22nd February 2019
by Claire Weiss
Guest writer Claire Weiss explores the fascinating history of a veteran black mulberry on Wanstead Golf Course.
Right next to Hole No. 7 on Wanstead golf course in east London, stands a magnificent veteran black mulberry. The tree is about ten metres tall and has a girth of 298 cm at waist height. Hole 7 has even been named 'Mulberry' in its honour. Like so many old mulberry trees, the search for its origins takes us way back in time, long before its present context was laid out – in this case, to the medieval Wanstead Hall that once stood on the site, and the 18th century Wanstead House that replaced it in 1722 (itself demolished in 1823). But there are some twists and turns in the story up to the present.
The trunk of the Wanstead Golf Course mulberry
A curious twist
A closer look at the trunk of the old mulberry reveals a curious, plaited twist, almost as if more than one tree had been planted in the same hole. 'Bunch planting' of several trees was, ideed, a practice sometimes used by the great landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818). And Repton was asociated with Wanstead House, which once stood on what is now the golf course . A multi-stemmed oak, known as the 'Repton Oak' stands just barely 200 yards away in Wanstead Park's Reservoir Wood, just beyond the golf course. Are the two old trees connected?
Measuring the nearby 'Repton Oak'
Botanically, the extraordinary appearance of the 'Repton' Oak is said to be the result of nine (some suggest even ten) oak saplings having been bunch-planted in one hole, in 1815. It has a massive girth of 406 cm. The tree is a relatively fast-growing and tall sessile oak – Quercus petraea – an English oak suited to stony ground such as the Wanstead gravelly terrain.
There is no doubt that Repton did advocate bunch-planting as a technique for creating the natural-looking groups of trees he favoured. In his 1803 ‘Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening’ he wrote: “… two or more trees should sometimes be planted in the same hole, cutting their roots so as to bring them nearer together”. Was the nearby veteran mulberry also the result of multiple, or bunch planting, which would date it to the early 19th century? Or is it much older, as part of a kitchen garden that stood here in the 18th century?
To find out, I invite you to join my own journey back in time, in my essay: On the golf course at Wanstead – could this be a multiple mulberry?
Photos: (c) Karl Weiss