2014 marks the 350th anniversary of the publication in 1664 of John Evelyn’s classic book Sylva: a discourse of forest trees and the propagation of timber in his Majesty’s dominions.

Gardens throughout the UK and Ireland will be celebrating this important occasion with exhibitions and events that bring this discourse up-to-date. Heading these celebrations is The New Sylva ‒ a new book published by Bloomsbury, written by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet. During 2014 the central messages about the importance of trees and the remarkable drawings made for the book will feature in exhibitions, interpretation panels and window displays across the country.

In the 350 years between the publication of Evelyn’s original Sylva and The New Sylva there have been hundreds of illustrated books with a tree theme. To mark this historic anniversary 35 prominent people in the tree world have been asked to nominate the book that has most influenced them. The resulting selection includes poetry, children’s books and adult novels, as well as tree identification guides, forestry texts and silvicultural manuals. These books will be included as part of the exhibition and feature on the website, where you can also vote for your favourite tree book of all time.

The New Sylva cover


Exhibitions of Sarah Simblet’s remarkable pen-and-ink drawings (see example above) featuring individual tree portraits, woodland scenes and life-sized illustrations of leaves, fruits and flowers will be presented at botanic gardens in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Each drawing will be accompanied by informative text written by Gabriel Hemery. Visitors to the exhibitions will also be able to find out more about John Evelyn and his Sylva. Two arboreta without exhibition spaces have agreed to take part with Sylva-themed interpretative panels displayed alongside the appropriate trees in their collections.

This is the first time that prominent botanic gardens in Britain and Ireland have participated in a joint venture of this nature. Each venue is preparing an individual programme of activities which includes talks, drawing workshops, guided walks and family activities. The gardens involved are being encourage to record these events so that at the end of the project we can organise a sharing of ideas and inspiration for future programmes. It is anticipated that the number of participants involved in visiting the exhibitions or engaging with the activities programme will exceed 100,000 during the course of the year.

There is probably no point in the last 350 years when trees have featured so prominently in the consciousness of ordinary people nor a time when the future of forests in the British Isles looked so rosy. The benefits to be gained from diverse and productive woodlands are not simply economic but including the positive effects they have on the health and wellbeing. Sylva recognises this growing interest for trees and forests and resurgence activity in our woodlands in an original way and we invite support from everybody who shares this passion for trees to celebrate with us.

You can follow progress of the New Sylva on www.newsylva.com