Skip to Content

300 Years of Trees at Kew: An Illustrated Lecture by Tony Kirkham

Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House | Oak Room
May 3, 2023
05:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Join arborist and woody plant specialist Tony Kirkham for an evening lecture to learn about the fascinating history of trees at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. This lively, colourful lecture will take us through a timeline of almost 300 years of trees at Kew highlighting this assemblage of some 14,000 incredible trees in a 300-acre green space near one of the world’s busiest cities.


This illustrated lecture begins around 1731 and takes us on an historic journey through the development of the tree collections and the heritage landscape, meeting people like Sir William Hooker, Capability Brown, William Nesfield, William Baron, William Dallimore, and many more figures who were key movers in the arboretum world, responsible for making Kew’s arboretum one of the world’s premier tree collections today. Attendees will be guided from the founding of a 9-acre botanic garden with 5-acres set aside for an arboretum where some of the original trees known as the “Old Lions” still exist to the first director of Kew, Sir William Hooker, being appointed through to the 1987 hurricane that ravaged the collections and the transformation that followed. The talk will focus on some of the key heritage trees and important scientific tree collections that can be found growing in the arboretum landscape and the collectors and curators that have been influential in assembling this unique collection. The lecture will end with more recent tree related overseas collecting expeditions and Kew-based projects including the Xstrata Treetop Walkway which was designed to give visitors safe access to the tree canopy and create a “Sky Classroom”.

Arborist and woody plant specialist Tony Kirkham started his career as a forestry apprentice and moved on to become an arborist before undertaking the 3-year Diploma in Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK. Tony remained at Kew for over 40 years working his way up to the Head of the Arboretum, and Horticultural Services, where he was responsible for the management and curation of over 14,000 trees in the collections for over two decades before retiring in 2020.

Tony participated in and led several plant collecting expeditions to Chile and the Far East of Asia, including China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Russia and has co-authored several books on his travels including: “Plants from the Edge of the World” and “Wilson’s China: A Century On”. Tony revised “Pruning of Trees Shrubs and Conifers” and wrote “Essential Pruning Techniques”, “Haynes Workshop Manual of Trees”, “Remarkable Trees”, “Growing Trees”, and “Arboretum”. Tony has also worked with Francis Lincoln on a series of games featuring trees: “Match a Leaf”, “Tree Vision”, “Tree families”, and “Tree Bingo”.

Tony has been featured on several tree related TV programs and lectures internationally and regularly writes many popular articles. He is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Council, chairman of the RHS woody plant committee and sits on the RHS awards committee and is a trustee and chairman of the advisory board at the Chelsea Physic Garden and Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI).

Tony has many awards including the Associate of Honour by the RHS for distinguished service to horticulture, the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour and an MBE for services to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Arboriculture. He was made an Honorary Lifetime fellow of the Arboricultural Association in 2015 and later became the Vice President of the Arboricultural Society before being awarded the AA Lifetime achievement award in 2019. In 2022, Tony was made an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Forestry.

Logos for Dumbarton Oaks, Oaks Spring Garden Foundation, and Friends of the National Arboretum

Ginkgo Biloba Old Lion, Tony Kirkham