Arbor Day in the Garden City

10,000 trees planted by 1909

By Lindsay Duncan, First Garden City Heritage Museum

Arbor Day procession, 8th March 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Arbor Day walk c.1911
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Outside the Skittles Inn, Arbor Day walk, 8th March 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Rider Haggard at Arbor Day 1909
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Early Garden City residents, including Ebenezer Howard, planting trees, Arbor Day 8th March 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Norah Clark and Bob Westaway at Arbor Day, 8th March 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Arbor Day, 8th March 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum
Certificate for participating in Arbor Day, 1913
First Garden City Heritage Museum

Arbor Day was created by J Sterling Morton in 1872, in Nebraska, USA. The day encourages the planting and care of trees. This fitted very well with the Garden City plan and principles which included tree planting schemes – 100,000 trees were thought to have been planted by 1909, only six years after the start of the Garden City.  

Famous visitors

The first Arbor Day held in Letchworth Garden City was on 29th February 1908. Guest John Cockburn (former Premier of South Australia and Australian Arbor Day founder) planted the first tree, followed by Ebenezer Howard. The years following, the day was held in either February or March, and continued until World War One. Arbor days received some famous visitors including the author Rider Haggard (in 1909), horticulturalist C S Cooper, artist Walter Crane, and playwright and political activist George Bernard Shaw. 

The day would begin with a procession led by children, often in costume, who would then each plant a tree. The girl leading the first procession was described as wearing:

‘a wreath of ivy, in which a single white flower has been set, her neck encircled by a chain of acorn cups’.  

The children would sing ‘The Planting Song’ by Letchworth resident Harold Hare.  

 

THE PLANTING SONG

‘Children, come and join our band,

Sing our planting ditty;

Joy in heart and spade in hand,

Marching through the City.

Trees we plant for shady street,

Trees for uplands bare,

Trees to cast a fragrance sweet

On the Summer air.  

 

We will plant for days unseen,

For the future City;

Then shall walls of wood and green

On walls of brick take pity;

Sturdy Ash and feathery Larch

Roofs will be o’ertopping;

From the Oak-trees leafy arch

Acorns will be dropping.  

 

Infant trees of Fir and Beech,

In the soil now treading,

Some day up to Heaven shall reach

Giant arms out-spreading;

Then will they, with years and care,

Flourish like our City,

Sheltering people of the air,

Nestlings sweet and pretty.  

 

Birds and men will bless this day,

And us who now assemble,

When they see the Pine-trees sway

And hear the Poplars tremble.

Therefore, children, join our band,

Sing our planting ditty,

Joy in heart and spade in hand,

Marching through the City. ‘   

 

Each child would receive a certificate for taking part. The trees were planted at various locations including Common View on the first Arbor Day, and Norton School. Trees such as fir, chestnut, poplar and birch were planted. 

Arbor Day revived 

The spirit of Arbor Day was revived in 2008, 100 years after the first celebration, when pupils from Lordship Farm and St. Thomas More schools planted trees at Manor Wood and Hillbrow recreation ground.  

Arbor Day continues to be celebrated worldwide.

This page was added on 19/02/2011.

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