Many people have a 'calling', a vocation, but not all that many identify it easily or can so organise their lives as to express who they are in their work as well as others seem to manage. Some go down a slippery slope into the swamps. Stately trees grow in good soil from tiny seeds and I was able to plant some in her.
I shall tell more about her later and her move across from a highly paid 'career' as a rude, nasty girl to a more modestly paid one as a horticulturalist. But first let me tell what I learned of a chap from New Zealand who developed several seeds within himself to grow a fine calling; and he reminded me of that Spanish fellow who spent most of his life building an 'organic-looking' Cathedral in Barcelona. He had a calling too. The New Zealand chap, Barry Cox, is a devout Catholic and I was very impressed with his effort to praise my Supplier.
He is building a church from growing trees. What has been called forth is just 'Him'.
He is not the first to do this. Several places around the world can boast 'alive' churchy edifices, but none quite so homely as Barry's.
In Italy there is a Cathedral agrowin' that will take another fifty years to show its true stature. It looks pretty good even now, but lacks a roof and walls.
The Italian artist Giuliano Mauri was known for creating “natural architecture” by blending organic materials such as branches into large-scale outdoor works of environmental art that were, because of the nature of the pieces he worked with, temporary. Building on his love of wood and nature, Mauri conceived of forming outdoor living cathedrals with trees grown in such a way as to form the walls and roof.
Mauri’s first attempt to create a living cathedral in 2001 laid the groundwork for the new “Tree Cathedral”—or “Cattedrale Vegetale”—installed near the northern Italian city of Trento in late 2010. With the artist’s death in 2009, it serves as a memorial to his work and life.
The Tree Cathedral consists of 42 columns forming a basilica of five aisles. Fir poles and branches from hazels and chestnuts have been woven together to create a supporting structure for the 42 beeches planted to eventually grow and form the columns. As planned, the surrounding support structure will deteriorate as the beeches grow, creating a seamless transition from the man-made to the natural.
Standing at the foot of Mount Arera, the Tree Cathedral’s structure includes 1,800 fir poles, 600 chestnut branches, and 6,000 meters of hazel branches joined together with wood, nails, and string. The Cathedral takes up 650 square meters and took months to construct. It is more than 90 feet long, nearly 80 feet wide, and ranges in height from about 16 feet to nearly 70 feet.
Britain boasts a huge one at Whipsnade. I hope my friend Cherie shows it one day, although some think it is too spread out to be a 'building'. It is a cathedral of a different sort; a peaceful green space created with different varieties of trees planted in the traditional shape of a cathedral, with wide green avenues forming a nave, chancel, choir, chapels, cloisters, and transepts.
The cathedral, which covers 26 acres, was begun in the interwar years in an effort to foster ‘Faith, hope and reconciliation’.
The cathedral plantation covers an area of some 9.5 acres. It was the brainchild of Edmond K Blyth, who wanted to create a lasting memorial to the fallen of WWI, and also offer hope for the future, a space to foster a sense of reconciliation based on faith. Blyth was a cadet and Sandhurst in 1916, and while there he formed deep friendships with three other cadets, all of whom died in the War.
It was not until 1930 that he had the vision of creating a tree cathedral. Blyth visited Liverpool Cathedral, then in the process of being built, and on his way home he drove through the Cotswold Hills just as the evening sun hit a stand of trees on a hillside beside the road, and in that moment he had a vision of a cathedral of living trees that would act as a memorial to his dead friends but also as a a vision of hope for humanity.
Though work began on the Whipsnade site in 1932, it had to be put on hold during WWII, and it was not until after the war that the cathedral was finally finished. The first service was held in 1953, and services continue today. The cathedral holds an interdenomational service in June (phone for details) and several different faiths have held services here.
The cathedral is designed with chapels representing each of the four seasons. A wide variety of trees are used, from horse chestnut to hornbeam, silver birch to Scots pine, plus several varieties of cedar and cherry. Shrubs are incorporated into the design, including privet, holly, hazel, dogwood, and laurel to name just a few.
And another at Milton Keynes has a similar Park-like quality rather than church-like. So it is to Barry we turn. This is what I heard as I pulled pints.
His Tree-Church is much more like the Village Church.
You'd think that with a passion for trees and an encyclopedic knowledge of them that Barry Cox would have enjoyed a long career in arboriculture.Not so; before the age of 10 (too young to understand the criteria required for the top job at the Vatican), Barry wanted to be the Pope. Instead, he settled for the revered position of head altar boy in his home town of Shannon, in Horowhenua.
Barry thinks his appreciation for the architecture and pomp and ceremony of churches stems from his Italian ancestry. He fed this interest over many years touring New Zealand, Europe and America, often on a motorbike, studying the proportions, angles, heights and pitches of church roofs, walls and porticoes.
After planting more than 4000 trees on his 90ha dairy farm in the Waikato, Barry finally settled on a flat 1.2ha property near Cambridge. With a blank canvas, free-draining sandy loam and Mount Pirongia rising majestically in the distance, the climate, location and soil were ideal for growing specimen trees.
Connecting his love of trees with a desire for an income, Barry started Treelocations, a business that moves large trees (up to 6m tall) using a specially designed tree spade – a huge machine that resembles an apple corer. Mounted on the back of a truck, it works by digging down and under the tree to scoop up cleanly the whole plant, including its vast root ball.
There are only three such tree spades in use in New Zealand. "People know how much I love trees," says Barry, "so they call me when there are trees that would otherwise be cut-down or removed. I go and kind of rescue them."Rehoming semi-mature trees has enabled Barry to accelerate the landscaping of his own property, giving it the look of a project 20 years in the making rather than just four years old.
Trading trees, growing and moving them for clients deepened Barry's connection and knowledge of them over time, reinforcing his decision to surround himself with these stately plants. Cue his next project."I walked out my back door one day and thought, 'That space needs a church' – and so it began.
I cleared the area in April 2011 and made the iron frame, drawing on all the research I had done over the years of studying churches. I wanted the roof and the walls to be distinctly different, to highlight the proportions, just like masonry churches," he says.
Alnus glutinosa 'Laciniata', or cut-leaf alder, was chosen for the roof. The variety is flexible enough to be trained over the temporary iron frame; in a few years the main branches of the alder will become the frame itself. It was important to have a sparsely foliaged deciduous type for the roof to allow the light in, especially in winter, otherwise it would be too dark for guests to see and the floor of grass would die.The altar has special significance: it comes from Barry's family church in Shannon, and is made of marble from Lake Como in Italy, from where his ancestors hail.The walls of the church are Leptospermum macrocarpum 'Copper Sheen', an Australian tea tree whose foliage is thick and textured, with a colour that resembles stone.
To keep it looking lush, Barry trims it every six weeks.A 'Dublin Bay' rambling rose weaves its way around the top, chosen for the colour and romance it brings as well as for its long flowering season – the first blooms appear in October and it can still be in flower in June.The church is set within a low border hedge of Camellia 'Black Tie', a dense hedging plant that requires little maintenance except for regular clipping. At the pathway entrance a pair of wrought iron gates, formerly on the Cox's family farm, set the tone for respectful behaviour – we are, after all, entering a church and its grounds.
Perfectly proportioned Acer platanoides 'Globosum' rise out of the camellia hedge and stand sentry either side of the gateway. These lollipop-like trees do not grow very tall and sport bushy tops that require a little pollarding to keep them looking uniform.Across the walkway from the church a double-lined avenue of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii or Himalayan birch, with their snowy-white, lacquered bark, leads to a labyrinth, the design of which is based on the walls of the ancient city Jericho in 460BC. Lined with mondo grass, Barry has had to discourage pukekos from pulling up the freshly planted juveniles.Barry officially opened the Tree Church and grounds to the public in January this year, having bowed to pressure from relatives, friends and local garden clubs. It wasn't his original plan – he just wanted to grow a Tree Church for his own enjoyment, and realise his study of ecclesiastical architecture – but when his nephew asked if he could get married in the church, Barry couldn't say no.
Spring cleaning with a chainsaw. Hmmmmm. I wish him well and hope those of you who happen to be in New Zealand pay him a visit, sit in his Church and say a prayer for him. And for me.It wasn't long before more happy couples found their way to celebrate their nuptials in this one-of-a-kind venue. A friend and former colleague, Donna Signal from Cambridge, was delighted to get married in such an unusual, living green space."We wanted somewhere different and special, and the Tree Church is all of that and more," says Donna. "We are not religious at all, but felt that the Tree Church gave our wedding a sense of venerability in a natural, relaxed and non-denominational way," she adds.The effort and time it takes to create even the most simple of structures by pleaching trees together is no mean feat. So you would be hard-pressed to find another structure in the world in the same league as the one Barry Cox has created in this corner of the Waikato. Some "cathedrals" have been formed in Italy and the UK by planting trees close together, but none have the structural complexity of Barry's Tree Church.After a few local garden clubs had visited and been enthralled at Barry's sheer creativity and green engineering expertise, the formerly reluctant host was brought round to the idea by the gentle encouragement and rewarding feedback from fellow gardeners."I like that the gardener visitors enjoy and appreciate my Tree Church," he says. "I find that gardeners and those passionate about trees are generous people who simply want to share and enjoy with like-minded others. Visitors have said that they find the Tree Church relaxing and that their worries disappear. I find that sort of feedback immensely rewarding."Weather can complicate matters. If the day before an event is windy or rainy, or both, it takes even longer to remove wind-blown leaves and adjust shifted foliage. But Barry is not deterred, and when I ask him about his long-term plan for the gardens he shows me a specimen jar containing bits of his elbow cartilage. "My joints are wearing out," he says matter-of-factly. "So I am developing a chainsaw and hedgecutter that will be more manageable, especially as they are used weekly throughout the summer."
And for the young woman I spoke of at the start. What a hard face she had. Hard eyes too. I had her (stop it!!) do some vocational 'tests' and they suggested she should be a gardener. It took a lot of coaxing and suggesting and getting her to try new things (be good now! )but I managed to get her a half a day in a small horticultural place. It took a year to wean her from her small fortune income to take more 'days off' until she was almost full time there. Then I suggested University. She did graduate ( I attended as her guest) and took a job managing a garden centre in another town. Fine gal. She married a decent man.
Her eyes had become quite lovely. Her features much softer.
As they were called to be.
Drink to her.