It's not National Tree Week, because that takes place at the end of November. But trees are one of the few things the Mayor has some control over, so London Tree Week is a chance to highlight arboreal successes and environmental hopes for the future. There are many and several exciting things to do. You can book yourself on a guided walk. You can go and look at a Top 20 tree map at City Hall. You can follow @LDN_environment on Twitter. You can launch a new orchard in the middle of the Olympic Park. Or you can go and look at some trees. I went to look at some trees.
LTW has made available several resources to help making going to look at trees a bit easier. One pdf invites you to follow the City of London Tree Trail to discover some of the more unusual (or enormous) specimens within the Square Mile. Another pdf helps you to search for some of London's remaining elm trees, or places that used to have famous ones. Another guides cyclists round a large portion of SW London on a lengthy Ancient Tree Trail, ending up with discounted entry to Kew Gardens. And then there's a free Tree-Routes app. I downloaded the app.
The idea behind the Tree-Routes app is to locate significant and important trees near tube and Overground lines. You tap in a line, or click on the tube map, and the app pinpoints a must-see tree nearby. Head to Royal Oak, for example, and the app suggests the Tulip Tree in Violet Hill Gardens, plus accompanying details, plus location map. The app even ventures beyond London, for example popping up with King George V's Oak on The Green in Croxley, thanks to its proximity to the Metropolitan line. But nobody's bothered to include the DLR, and if your bit of London has no TfL lines then sorry, you miss out. Bromley's only interesting tree is at Crystal Palace, apparently, while the boroughs of Kingston and Sutton have no must-see trees whatsoever, which is totally remiss.
The app option I chose was "Trees Nearby", which lists the nearest trees in the app's database in order of how far away they are from where you're standing. As an excuse to get out and explore, I decided to visit the nearest must-see tree, and then the nearest must-see tree to that, and so on, until I'd followed a chain of ten must-see trees altogether. I hoped I'd see my local neighbourhood in a new way, and learn a bit about trees along the way, and when I set out I had absolutely no idea where I'd end up. [map of eventual route]
Tree 1: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Sycamores (1.0km)
My local cemetery is a bit of a gem, one of the Victorian Magnificent Seven, now very carefully overgrown and managed as a nature reserve. But where were the sycamores? My tree identification skills are a bit suspect, so I had only the clue that they were "ivy-clad" and a tiny photo to help me. I'm not sure I actually found the sycamores, neither am I sure why they were deemed special, but never mind, I had a lovely stroll between the lolling headstones in the post-bluebell woods.
Tree 2: Tredegar Square Purple Leaved Plum (0.5km)
If you have the money to live in prime E3, Georgian Tredegar Square is top of the residential heap. The square in the middle of the square has full public access and a selection of fine trees, one of which I was hoping would have purple leaves. No such luck. Neither could I tell whether the pin on the app's map was a precise location or just centrally plonked. Ah well, very nice anyway.
Tree 3: Stepney Green Wild Black Poplar (0.8km)
It's not actually on Stepney Green this one, but in Meath Gardens near the canal in Mile End. But "the arrae black poplar is a must see tree" according to the app, so I tried very hard to narrow down which of about two dozen trees it might be. Eventually I matched the silhouette in the thumbnail photo to a tree round the back of the Community Centre, except all its branches had been lopped off to leave just trunky bits, and a few brave leaves attempting to burst from the bark. Not a must-see, alas.
Tree 4: Museum Gardens London Planes (0.8km)
I know what a London Plane looks like, thankfully, because the app didn't have any kind of photo this time. And there they were, around 40 majestic specimens, encircling the square garden beside the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. A proper oasis.
Tree 5: Hoxton London Plane (1.1km)
This was quite a hike, out past Hackney City Farm (which was ridiculously busy for a Sunday) to the corner of a road junction near Haggerston Park. The Hoxton Plane is enormous, and totally dominates the area, but sits within the front garden of number 241 Hackney Road so can't be explored at ground level. At least I assume that's the right tree, because only after I'd left did I realise that the plane tree pictured in the app was on the pavement, and about quarter of the size.
Tree 6: Arnold Circus London Planes (0.7km)
This point-to-point walk led me past the hubbub of Columbia Road Flower Market, which was so heaving I was glad to give it a miss. OK, so I was tiring a little of London Planes by the time I arrived at my destination, but I never tire of Arnold Circus. A pioneering Shoreditch housing estate encircles this elevated garden, with concentric paths and a freshly-painted bandstand in the centre. A number of non-hipster-types had come to sit on the benches beneath a ring of trees, and I joined them for a while in this nucleus of calm.
Tree 7: Bunhill Fields Eucalyptus (1.0km)
And another trek, this time through the backstreets south of Silicon Roundabout, at one of the quietest times of the week. My target was the non-conformist burial ground just to the north of the City, a delightfully retro enclave bursting with famous graves and trees. A Eucalyptus surely can't be too difficult to spot, I thought, but again I totally failed to deduce which of the many specimens behind the low railings it might be. The final resting places of Bunyan, Blake and Defoe proved much easier to locate, however.
Tree 8: Finsbury Circus Garden Pagoda Tree (0.7km)
The problem with Finsbury Circus, which City Hall's app completely fails to mention, is that the heart of it has been ripped out to make way for a mega Crossrail building site. No trees have been destroyed, the cranes now rise from what used to be the bowling green, but it was damned hard to work out where the "very large, mature" Japanese Pagoda Tree might be lurking. A theme was developing, whereby the app was quite good at getting me to an interesting greenspace, then failing to deliver on pointing out why I'd come.
Tree 9: Liverpool Street False Acacia (0.3km)
For the first time the "Trees Nearby" feature led me back east, almost to Broadgate, to a Public Open Space in St Botolph's Churchyard. It was busy too, with young Londoners and obvious tourists sitting around nibbling, sipping and checking their photos in relative peace. For once the photo on the app allowed me to orientate my position and deduce that the False Acacia tree was the dainty central specimen with the unusually light green leaves. A big tick from me for spotting this one.
Tree 10: Swamp Cypress in Aldermanbury Square (0.7km)
And then back west, into the heart of the City for what the app suggested was a rare (and very tall) conifer. I couldn't find it. I scoured Aldermanbury Square, an ornamental rectangle where no giant evergreen could possibly be hidden, and checked out the garden on the other side of the police station, but all to no avail. I could only conclude that either the tree's been lopped down or the app was lying, and further research has ruled out the latter. So I couldn't count this as tree number 10, and continued down the street to locate one more.
Tree 10: St Paul's Cathedral London Plane (0.3km)
That's funny, I thought, the map pin on the app doesn't show St Paul's but a street corner further down Cheapside. This was the former churchyard of St Peter's, which burnt down in the Great Fire, but it was definitely the right location as the lofty plane attested. Planted in 1821 it's believed to be the oldest plane tree in the City of London, and was immortalised in a Wordsworth poem. I must have passed this tree dozens of times and never truly noticed it, for which I thank the app's designers. But they've clearly titled this entry wrong, amongst a litany of other errors and inadequacies which mean this version of the app doesn't quite deliver.