Council park ranger publishes children’s story book to help solve the local monkey puzzle March 2022


A park ranger’s job can be very varied – from helping to keep the area clean and tidy, looking after trees and plants, to answering visitor’s questions and planting bulbs. But it’s not very often that this long list of activities includes becoming a children’s author – but that is exactly what happened to former Leavesden Country Park ranger Jess Hodges, who has just published her first book entitled The Very Puzzled Monkey Puzzle Tree.

The colourful story of Martha, the titular monkey puzzle tree and star of the book, aims to celebrate the history of the park and in particular its famous monkey puzzle trees – and to help educate children about the trees and how they grow and live.

Jess said: “When I started at the park, the tree officer told me about the monkey puzzle trees, and that the two taller trees are likely to be male – and the smaller one female. I found that a really interesting concept. The smaller tree was obviously much younger than the two taller trees. In my head I related that to a child. I thought about some of the questions I had about these trees as well as what a child might ponder and put them into a story.”

Jess started writing the story of Martha and the monkey puzzle trees in summer 2019, just before she left her job as park ranger. “I just forgot about it for a while really,” she explained. But it was far from the end of the story – it was just the start.  

Jess returned to writing it in 2021 and indeed returned to Three Rivers District Council in 2022 as its new Community Biodiversity Officer. She continued: “I didn’t think I was an overly creative person to be honest. I started jotting down a few ideas and then showed it to a colleague. They encouraged me to finish it – it was quite a surprise to me actually!”

Jess said: “The story follows Martha’s questions, she is very puzzled. She stands in the park every day and people make comments about her – about her being spikey and how she looks different to the other monkey puzzle trees. The park ranger is taking a group of children around and tells the story of the monkey puzzle trees and answers these questions for Martha.

“As well as telling people about these fantastic prehistoric trees, I wanted to highlight the natural history of the site.”

The narrative shares with the reader Martha’s many questions about the tree’s name, heritage and their very spiky branches. The Monkey Puzzle Trees are actually Chilean Pines, and their unique foliage provided the inspiration for the Leavesden Country Park logo. The Monkey Puzzle trees stand within the Edwardian garden in the south side of the park. The garden was created in 1868 by Alexander Mackenzie, a respected landscape designer. Monkey Puzzle trees grow very slowly, therefore it is likely that the two taller trees date back to Mackenzie's original planting scheme and the smaller tree, Martha, would have been added at a later date.

The book has been illustrated by Hertfordshire artist Leanne Coelho – whose colourful and characterful images capture the spirit of Martha.

Jess studied ecology at the University of Brighton, before training at Bournemouth Borough Council and then joining the Trees & Landscapes team at Three Rivers.

She said: “I have a real passion for British wildlife, I feel it can be undervalued. So it is really great to be working within the British countryside. I think the Queen’s Green Canopy and the Platinum Jubilee year is a really good opportunity to showcase it.

“Although I hope it is a really lovely story, it would be great if there are some takeaway messages that might create a little spark and encourage someone to get involved with the natural world a bit more and learn about local wildlife.”

  • The Very Puzzled Money Puzzle Tree has been published by Three Rivers District Council as part of the Leavesden Country Park National Lottery Heritage project. Copies of the book have been sent to schools and libraries across Three Rivers. Storytelling events are also taking place at the park this Easter and summer. Have a look at the Three Rivers leisure website ( to find out more and to book your place.

If you would like a free copy of the book, please visit your local library: Abbots Langley, Rickmansworth, Chorleywood, Croxley Green or call into Abbots Langley Parish Council. An e-edition can be read online here: