– Robin Lane-Fox, Financial Times
"The book is written as a journal in a tone so natural you feel as if you're in his study at Tullynally as the wind soughs through the woods. His hard-won knowledge garnered over a lifetime of seed-collecting, planting and observation is displayed lightly so you absorb masses of information without ever feeling like you're at a dendrology conference. It's impossible not to feel affection for a man nearing 80 who not only plants a copse of rare Magnolia campellii Alba Group from seed, but collects that seed himself from a mountainside in Sikkim, India [...] Pakenham's optimism and concern for future generations, both trees and people, is infectious. The world's trees could not have a more compelling advocate"
– Caroline Beck, Gardens Illustrated
"The Company of Trees: A Lifetime's Quest is by one of the world's most famous tree huggers, octogenarian Thomas Pakenham of Tullynally Castle. It tells the story of his collection of remarkable trees in Co. Westmeath, and also shares gems such as discovering a rare blue poppy in Tibet by sitting on it, and getting lost at nightfall in his own woods only to be saved by a search party hours later"
– The Sunday Times Ireland
"Thomas Pakenham, the champion of trees, narrates a story of exploration and discovery, of life-cycles longer than our own in this lavishly illustrated book [...] An enthralling book by a passionate writer, educator and entertainer"
– Welsh Border Life
"Thomas Pakenham's endlessly fascinating life and garden is the subject of The Company of Trees in which he continues the story of one man's love for all things arboreal begun in his 2002 bestseller, Meetings with Remarkable Trees. In this latest work we find him at home in Tullynally, where he has established an important arboretum, recalling his diverse personal quests for plants and seeds found on his far-flung travels [...] and as all journeys begin with one small step, so do many plants grow from one small seed. Their stories follow fast and furious"
– David Wheeler, Hortus
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Thomas Pakenham is the author of the critically acclaimed books The Year of Liberty, The Boer War and The Scramble for Africa. He is also the author and photographer of the bestselling Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Remarkable Trees of the World and In Search of Remarkable Trees: On Safari in Southern Africa. He lives in Ireland and is chairman of the Irish Tree Society.