She has played the Queen of England and nearly has a full EGOT. But if you ask Dame Judi Dench about the real role of her lifetime, it might just be her (no-longer-secret-anymore) secret life as a tree whisperer.
Even at 82 years old, Dench maintains her knack for staying trendy — and a new documentary airing December 20th on BBC One explores how the Oscar-winning actress is one of the original "forest bathers" and "friluftsliv" advocates: someone who feels most at home while communing with trees and conserving our forests, living that "free air life."
The new one-hour special, filmed over the course of a year, explores Dench's "deep love for trees" in "a magical study of the changing seasons and their effect on Judi's own secret woodland at her home in Surrey."
On her property, Dench has developed a serenely sweet and sentimental ritual to remember dear and departed friends in the best way she knows how, by planting a tree in their memory. Since she started her memorial grove five years ago, has planted around 35 saplings.
According to The Mirror, the Oscar-winning actress was so smitten with trees as a kid that "she got terribly upset when she saw lorries stacked with trunks driving past...and she remains convinced trees should only be felled if absolutely necessary." (Who else is suddenly feeling very guilty about their real Christmas tree? Just me? I didn't think so.)
That connection to the natural world is what has made Dench a lifelong environmentalist and bona fide tree whisperer, who urges her fellow humans to become more connected with our forests. More than simply plants, Dench's Secret Woodland estate has used technology to show how connected, community oriented, and communicative trees can be — even protective of the vulnerable among them.
"Too many forests are being destroyed and we should do all we can to conserve what we have and plant more," Dench has said. "The more trees I see, the happier I am."
And science is on The Dame's side: Taking a walk in the woods can increase your levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps the brain deal with stress, according to Health. Ancient cultural philosophies from East to Norse have long made spending time outdoors in nature a cherished ritual, too.
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, loosely translated to "forest bathing," which is a long recognized therapeutic technique for relaxation and stress management that involves "taking in a forest's medicine" for a healthy lifestyle. The Norwegians call it "friluftsliv" or "free air life", a Nordic philosophy that embodies the idea that returning to nature is returning home and celebrates the "Norwegian cultural enchantment with nature."
Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees airs on BBC One on December 20 at 8pm.