Tony Kirkham. (Image by Suculentasenlondres, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia)
Simon Richmond, Senior Technical Officer
Tony Kirkham retired from his role as Head of Arboretum at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at the end of July, after over 40 years’ devoted service to the management of its trees.
Tony joined the team at Kew as a supervisor after completing a diploma there – and he has never looked back. Over the years he has been responsible for the development of the arboretum into the world-class venue it is today, caring for over 14,000 specimens, with 150–200 more trees planted each year.
Well known through many books, articles and television programmes, his infectious enthusiasm for all things arboricultural has won him a place in the hearts of the general public, and when he teamed up with Dame Judi Dench, first in the TV programme about an oak tree near her home and later with a research trip to Borneo, his fame was secured as part of a duo of ‘national treasures’!
Tony has also been a long-term enthusiastic supporter of the Arboricultural Association, contributing to many of our annual conferences over the years, and making Kew available to Association events, conferences and meetings. He became an Association Vice President in 2019 and has always been there to add his generous support.
The arboretum has served the industry in many ways, through research into pests and diseases, planting and tree establishment, mulching, pruning and bracing, to name but a few. Tony has also brought the status and gravitas of one of the UK’s most respected public tree establishments to support important projects in the political arena, including arboricultural biosecurity, Action Oak, and many others.
Despite all these achievements, Tony will not be singing his own praises; he is a charming, kind and humble person, open and honest, with a wicked, dry sense of humour. It also perhaps goes without saying that he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and trees, and the natural world generally. His detailed recall of specific botanical varieties, their history, provenance and application, growth, flowering and fruiting, all flow forth without any apparent effort, and he can weave these factual details into a spellbinding anecdote.
His retirement will of course be a great loss to Kew but he deserves a break after all those years of devoted infectious enthusiasm. Although he has already achieved so much, he’s not giving up on trees; he intends to maintain his engagement with the sector and other related projects and we certainly hope to see his continued involvement in Association activities over the coming months and years.
Congratulations, Tony, a remarkable contribution and we are truly grateful for the fantastic gift you have given with your career so far!
This article was taken from Issue 194 Autumn 2021 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.