A-B-Tree / A-B-Craobh

Celebrating the connection between trees and writing

Blog post about the project          Project Report            Poetry anthology: Into the Forest          Poetry collection: A-B-Tree

Did you know every letter of the Gaelic alphabet has an associated tree or shrub?

Click on the tree in the list below (or use the drop down menu off A-B-Tree on the left) to find out more about each tree.

Birch (B) Rowan (L) Alder (F) Willow (S) Ash (N) Hawthorn (H) Oak (D) Holly (T) Hazel (C) Bramble (M) Ivy (G) Blackthorn (P) Elder (R) Pine (A) Gorse (O) Heather (U) Aspen (E) Yew (I)

The A-B-Tree project is a celebration of the ancient cultural connection between nature and words embodied in the Gaelic Tree Alphabet. The first part of the project took people into the woods to learn about the trees. The second part was about sharing all the fascinating knowledge and the poetry gathered in part one. The third phase is encouraging new creative responses to the alphabet species and exploring how writing creatively about trees may be good for learning and attitudes. Follow @cybercrofter on Twitter (hashtag #ABTree) to keep in touch with the project.

Phase 1

Phase 1 involved 18 creative events, one for each letter, using trees as inspiration for new writing. The events blended folklore and ecology, encouraging people to be playful with words during a walk in the woods.

These fun, creative events were held in woodland venues around Scotland in autumn 2011, as part of the International Year of Forests. Some were run with schools, environmental and community groups, writing groups and mental health projects and most were open to the public. They were suitable for people aged 4 upwards. If you would like a similar event in a wood or garden near you, please contact me.

Phase 2

The second phase of the project - sharing the information that has been gathered, got underway in December 2011 with a forest of tweets! Starting on 1 December, at dusk each day, I tweeted (@cybercrofter) about a tree, taking each one, in alphabetical order, and sharing some of the fascinating folklore, ecology and practical facts about the trees. Follow @cybercrofter to find out more!

This website developed at the same time - with each tree getting its own dedicated page, with photos by Bill Ritchie, an archive of all the tweeted material, some poems and more. 

A report of the project is available here

As poet in residence at the Edinburgh Botanics during the summer of 2013, I introduced hundreds of people to the Gaelic tree alphabet, celebrating one species per day during July. I blogged about it on the Walking with Poets site.

An exciting outcome of the project was the publication of a big and beautiful anthology of tree poetry, Into the Forest, by Saraband in November 2013. 

Between 2014 and 2017 the project carried on by sharing the knowledge in the knowledge base and doing occasional events with Lapidus (the organisation that works on literature and health) looking at how writing about trees can be healing. This led to several contributions to Lapidus' bibliotherapy toolkit: getting inspiration from a tree; reading and writing with trees and wondering.

My sequence of poems, A-B-Tree, came second in the Overton Poetry Prize in 2015 and was subsequently published as a pamphlet with a concertina of images by Bill Ritchie - it's available here.

Phase 3

In 2018 I started a new stage of the project with the University of the Highlands and Islands, looking at how to use the A-B-Tree knowledge base and poetry bag to stimulate interdisciplinary learning between literature and forestry. This began with a tree painted in blackboard paint on the canteen wall at the Scottish School of Forestry, on which we have been sharing knowledge and thoughts about the trees, one tree each week, working our way through the alphabet several times over the years. The project has been getting people to write creatively about the alphabet species, and looking at how this might help with learning and change attitudes towards trees.

In summer 2019 I was poet in residence at Inverewe Gardens, where I worked with a group of artists, and my focus was on the Gaelic tree alphabet. I did a fresh 'forest of tweets' with the hashtag #ABTree and organised more tree-writing events, thanks to support from Scottish Forestry (was the Forestry Commission).

During the pandemic years, again with Scottish Forestry support, I took the project online and focused on exploring how people feel about trees and in particular seeing more of them in our landscape as an effort to mitigate climate change. The response was overwhelming positive and particularly as it gave expression to how important trees were for many people during the COVID-19 lockdowns. I created a poem from the words and expressions of project participants, called The One Thing We Can Hug, which was one of UHI's most read blogposts in 2020 and was widely shared on social media. 

I have continued getting forestry students to write poetry, and literature and creative writing students to learn about trees, and during 2022 I did a research study of student experiences of this kind of interdisciplinary learning. This was supported by a scholarship from the Learning and Teaching Academy at UHI and a summary of the findings is on their blog.

The research in phase 3 has been quite widely published:

An article in Scottish Forestry Journal about getting forestry students to write poems.

An article about teaching creative writing students about trees.

An article about my research approach – poetree!

A report of the 2022 project.

A UHI blog post in Gaelic and English about the project is here. 

Partial events listing

All events were public unless marked with *

2018 events onwards

Please see the documents above. 

2013 events

Throughout July 2013, there was a tree per day celebrated at the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, where I was poet in residence as part of the Walking with Poets project. For more details see here.

2012 events

  • Hazel, Torridon Out There Festival, 29 July

  • Falkland Big Tent Festival, 22 July
  • Birch, Maggie's Centre, Garnavel Hospital, Glasgow, 23 June
  • Oak, Migdale Woods, 19 May
  • Hazel, Abriachan Forest/Moniack Mhor, 18 February

2011 events

For more information get in touch!

Email: hag@worldforests.org

Phone: 01571 844020

The project has been made possible thanks to funding from the Scottish Forestry Commission and Hi-Arts in 2011, support from the Scottish Poetry Library and the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh in 2013, Saraband Books (especially for publishing Into the Forest), the Overton Prize (for A-B-Tree), Lapidus throughout the project, the Learning and Teaching Academy at UHI in 2019 and 2022, Scottish Forestry in 2019 and 2020, UHI from 2018 onwards, plus the many woodland organisations, schools, community groups and festivals who have hosted A-B-Tree events over the years, including Trees for Life, Woodland Trust, Reforesting Scotland, Plantlife, Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape, Abriachan Community Forest, Culag Community Woodland Trust, Inverewe Garden, Glasgow Botanics, Dundee Botanics, Dawyk Botanical Garden, Benmore Botanical Garden, Alyth Community Woods, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Words on the Street, Big Tent Festival, Falkland Centre for Stewardship, Timespan and Shetland Arts. /documents/a-b-tree-project-report.pdf

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