The author in 1974 at a tree planting event organized by her father in England. (photo from Shula Klinger)
It all began with my great-grandfather, Simon Picker. In the early 20th century, the timber industry in Bukowina was booming. Before the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, my great-grandfather supported his family by working as a carpenter. According to his gravestone, he was “an honest man who enjoyed only the fruit of his toil.”
My father was always passionate about trees. He referred to Japanese maples by the Latin name acer palmatum, and took great delight in planting trees in our backyard. Acacia, eucalyptus, willow. He loved to visit Kew Gardens and told me how he’d planted trees in Israel, in the early days of independence. When my grandfather died at our home in 1969, my father planted a magnolia tree on the spot where he fell and, although the house has gone, the tree is still there today.
When my father came to England, one of his first businesses was in public relations. For a time, he held a contract for the Forestry Commission, which was when he also started a charity called Trees for People (TFP). TFP provided trees and equipment to schools, so that children could get their hands dirty and learn what it meant to be guardians of the environment.
After he died, I realized that I did not know what had become of TFP. My father had talked about passing on the fund to a group in England, but I wasn’t sure how that had panned out.
Then, when I was clearing out his personal effects just a few weeks ago, I learned what happened. In 2005, he donated all of the remaining TFP funds to the Woodland Trust in the United Kingdom. The trust’s goal is to recreate native woodland with the help of local schools and communities. It aims to protect surviving woodland, restore areas that are damaged and advocate for those that are currently under threat.
The trust put the TFP legacy to work immediately, using it to develop a new project in southeastern England, the Fordham Hall Estate. According to Liz McLelland, woodland creation project officer for the Woodland Trust, this is “an amazing 505-acre piece of land near Colchester in Essex. It is now a beautiful landscape of woods, meadows and riverside habitat.”
As well as transforming the environment, the fund has supported the development of a new outdoor curriculum for local children, providing hundreds of children with opportunities to plant trees and be inspired by nature, McLelland said. Furthermore, it has promoted their understanding of their role, as stewards of the environment. “This type of event is now a core part of our activity whenever we buy land on which to create native woodland.”
Needless to say, I am also a tree lover. I live with my family on the North Shore, close to the forests of Lynn Canyon, where our back yard is overshadowed by giant evergreens. Last year, my husband built me a vegetable box. Our children and I planted seeds in it and waited eagerly to see what we could harvest, but before the seedlings were more than a few inches tall, I got the call.
My father died on July 2, 2014, in Cambridge, England. We traveled there for his funeral and came back at the end of the month to an overgrown tangle of leaves the size of tea trays. Benjamin, 7, took on the job of harvester, leaping into the hip-high plants to pull out a foot-long zucchini.
And now it is spring again. Last week, I cut open an apple and found that one of the seeds had already germinated inside the fruit. The children were overjoyed to see the tiny sprout, and insisted that we plant it. We check on it every day, and Joel, 4, loves to water it with his “squirty bottle.” Today, we’re going to plant Canterbury Bells, peas, pumpkins, tomatoes and carrots. And then we will walk in the forest, appreciating the giant, protective limbs of the trees and the aromatic, warm earth, as it nurtures the growth of a another new generation of plants.
Shula Klinger is a freelance writer living in North Vancouver.