26 January 2018

Judi Dench: My passion for trees

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‘National Treasure’ Judi Dench has a lifelong passion for trees, and her woodland in Surrey is dedicated to lost loved ones. She revealed all in a recent BBC documentary – a ‘magical study’ of trees in the changing seasons.


Dame Judi Dench, famous for her 60-year career on stage and screen, has revealed that she has a secret forest in memory of her late husband, friends and relatives.


In a recent BBC documentary the acclaimed actress took viewers on a journey exploring the history and science of trees, which she described as a lifelong passion.


Dame Judi and her late husband, Michael Williams, nurtured the woodland at their home in Surrey, which now features an entire forest full of tributes to deceased friends and family members.


She says: “I’ve turned my garden into a secret woodland and I think of my trees as part of my extended family. It is about remembering and for me it's something that's living and goes on and gets more wonderful. But I have always suspected that there is much more to these beautiful, magical beings.”


Her late husband, Michael Williams, is remembered by her favourite tree, an oak planted long ago; another grows for her brother, as well as for fellow actors Ian Richardson, Robert Hardy, and Natasha Richardson.


The one-hour film produced a 'magical study' of trees in the changing seasons. Dame Judi joined leading scientists and historians, including Tony Kirkman from Kew Gardens and ‘tree listener’ Alex Metcalf, on a journey to unlock the remarkable secret lives of trees and the stories that they cannot tell.


The acclaimed actress used a horn-shaped device to listen to the sound of trees, pulsating with life in spring as water rushed up trunks to newly unfurled leaves, and learned about an intricate underground fungi network that connects many trees in a forest together.  


The programme explained that trees can sense attack from insects or from deer and change their taste to be less palatable – and even call out chemically for help.  Incredible 3D scanning technology revealed that Dame Judi’s favourite oak was 200 years old and 20m high, with a vast network of branches measuring over 12km, and around 260,000 leaves (the area of more than three tennis courts).


Dame Judi’s partner of seven years, conservationist David Mills, who runs the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield, Surrey, also featured in the film.


“When it’s freezing outside, there’s nothing I like better than sitting in the warmth with my chap, David,” Dame Judi says. “He has devoted his life to nature and conservation. He shares my passion for trees.”


The Oscar and BAFTA winning star reveals that her other great love is Shakespeare, not least because of the Bard’s love of nature.  She recites sonnets connected to nature and the seasons in the film and examines how nature features in his plays. 


“I will no longer walk quite so nonchalantly through a woodland again without thinking of the incredible work going on beneath my feet. My life is just trees now… trees and champagne.” She twinkles.