I have from time to time wondered if a tour operator who organised upmarket tours of outstanding trees around the world could make a living. I know that I for one would be a devoted customer.
I see the core product of Dendrophiliac Tours as being a trip to the Pacific coast of America to find the tallest redwood trees. We would start off in the wine-growing region of Mendocino and then journey south to the Sierra Nevada for sightings of the fattest sequoias in the world and the oldest bristlecone pines, some of which are said to be have been around for 3,000 years, the longest-living things on the planet.
Whilst in California we could pointedly ignore the great cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Though if we did want to journey between the two on the Pacific Coast Highway (in a red open-top 1966 Ford Mustang – how else?), we could stop over in Monterey to see the cypress trees there, blasted by endless ocean gales into uniquely gnarled shapes.
If we return home in the autumn we can pop into New England to study how the green chlorophyll pigment in leaves gives way to the most spectacular yellow carotenes and red anthocyanins. There it’s called The Fall and it is, apparently, the result of mere changes in light and temperature. The same changes apparently cause the testes of Siberian mice to swell to over 17 times their normal size – so there’s obviously some pretty powerful stuff in an autumn chill.
The following year Dendrophiliac Tours would whisk us off to sub-Saharan Africa in search of the perfect upside-down baobab tree. The baobab has a peculiarly soft pulpy bark and lives for centuries, looking all the while as if it were once uprooted and then tossed back down again, the wrong way up.
There are some wonderful ones to be seen in Madagascar. But that is a country still short of comfortable accommodation. So Dendrophiliac prefers to do its baobab viewing in Botswana and South Africa where game lodges such as Mombo Camp in the Okavanga Delta and Sabi Sands in the Kruger National Park take the experience to a whole different level.
On our return we stop off in a riyad in Morocco (Dendrophiliac recommends Palais Namaskar, just outside Marrakesh) and catch sight of the bizarre argan tree, home to clambering goats who love to eat its fruit. The goats subsequently shit out the fruits’ undigested seeds, and the seeds are then collected and pounded into argan oil. (“Made by hand, using traditional extraction techniques,” says one supplier euphemistically.) The oil is now wildly coveted by the rich and famous in search of unwrinkled skin and shining hair.
Another of Dendrophiliac’s best-sellers is its “Lemon and Olive Tour” of Italy. The journey starts in Puglia where photogenic gnarled olives stand on almost every street corner. Some say there are more than 50 million such trees in the province, but nobody’s counting. And a nasty disease called xylella is threatening to reduce their number drastically.
Then we swing by Sicily for some lemon-tasting south of Palermo, in the rich groves where the famous fruit’s flavour is embittered by its association with the Mafia. Goethe called Italy “The land where lemons grow”, and there is a book with the Goethe quote as its title, written by an English garden designer called Helena Attlee*. In the hands of such a knowledgeable guide, Italian lemons become a subject of almost limitless fascination. In Amalfi, we learn, the local lemons are so sweet they are eaten in slices with coffee.
(Dendrophiliac tells me they are working on a new product called “trees with disease” – to include a visit to Pugliese olives with xylella, elms with their Dutch disease, and the ash with its dieback. Apparently they want to include some good news stories as well – so they are looking at the vines that bounced back from the Great French Wine Blight of 150 years ago, and the Brazilian rubber forests that have fought off the microcyclus ulei fungus.)
For those who wish to stay closer to home, Dendrophiliac has a “UK Special” that takes in Kew and its country cousin Wakehurst, a garden whose “rock wall” is an Angkor Wat-like marvel of cliff-hanging beech and yew made possible by the peculiar microclimate of a Sussex dell.
Naturally the tour also includes a generous sprinkling of English oaks – starting in Nottingham with a trip to Sherwood Forest, and ending with a journey to the fabled Avenue of Oaks near Bucklebury, the Berkshire village where live the modest Middleton family whose daughter, Catherine, is set to be a queen.
– Remarkable Trees of the World, Thomas Pakenham, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
– The Land where Lemons Grow, Helena Attlee, Penguin.