The Conference of the Trees for COP26 in Glasgow was a concept that was first discussed with Es Devlin’s design team and the New York Times shortly after the Forest for Change was installed at Somerset House in June 2021.
Whilst the June timing of the Forest for Change was ideal in giving us a wide choice of trees from which to choose, Glasgow in November was much more of a challenge with limited species of hardwoods in leaf available.
Es Devlin’s vision was to create a lush forest in which our world leaders could debate climate change. The challenge was to source a selection of deciduous trees to compliment the coniferous varieties.
Although the indoor setting at the venue at SW3G removed the wind challenge, it posed a heating and watering challenge, and, if we were to follow the Somerset House model, where all the trees were found homes in neighbouring boroughs, could we do the same in Glasgow at such short notice?
The logistics of the project added to the delivery challenge as our team had 24 hours to build the project in a day / night exercise including 100-ton bags full of bark mulch.
After careful consideration, we chose 3 nurseries (Barcham Trees, Deepdale Trees and Gavin Rhodes) and visited with Philip Jaffa of Scape design to tag the trees and large shrubs in September. We were able to source enough deciduous varieties that were still hanging onto their leaves in November!
Amongst the usual suspects of cedars and pines and evergreens, we found that Pyrus callaryana 'Chanticleer' and Alnus cordata were able to hold onto their leaves for the event and that the Betula Pendula and Salix, golden twist provided just the right amount of Autumn Colour.
In all, 197 trees and shrubs were chosen to create the scheme, representing the 197 countries that have ratified the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change.
A balance was agreed with the venue SWG 3, to maintain a constant temperature, on the border of comfortable for humans, but not detrimental to tree health. The lighting was designed to create atmosphere as well as provide some ‘daylight’ for the forest. We also introduced a waterproof layer to hold irrigation run-off to avoid flooding in the venue.
Three 8 hour shifts were needed to install the forest and bark mulch. Our incredible team worked around lighting and set builders - a mammoth challenge completed with one hour to spare!
The event managers introduced us to Jeremy Needham a local garden designer who had been commissioned to transform a local derelict piece of land into a community garden a short walk away from the venue. The trees and shrubs have now been planted in this garden to create the legacy.
As Ms. Devlin expressed, “The trees acted as non-human species bearing witness to the decisions the humans might make." We need to be able to take these ideas from the rooms at COP26 and make them immediately felt, understandable and actionable at every level,” she said.