Given the extent of his influence on 17th-century life, and his lasting impact on the British landscape it is remarkable that no book has been written before about John Evelyn. He was a longstanding friend of Samuel Pepys (who wrote of him, ‘ A most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others.’), a founder-member of the Royal Society and a prolific writer and diarist. He was an early advocate of the garden city but his most important work was Sylva: a Discourse of Forest Trees. Sylva was presented to the Royal Society to promote the planting of timber trees ‘for the supply of the Navy, the employment and advantage of the poor as well as the ornamenting of the nation.’ He was responsible for the first great raft of tree-planting and for a great influx of tree introductions to Britain.
Maggie Campbell-Culver’s book, like Sylva, has at its core a section detailing the characteristics, history and uses of 33 trees incorporating the advice Evelyn gave and demonstrating its relevance still in the 20th-century. Not only was Evelyn probably the first horticultural writer to show an appreciation of the aesthetic benefits of trees in our landscape, he is shown to be a founder-father of the modern conservation movement.