Sarah Simblet and I have a long list of trees to find for illustrating as tree portraits in The New Sylva. We have identified already a few suitable candidates that we will be visiting over coming weeks. Sarah wants to capture them before they come into leaf so that their architecture can be depicted. Straight afterwards, during the Spring, the focus will shift to drawing as many tree flowers and emerging leaves as possible.
We spent recently a wonderful morning at the Blenheim Estate in Oxfordshire, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is owned by the Duke of Marlborough, as it has been for almost the last 300 years. Queen Anne honoured John Churchill, a great English General, as the First Duke of Marlborough. After his leadership of the victorious English army against the French on 13th August 1704, near the village of Blenheim on the River Danube (Battle of Blenheim), she granted him the royal manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and personally funded the building of a palace to be called Blenheim. Construction started in 1705, the year before John Evelyn died, but the house was not completed until 1722.
We were shown around some of the spectacular woodland areas by Blenheim’s Rural Estate Manager Mr Paul Orsi. There we found five possible tree candidates for illustration.Deep in the woods at Blenheim, Sarah Simblet provides Paul Orsi with a sneak preview of some of the first illustrations completed for The New Sylva on the bonnet (hood) of a Landrover.
One candidate was a magnificent oak Quercus robur tree estimated to be around 900 years old: it would have been over 500 years old when John Evelyn was working on his Sylva! It is a tree that you need to touch with your hands, and when you do so you feel privileged to have shared a moment with an organism that has lived through much of all recorded English history.