Updated: Jun 9, 2021
On September 13th 2020, Christopher Howard - tree lover, Dendrologist, colleague and friend of Walk Colchester - died following a short battle with cancer, in the year that should have been the first of his retirement.
Many people will know Christopher best as a permanent feature of the Jane's Walk festival, to which he gave his time and knowledge freely year after year, with his two walks entitled 'All Trees Great and Small': the first, opening the festival each year, around the trees of Wivenhoe Park at the University of Essex; the second, around the wonderful tree trail he himself created in the Castle Park. Many people returned to these walks year after year. The depth of Christopher's knowledge, quickly apparent to anybody in his company, meant there was always something new to enjoy, and his warmth and generosity in the sharing of it drew people in. He was a great storyteller of trees - his trees of course were living things and there were always new installments of their lives to report on.
No communication with Christopher was ever without some recent observation on the lifecycle of a particular tree. The last time I heard from him, in July this year, when he was already ill, he ended his email like this:
"I walked through the lower park today with my sister from Sudbury, who always admires what we have in Castle Park. I noticed that the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides) had now sprung into life and good leaf. It is the ‘latest starter’ in the park, but always in its glory when it comes into late flower. There are quite a lot of emerging flower spikes so it will be one to watch in July. The orange-yellow colour flashes inside the white flowers were, as one FoCP member once told me, the very same colour as the yolk in a Cadbury’s Cream Egg. Now there’s an interesting comparison!"
Anthony Roberts, Director of Colchester Arts Centre and former Chair of Friends of the Castle Park, who has been reciting a poem for public enjoyment every day throughout lockdown and beyond, recently performed 'October' by Robert Frost in the Castle Park, dedicating it to Christopher's memory...
Christopher was himself a longtime 'Friend of the Castle Park' and regular speaker at FoCP events. In typically generous spirit, he gifted his Castle Park Tree Trail to FoCP, who are happy to be able to host it in booklet form on their website (below). Please download and enjoy at your own pace, or with friends, around the different seasons in the park, and think of Christopher as you walk and talk (the booklet is also available to purchase for a small amount in the Visitor Information Centre in Hollytrees Museum in the park).
Christopher was always hugely enthusiastic for new ideas and projects despite always having a full diary. In summer 2019, I put an idea to him, that we might have a tree trail right around the Colchester Orbital, a gentle long-term project that we would invite the public to participate in, with Christopher acting as resident expert, helping to identify and give a story to the trees along the way, proposed by people walking the trail. Within a week, Christopher was back in touch, to say that he had found himself free one evening and taken it upon himself to walk the north-west stretch of the Orbital that runs through Myland parish, identifying an initial 12 trees, photographing and describing them. And so the Orbital 'Trees of Note' project was born! 2020 was meant to have been the first year of Christopher's full retirement - although of course he never would have retired from trees - and I was looking forward so much to working with him on this project. If we can work together to continue it, I think will be a perfect testimony to Christopher's life and the interest and enjoyment he gave to so many people through his love of trees.
R.I.P Christopher, and thank you. You will be greatly missed.