“Bury me beneath the Willow, ‘Neath the Weeping Willow Tree, So when he knows where I am sleeping Then perhaps he’ll weep for me.”
THE CARTER FAMILY
Some sources say that the most common of the cultivated Weeping Willow species (salix x sepulcralis) was first introduced into this country from a German nursery in 1908… which does seem a little late in the day considering the hundreds of thousands of the trees that are now to be found across the length and breadth of Britain.
Other sources take a different and longer view on all this. Although they all agree that the weeping willow was first introduced into Britain at Twickenham Park in the 1740’s they disagree as to who it was who did the actual introducing. One group - let’s call them the Vernonites - accept that the tree was originally introduced into mainland Europe from the Levant in 1702 by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. However, say the Vernonites, the tree that eventually arrived in England was brought here in 1748 by a Mr. Vernon, a merchant who had business in Aleppo, in Syria. He took a specimen from the banks of the Euphrates and planted it in his garden in Twickenham Park. It is from this one tree that all the other weeping willows have sprung.
(Regular readers of these articles know that Twickenham Park is where St Margarets now stands.)
Another group, the Popeites, claim that the Weeping Willow was first introduced into Twickenham Park not by Mr Vernon but by our own local poet, Alexander Pope. There is some disagreement as to how this introduction occurred. One sub-group - Popeites 1 - argue that Alexander Pope had received a basket of figs from Smyrna in Turkey. Noticing that one of the twigs making up the basket was still alive he planted in his garden in Twickenham and it grew into the willow tree from which all the others have been propagated.
The second group - Popeites 2 - claim that this virile twig formed part of a present sent from Spain not to Pope, but to his next door neighbour, the Countess of Suffolk who lived at Marble Hill - or Marble Hall as it was then known. Alexander Pope just happened to be with the Countess when the present arrived and was unwrapped. Noticing that some of the twigs were still green he said, “Perhaps these may produce something that we have not in England,” He then planted the twigs in his garden in Twickenham and they grew into the willow trees from which all the others etc etc.
A third group - Popeites 3 - take a position on the fence. They agree that it was Countess of Suffolk who received the aforementioned basket of figs, not Pope, but are very hazy on where the figs might have come from. Spain? Smyrna? Somerfields?
Meanwhile the Vernonites say that this is all poetic fiction - and that Alexander Pope’s willow was merely an offspring of Mr Vernons’s original tree, the one he brought from the Euphrates. This makes sense until you realise that Alexander Pope died in May 1744, 4 years before Mr Vernon apparently returned from Aleppo with his specimen. When Mr Vernon came to plant his tree in his garden Alexander Pope had already been planted in Twickenham Church.
And finally… there are some people who believe in “Tree Astrology” devised apparently by the Celts. This claims that depending upon when we were born each one of us is under the spiritual influence of a species of tree - and this marks our character. Tree Astrologers say that people born between March 1st and the 10th and September 3rd and the 12th are under the influence of the Weeping Willow which makes them:
Beautiful but full of melancholy, attractive, very empathetic, love anything beautiful and tasteful, love to travel, dreamer, restless, capricious, honest, can be influenced but are not easy to live with, demanding, good intuition, suffer in love but finds sometimes an anchoring partner.
Did anyone see “Gullible” in there?
– from Martyn Day