Benedict John Pollard
Co-creator & Director
'Oak Man or Acorn Man'
Mid years oak care; story-teller
Benedict's passion for oaks started as a young lad when he was tall enough to start climbing the many wonderful veteran oaks in the 11 acre garden he was fortunate enough to grow up with, in rural Berkshire in the 1970s and 80s. In 2023 he discovered that an unused old name for the house was Barton Grove, suggesting a link with oaks. Indeed on the other side of the road stand several old veteran oaks, perhaps ancient. In 1990, he started planting various oaks in the garden, and wrote a detailed General Studies project entitled: 'The Oak Tree'. It was awarded 95% and a school prize (a £10 book voucher), with which he purchased a biography of Jimi Hendrix!
A botanist by training, with a BA and MA in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford (1996), he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 2000. He worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 2000 to 2005, and has participated in or led over 17 botanical and ethnographical expeditions to the rainforests of Cameroon, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Republic of Congo (1996 to 2013). In Gabon, he lived and studied with a tribal elder and his community (six visits from 2013 to 2017) learning about their spiritual practices and medicinal plants. He has co-authored five books on botany and conservation, 17 peer-reviewed papers, and numerous articles, chapters and botanical conservation assessments, including publications on ethnobotany and entomology. His publications list can be found here: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=-MIAecEAAAAJ&hl=en Between 2017 and 2022 he studied the ancient Vedic tradition of India under the guidance and inspiration of Dr S.R.A.G.Purna who guided Richard St Barbe Baker, founder of 'Men of the Trees', as well as the famous original 'Tree Huggers' - the Chipko Movement in 1970s India. A lifelong gardener, and horticulturalist, from 2008 to 2021 Benedict was also head of landscaping and ecology at The Lakes by yoo, an 850 acre sustainable development of holiday homes in Gloucestershire. Amongst other interesting discoveries there, he found a mature smooth-leaved elm tree and subsequently several other surviving elms in the area, which appear to be resistant to 'Dutch Elm disease'. These have since been propagated on. More recently (since 2018) he has developed an interest in beetles (Coleoptera). He was deputy leader of the High Park Biodiversity Survey, Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (2017-2022), home to more ancient oaks than anywhere else in Europe. He led the Coleoptera team, which resulted in the discovery of many interesting and rare species not found in Oxfordshire before, and wrote two chapters on the Natural History of High Park, which will be published in July 2024 by Pelagic Press. In 2015, after much contemplation, Mighty Fine Oaks was born - an imaginative co-creation with the oak trees, originally called 'The Mythakulon - acorn tales'. It was the home for oaky mythology, story-telling and folklore, and it will still continue to evolve. Since then, he has been collecting acorns from some of the finest and most characterful oaks in Britain, having visited around 200 trees. During his autumnal acorn peregrinations, he particularly enjoys meeting the landowners (stewards of these fine oaks), a wide variety of other interesting characters, and visiting much of England that he had not known of before. What a wonderful country England is. He is delighted to be able to now make some of these young oaklings available, sharing their very special nature, their amazing resilience and fascinating history. Story-telling, creative writing and heartfelt expression and communication are an important part of Benedict's life, which he has studied under Martin Shaw, Jay Griffiths, Andy Raingold and Martha Tilston. He has also engaged deeply with nature-based shamanic practice with Stephen Harrod Buhner, Tom Brown Jr, the techniques of Sandra Ingerman, as well as ceremony and ritual of the Lakota, Mohawk and Navajo (Dine) peoples. He revels in partnering with the oaks to weave together all these different strands of being into a wonderful celebration of trees, life, people and nature, creating new stories and uplifting ways of being in the world. He is motivated by bringing forth positive, celebratory actions that bring people together and help us all find peace, enjoyment and fulfillment in nature, and with one another.
Early years oak care
James is a well-known horticulturalist with 65 years experience of a very broad range of plants, and 40+ years as a specialist in oaks.
He founded Mallet Court Nursery in 1978, when he was a specialist in maples, known as 'Acer Harris'. In around 1980, he decided to start focusing more on the diverse and interesting genus Quercus (oak).
In 1994 he approached the President of the Royal Horticultural Society to suggest a display of oaks at the Chelsea Flower Show. The concept was an educational exhibit of the ornamental and useful aspects of oaks. Around 125 living species were represented, as well as various oak-related artifacts and ancillary items.
He was awarded the prestigious RHS Chelsea Gold Medal.
He continues to grow around 100 exotic oak species from around the world, including a good number of hard-to-find rarities, notably from Mexico and China. These are largely seed-grown, with some grafts also cultivated.
He still travels internationally with his wife Primrose, joining field meetings and collecting acorns of species rarely or never before cultivated in the UK. In August 2022 he delivered a major talk to the International Oak Society in New Mexico, USA.
He is a specialist in germinating acorns and tends the oaklings of Mighty Fine Oaks until they are two to three years old.
His knowledge of trees and oaks is invaluable, broad, pragmatic and based on many years of facing and overcoming horticultural challenges, whilst contributing greatly to our knowledge of the cultivation of oaks.
Conversation with him is always stimulating, thought provoking and educational.
We are delighted and blessed that James and Primrose, and their assistant Balasz, from Hungary, bring such enthusiasm and expertise to the project.