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Dame Judi Dench: My life now is just trees. Trees and champagne

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 07/12/2017 By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

Judi Dench standing next to a tree © Provided by The Telegraph Dame Judi Dench has created a wood in her back garden by planting trees in remembrance of friends, relatives and actors who have died, she discloses in a new documentary.

The actress, 82, said she had been naming trees after dead acquaintances for decades in her six acre plot in Surrey, and said she views them as her ‘extended family.’

In the one hour special, ‘Judi Dench, My Passion For Trees’, she told filmmakers how she had planted trees in memory of actors Ian Richardson and Natasha Richardson, as well as her late husband Michael Williams, who died in 2001.

For actor Robert Hardy, who died in August, she planted a yew tree, because Hardy was a published authority and collector of longbows, which were made from the tree.

Judi Dench standing next to a tree © Provided by The Telegraph

“Ever since I was a little girl I have been interested in trees,” she said.

“I've even turned my six acre garden into a secret woodland, and I see my trees as my extended family. My life now is just trees. Trees and champagne.

“I started planting trees here with my actor husband Michael Williams. Every-time a relative or friend died we would plant a tree.

“There is one for Stephen Hanley, who performed in A Little Night Music at the National. It's very like him, he was very tall and pale. We have Ian Richardson, and Natasha Richardson.

Judi Dench standing next to a tree © Provided by The Telegraph “It is about remembering and for me it's something that's living and goes on, The memory goes on and gets more wonderful.”

Dame Judi spent a year working alongside Tony Kirkham,  Head of the Arboretum at Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, to learn more about the annual life cycle of trees, and how they communicate via vast underground networks.

The filmmakers followed her as she used a special microphone to listen to the sound of sap travelling up an oak tree, and found out that a huge oak in the centre of her garden dates back to The Battle of Waterloo.

Dame Judi said filming the documentary had entirely changed her view on the lives of trees.

a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Telegraph “Beneath our feet is a huge network. Not only can they send messages but they can share food and water between other trees,” she said.

“I've loved trees all my life but after this year I will never be able to look at them in the same way, I will never be able to walk so nonchalantly through a woodland ever again. It's mind blowing.

“I will never think of trees as individuals again. A forest is a very social place. Everyone is sharing and passing on things to everyone else.

“When I planted trees in memory of my friends I always hoped they would be part of a community, that they would be communicating with each other. And now it’s so reassuring to find out it’s true.”

She joked: “I shall give up acting and lecture on trees quite soon,  I expect. Quite probably.”

The documentary is the first Dame Judi has made, and producer Anthony Geffen said she was a little reluctant at first.

“She didn’t know if she could play herself,” he said.

“Audiences will experience a side to Judi they won’t have ever seen before: her love for trees, her passion for learning and her wonderful sense of humour.

“Most of us pass trees every day and never give them a second thought.  This film challenges us on that.”

‘Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees’, which will air 8pm Wednesday 20th December on BBC One.

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