In our latest issue of Broadleaf magazine, we chat to Floella Benjamin, the Play School legend and LibDem peer, about how trees have helped her lay down roots.

She tells us childhood tales from Trinidad and what it was like moving to London in the sixties.  Also an ambassador for the Queen’s Green Canopy, Floella explains why she’s so passionate about the project.

"I spent my first ten years in Trinidad, where we’d walk a mile to school in warmth and beauty. Toucans and puffbirds would fly by; there’d be clouds of butterflies and lizards sunning themselves. We bathed beneath waterfalls and plucked pomegranates straight from the trees – no supermarkets for us!

Tamarinds were tall, so you’d need a stick to shake the fruit down, but when the mangos were ripe we’d shin up as fast as we could. With five siblings, I had to be rough and ready or I wouldn’t get my share. We ran wild and took nature for granted: it all felt so free. Childhood memories like those last a lifetime – they go deep into your soul.

Before we came to London in 1960, I never experienced autumn, and I soon saw why people said the streets were paved with gold. It felt so dramatic, watching yellow-orange leaves float down onto the roads, leaving the trees like skeletons. The turning of the seasons seemed like magic, and they are special to me now. The pinks and whites of spring blossom; vibrant summer greens turning to gold. I love that about Britain.

I am passionate about people who feel excluded – about encouraging them into spaces they should be claiming. That’s why I signed up as an ambassador for the Queen’s Green Canopy, the project to get everyone planting trees for the Platinum Jubilee. It all stems from the day my mum announced our family would be moving to Beckenham: it had the best schools, she said, and the best jumble sales “because everyone shops at Marks & Spencer”. All eight of us went to view a house, and it was so exciting, deciding who’d have which room. Suddenly we heard sirens: the neighbours had called the police to say black people were stealing the fittings. My magnificent mum said there and then: “We’re gonna buy this house.”

Through the QGC project, I hope to reach those inner-city children – or anyone from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds, and say: this isn’t just for posh people, it’s inclusive – and we want YOU. Planting a tree gives such a sense of belonging, a stake in something bigger. There’s nothing better than watching it grow, beautiful and alive, and knowing you did that. On a personal level, I want to honour the country I belong to, with all its opportunities to blossom."

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Celebrate The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 by being part of The Queen’s Green Canopy. 

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