‘There’s nothing like our Wissahickon Valley’ – Hill author has branched out with books about trees

Local Life November 14, 2012 0 Comments

Ned Barnard of Chestnut Hill (right) led a Botanical Walking Tour of New York’s Central Park on Sept. 27, organized by the Friends of the Wissahickon. Barnard is an FOW Trail Ambassador and author of “New York City Trees” (2002), the most extensive field guide on New York and Central Park trees to date.

by J.B. Hyppolite

Prolific Chestnut Hill author and tree expert Edward S. “Ned” Barnard, 76, has branched out, you might say, with his book, “New York City Trees: A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area,” the most detailed book of its kind. Barnard is currently co-authoring a similar book to be called “Philadelphia Trees” with Paul Meyer, director of the Morris Arboretum and the man who will be taking many photographs for the upcoming book. This project aims to capture the beauty and intricacies of various trees in the Philadelphia Metropolitan area.

“New York City Trees” ($13.01 on amazon.com) is dedicated to the idea that every species of tree has a story, and every individual tree has a history. Produced in consultation with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the New York Tree Trust, the book is a reference to the stories of New York City’s trees, complete with over 700 photos, tree silhouettes, leaf and fruit morphologies and informative explanatory texts. It is the ultimate field guide to the trees of the entire New York City metropolitan region.

“I talk about the botanical aspects of the tree, but I try to get into a historical story as well,” said Ned at his desk, showing the layout of a black locust tree, containing everything from its Latin name, the leaves and bark to the individual most closely associated with it. This is the type of treatment and attention that Philadelphia trees will receive in Barnard’s next book.

In Ned’s office there’s a map of the entire Philadelphia region with various pins of numbered locations to be highlighted. Every section of the area is labeled and abbreviated with a different color. As he did with New York City, Ned will be taking thousands of photographs of the most vast and beautiful parks of the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Some of the parks that will be featured are Independence Historical National Park, Lemon Hill Mansion, Logan Square, Rittenhouse Square, Bartram’s Garden, Wissahickon Valley Park, Aubrey Arboretum, Pennypack Park, Greenwood Cemetery, etc. A royalty from the future book will go to Morris Arboretum.

“As far as natural semi-wild environments, there’s nothing like our Wissahickon Valley,” he insisted. “It’s gorgeous. With its huge old tulip trees, it’s very impressive, and there’s probably nothing quite like that in a city in the east.”

Barnard’s love of trees goes back to when he and his first wife, Carolyn M. Barnard, lived in the country. However, it was when he lived in New York City that he came to appreciate the beauty of trees that many of us see every day and might take for granted. “I was walking my dog (at Riverside Park),” he explained. “My dog was sniffing various trees, and I started looking at them a little more carefully before he lifted his leg. I thought, ‘What is that tree? I think it’s an oak.’”

Ned realized he had a lot to learn about trees, despite having edited natural history books over the years. He decided to pick up a few field guides, but they weren’t detailed enough for his liking. He wanted to know more. “There’s no better way, which I knew from being an editor, to learn a subject than doing a book on it. So I decided, ‘I’m going to do a book on this. I’m going to put the text about each tree together with all the pictures of its leaves, its fruit, its bark, its shape in winter. I’m going to get them all on one spread, so you don’t have to flip around.’”

Ned was retired from Reader’s Digest at the time, and tragically Carolyn had passed away from breast cancer. Ned contemplated self-publishing after being rejected by various commercial publishers, but he then sought out university publishers and eventually got a favorable response from Columbia University Press; the book is now one of the publisher’s best sellers.

Ned Barnard is also a trail ambassador for Friends of the Wissahickon, leading tours and educating visitors about the park. On Sept. 27 Barnard and his friend, author Ken Chaya, led a Botanical Walking Tour of Central Park. The tour, organized by Friends of the Wissahickon, focused on the types of trees in the southern portion of the park. Chaya is the creator of “Central Park Entire,” the most detailed map of any urban park in the world.

Barnard was born in Philadelphia. His mother, whose family was from Germantown, attended Germantown Friends School 100 years ago. Ned lived in various places throughout his life but never resided in Philadelphia for a significant amount of time until the last three years; his current wife, Pauline Gray, wanted to be in Philly to be closer to her grandchildren. Ned has four children: Abigail, Jonathon, Steven and Bonnie.

Barnard has a BA in English from Harvard University and has also studied at Columbia University and University College London. Before immersing himself in to the world of trees, he held several positions in the publishing world including being managing and senior staff editor of Reader’s Digest General Books. He has also written five books for children on animals and edited several dozen books on natural history.

He is keenly interested in old growth trees and has volunteered as a tree ring technician at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Ned, along with his late wife Carolyn, also ran The Gazebo, a chain of country home furnishing stores in New York City. “Philadelphia Trees” is scheduled to be completed by 2014.

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