Haddington remains a ‘green’ town with open spaces and gardens well planted with a great number and variety of trees. A good proportion of the older examples were planted to commemorate people, institutions and events and many of these occasions were marked by considerable pomp and ceremony. Their presence reminds us that East Lothian’s heritage is more than just people, bricks & mortar: the landscape, too, tells a tale.
In 1863 the marriage of the future king and queen Edward and Alexandera was noisily celebrated by the Rifle Volunteers in company with the Free Gardeners. After parading through the town to the Haugh, the tree was planted and the Volunteers demonstrated their drill prowess; after they returned to the town they again demonstated by firing off a triple feu de joie. Successive plantings were recorded in the Haddingtonshire Courier as they happened.
Several of these commemorative trees have been planted on the Haughs, beside Waterloo Bridge (itself a commemorative structure). Some are marked by plaques recording their significance. Others (with markers) can be found elsewhere in the town.
The presumed birthplace of John Knox is marked by a now mature oak. It was planted on 29 March 1881 in accordance with the wishes of the philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle. The tree was planted by Miss Watson, who had donated the plot of land, and it was done under the sight of a great gathering of local ministers, the inheritors of Knox’s reforms. Carlyle had particularly wanted to mark this place as his late wife, Jane Bailie Welsh, claimed descent from the Reformer’s youngest daughter and lay buried in St Mary’s Kirkyard on the other side of the river. The plaque records
Near this spot stood the house in which was born John Knox AD 1505. In commemoration an oak tree was here planted 29th March 1881 after the wish of the late Thomas Carlyle.
As well as significant trees in the kirkyard itself there is nearby a row of common lime trees. Although those standing now are of differing ages this appears to be the result of replanting to maintain the number at 9; locally, they are held to be representative of the ‘nine trades of Haddington’, the old incorporated bodies that regulated and supported the craftsmen of the town. Also nearby is St Mary’s Pleasance, now under the care of the Haddington Garden Trust. Within the grounds there are several features of interest to the tree-lover: a hornbeam walk leading into a laburnum bower, examples of old Scottish fruit trees, other commemorative plantings, and a productive fig tree against the south-facing wall.
Other planting are more exotic. Around Haddington are several examples of Wellingtonia, or the Giant Sequoia, beloved of John Muir; already large, they’re still youngsters by the standards of the species. Several other North American trees feature in the landscape. Over the River Tyne at Amisfield, the golf course incorporates several feature trees that were planted within the policies of the vanished Amisfield House, once the home of the Earls of Wemyss and March.
In the 1960s Haddington’s planning department began to restore, rather than remove ancient buildings; they also realised the significance of the town’s treescape and recorded many of these then extant. A small booklet was produced, which has subsequently been updated (twice). A local expert then produced an updated account at the beginning of the new century.
In June 2015 the John Gray Centre hosted an exhibition which displayed Victorian photographs of trees. ‘Remarkable Trees’ was initiated by Paul Nesbitt and Dr Helen Bennett of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and was first displayed at Inverleith House within the Gardens.