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Meet Henrik Sjöman and learn about the trees of tomorrow (2024 HPSO Speaker Series)

Our upcoming speaker from Sweden, Henrik Sjöman, will discuss how trees are among our best allies in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss and how we urgently need to rethink tree selection for our parks and gardens. This presentation will explore how to find and evaluate the “trees of tomorrow” based on travels all over the world to study natural environments matching urban environments — to create first-hand guidance for finding the right tree for the right place and function. You can see this presentation in person in Portland OR on March 10, 2024. Register here.

What is a plant you do not currently have but want?

Having lived and worked in Ithaca (Cornell University), I saw several specimens of the American Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus, with fantastic seasonal qualities. In Sweden and in Europe, the species is more or less completely unknown and thus impossible to get hold of, which is a great shame as I can’t think of a better small tree for the warm and sunlit place in the garden, delivering some of the most fantastic autumn colors imaginable.

Which garden influenced you the most and why?

In 2003 I spent a summer working as a student gardener at Knightshayes Castle and garden in the South West of England. The large park was famous for its ‘Garden in the Wood‘ with a stunning woodland garden with many different layers of trees and shrubs which together created fantastic spatialities and drama. I learned from the head gardener that one should always plant more trees and shrubs than can be accommodated in order to chisel out different expressions over time, which made maintenance such as pruning a very creative activity.

What is a future gardening trend you can share with us?

One trend that we see in Europe is to design our gardens for a future climate, where plant choices for more challenging conditions are prioritized, and where gardens are increasingly climate-proofed through more thoughtful choice of trees and their placement to provide the shade and coolness required on hot summer days. There is more talk about how the design of private gardens should deliver different types of ecosystem services.

What is your (current) favorite tree in your garden?

My favorite tree in the garden is our Kentucky coffee tree, Gymnocladus dioicus, which is located on our outdoor terrace where we like to spend time at all times of the year. During the summer, the tree provides much-needed shade through its beautiful foliage, which is fantastic to experience from below. During the winter, the tree’s sparse branches allow a lot of sunlight to pass through, which makes the place nice to stay on sunny winter days. Another nice detail is the species’ (in Sweden) late leaf emergence, which means that the foliage does not block the warm spring sun when you want to enjoy the sun and warmth in the spring after a long, dark and cold winter – and when the summer temperatures begin to appear, it unfolds its leaves and provides an appreciated shade.

A memorable plant collecting experience

I have been a plant hunter for almost 20 years and have travelled around the world to study and collect plants. One of the more memorable collecting expeditions I have participated in was in China in 2008 when, after years of preparation, we finally tried to find the mountain valley described by Ernest Wilson where an extensive population of dark pink-coloured types of Magnolia sprengeri would be found. After many days of searching we were tipped off by an elderly farmer who said that his father had told him about a valley with beautiful pink trees. After a dramatic drive through dramatic mountains, the car finally broke down and we had to walk the last bit up steep mountain roads to finally reach a mountain pass. Once we reached the top, we could look down into the next valley and there we saw an otherwise leafless forest environment with several scattered dark pink spots of these beautiful magnolia trees – we had finally found this mythical valley!

Henrik Sjöman is Scientific Curator at Gothenburg Botanical Garden, a Senior Researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and an Honorary Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He specializes in how trees deliver ecosystem services in urban landscapes and the practical applications of this in terms of diversifying the urban treescape. Henrik communicates his research through numerous publications and by lecturing to urban planners, landscape architects, garden designers and tree nurseries throughout the world. He is co-author (with Arit Anderson) of a new book called ‘The Essential Tree Selection Guide: For Climate Resilience, Carbon Storage, Species Diversity and Other Ecosystem Benefits‘. You can see his presentation in person in Portland OR on March 10, 2024. Register here.

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