Drawing of a small-leaved lime


Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) by Sarah Simblet

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) by Sarah Simblet

Photograph (low quality) of a completed drawing by Sarah Simblet for The New Sylva:

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)

Hunting for a venerable ash tree – can you help?

The authors are searching for the finest example of a common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) tree to feature in The New Sylva. We hope that our readers can help by submitting their favourite ash trees – one of which will be selected and appear in the book frontispiece.

Following the outbreak of ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea), the chapter on Ash in The New Sylva has been rewritten (see post). Reflecting on the likely impact of the pathogen on ash trees in Britain, we are keen to feature a majestic British ash tree in one of the most prominent positions in the book; the frontispiece. There are many known venerable and notable ash trees in the country, and surely many more lesser-known trees.

Can you propose a candidate ash tree? It could be especially grand or noble, simply have a beautiful and graceful form, have its own fascinating history, or be very ancient. It may be just your favourite ash tree.

Access the ash contact form is now closed

Access to the ash contact form is now closed

The tree selected will be visited by the authors some time in the next three months. It will feature as a full-page drawing made by Sarah Simblet.

Full acknowledgement of any assistance will be provided in The New Sylva.


This submission process is now closed and a result announced. We are grateful to the Sylva Foundation for hosting the online form which enabled people to submit tree candidates. 

A giant alder catkin

Spring is fast approaching and our attention is beginning to shift to emerging tree flowers. Among the first to appear are the many wind-pollinated species. Trees such as birches, hazel, oaks and willows have beautiful pendulous male catkins, or inflorescences, containing many scaly bracts (flowers) in place of petals seen on many insect-pollinated plants.

Another species that bears catkins is the alder, Alder glutinosa, common on river banks across much of Europe. They may not capture our attention to the same degree as the yellow ‘lamb’s tails’ catkins of hazel, but alder catkins are just as beautiful. Use a magnifying glass, or even better a microscope, to study a single catkin and its many bracts and you will enter another world.

Sarah Simblet alder catkin drawing in progress

Sarah Simblet working in pencil on the alder catkin drawing

Sarah Simblet has started work on a drawing of an alder catkin, which although only 5cm (2″) long in real life, will be large enough to fill a double page spread in The New Sylva book. She is using a binocular microscope provided kindly by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, which allows Sarah to work at this scale.

The photo shows an early stage of the drawing as Sarah is working on the structure of the illustration. She is working with pencil, while the trusty goose feather that she uses to sweep away the rubbings is close to hand. She’s had the same feather for 20 years! Under the heat of the microscope light the bracts were maturing and beginning to open, releasing their pollen. Once that Sarah is happy with the form of the drawing she will use pen and ink to provide the detail.

The first tree drawing

An early milestone in the creation of The New Sylva was reached this week with the completion of one of the first original drawings for the book.

Here is a sneak preview of Sarah Simblet’s stunning portrait of a crab apple Malus sylvestris sens. lat. The crab apple is found in hedges and woodland edges throughout most of Europe, except the far north, and across Central Asia. This specimen was growing on the Ridgeway in southern Britain, near to the famous White Horse at Uffington.

Sarah Simblet said “It was a bracingly cold day in January, and I had been out walking in the surrounding fields for a couple of hours, searching for every Crab tree I could find in the hedgerows. I was looking for what they all have in common, what seemed to me to typify their character, and make them distinct from any other kind of apple tree. This species produces abundant bright yellow fruit which makes it easy to spot from a distance. It also has clusters of very long thin stems that can look as though they are pouring into the earth. Many older, shorter stems look clawed and acutely angular, just like the crustaceans (sea crabs) that the tree is named after. I draw with a steel dip-pen and diluted Chinese ink, and work over feint pencil outlines. The pencil is erased in the finished work.”

Crab apple drawing by Sarah Simblet

One of the first drawings for The New Sylva nears completion – a crab apple tree by Sarah Simblet

Look carefully at the photograph where, underneath Sarah’s drawing, you can glimpse the start to our flat plan spread across the desk: an outline of every page of the book.