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Treasure 54: On the Planting of Trees in Towns
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Treasure 54: On the Planting of Trees in Towns

Historic Documents
Léa Moreau
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Treasure 54: On the Planting of Trees in Towns
Historic Documents
Treasure 54: On the Planting of Trees in Towns
Aberdeen was something of a pioneer when it came to the planting of street trees in Scotland. An article on the subject in the Aberdeen Journal from 1905 states: "As is constantly remarked by visitors, Aberdeen has great reason to be proud of its trees. In some respects, it can, in this direction, show the way to other Scottish cities."

Alongside St. Andrews, Aberdeen led the way in the extensive and effective planting of trees on city streets. This was largely due to the work of Aberdeen's first park superintendent, Robert Walker. The 1905 article states: "To those who know Mr Walker only as the busy man in charge of Victoria and Westburn Parks, the Union Terrace Gardens, the Links, and the grounds of Robert Gordon's College, the fact of his being an author may be new, but it is something to which Mr Walker can look back with pride, because the publication of 'On the Planting of Trees in Towns' was the means of stimulating the movement for tree-planting, not only in Aberdeen, but also in a good many more places in Scotland."

Walker's book, printed in 1890 at the University of Aberdeen, consists of two papers read before The North of Scotland Horticultural Association in 1889. The volume was issued by the two Aberdeen members of Mr Ruskin's Guild of Saint George after a strong request to publish was made by those unable to attend Walker's lectures. The book argues that trees should be planted not just in parks, but in city streets too: "The slight good effected by fine parks placed here or there towards the outskirts of a city is as nothing to what might be carried out by so planning and planting streets and roads, that the air might be comparatively pure and free, and the eye refreshed with green at almost every point."

The Aberdeen Journal states that the value of the book is "very much materially enhanced by illustrations of a number of our best-known trees from drawings from Sir George Reid, lithographed by Messrs Thomson and Duncan." George Reid (1841-1913) was a nationally renowned Aberdeen-born painter. A year after the publication of the book, in 1891, he was elected as the president of the Royal Scottish Academy and knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1905 he played a significant role in the extension of Aberdeen Art Gallery, determining the layout and contents of the building. He died at his home in Somerset in 1913 and was buried in St Peter's Cemetery, Aberdeen.

On the publication of Walker's book a copy was send to keen arboriculturist and habitual Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. The 1905 Aberdeen Journal article reports that, in his acknowledgement of the gift, Gladstone wrote that "he would read the book with the greatest pleasure, the subject being one in which he took a special interest." At the time, the post card with acknowledgment could still be seen framed in Mr Walker's house. The Journal article also states that the book has been unobtainable for a long time but that a copy is available to view at the Reference Department of the Public Library. Over a hundred years later this is still correct and the item now sits in our Local Studies collection.

"Trees not only afford shade and shelter," states Walker's book "but adorn the landscape and purify the air. They improve the heart as well as the taste; they refresh the body and enlighten the spirit. And the more refined the taste is, the more exquisite is the gratification that may be enjoyed from every leaf-building tree."
Robert Walker, Street trees
Aberdeen Local Studies
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