Life With Plants: Hannah Cooper

Hannah Cooper lives on a 20-acre property with her family in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales surrounded, she says, by trees. As a kid, her favourite books were the ones that featured trees as the as the unheralded main characters. We think this qualifies her perfectly for our Reader Profile this month! Hannah is a full-time mum, wife, lawyer, trail runner, gardener and blogger behind The Tree Diaries. We’re excited to share Hannah’s story with you.

I had two cherished books as a child, although I have no lasting memory of their titles, characters or plot lines. In fact, the only detail that I can recall from each book is a tree.

From the first book I remember a beautiful circular bench seat, wrapped around the trunk of an old English oak. I think the book may have been a Biblical call-to-arms for young girls, although its greater meaning was lost on me. But that tree and the secret, shaded spot tucked under it? That has stuck in my mind for more than three decades now.

The second book was about a family of anthropomorphic bears living within the trunk of an enormous tree. A quick Google search gave me the title: it was a Golden Book about the Berenstein Bears, who lived in a multi-storey tree-trunk house. The bears and the things that they got up to (and the important moral lessons they intended to impart) were entirely irrelevant to my childish reveries – it was the tree-trunk house that I coveted. The cross-sectional drawings of the basement playroom, midlevel kitchen and upper floor bedrooms were the blueprint of my daydreams.

It became my singular ambition in childhood to have a tree-trunk house of my very own.

I grew up on a large suburban block in Sydney with a big backyard. The only thing we lacked were enormous English oaks and trees with monolithic trunks. We did, however, have a thin, spindly-trunked cocos palm, the type that littered many a suburban backyard up and down the east coast in the 1970s and 80s. My imaginings were not the slightest bit hampered by the palm’s 1-foot-wide trunk; it never occurred to me that what took place in the Berenstein Bears’ tree-trunk could not also be replicated in mine. I begged dad to help me build it and couldn’t understand why he would refuse such a reasonable request.

One day in my teens the palm was cut down, the stump ground and the lawn grown over: erased. Thirty years and many actual houses have passed since then, but still I haven’t forgotten the dream of that tree-trunk house. I can picture with absolute clarity the interior decoration and delicate window boxes that adorned the house, my first home and no less real for its imagined status.

So it seems that for as long as I can remember I have sought refuge in trees.

These days I do, in fact, live surrounded by them (although sadly not within a trunk). In my adult life I have learned a degree of mistrust for trees – they can unexpectedly fall and become ‘widow makers’; they can burn and destroy homes and livelihoods… They can be removed in a day whilst you are at school and covered over as if they never were. But still after all these many years, when I’m in need of an imaginary bolt hole to hide from the world, my mind will inevitably retreat to the trees.

May it always be so.

Check out The Tree Diaries, Han’s blog about gardening and life, its lovely.