Paul Wood is the author of ‘London’s Street Trees’, a beautiful and practical field guide to the city’s urban forest. Paul is interested in looking at London through its street trees; how they relate to the built environment, their cultural and social history, and of course the remarkable variety of native and exotic species to be encountered as we Explore the Urban Forest.
Tree-lined streets have been part of the landscape since ancient times, long appreciated for ornamentation and shade in cities, it was the military who pioneered avenue planting along cross-country roads where trees took on the practical roles of waymarking and shading armies on the move.
The first modern street trees were systematically planted as part of Hausmann’s regeneration of Paris starting in the mid-nineteenth century. His pioneering boulevard planting – immortalised in paintings by Pissaro and other Impressionists – set a trend soon followed by other European cities including London.
The first planned street trees in London were used to embellish Joseph Bazalgette’s Thames Embankment completed in 1870. A trend was started, Northumberland Avenue and streets around Whitehall were next to be developed with tree pits constructed as part of the new roadways. Other London streets followed suit and a civic planting craze continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We are now reaping the benefits of this long term vision.
Since the second-half of the twentieth century, street tree planting has become a function of local authorities. It has become increasingly professionalised, with tree officers working alongside planners and architects. Species selection is more nuanced and an ever increasing ‘palette’ of trees are available for planting in virtually every urban situation.