Thursday, February 15, 2024

John Evelyn's Mulberry Tree

London The Unfinished City
John Evelyn's Mulberry Tree.

Walking through Sayes Court Park I was confronted by this fenced off tree. At first look the tree is definitely very old and, I assumed, fenced off to protect it. 

This was only partially correct as it turns out that this tree has a history. A history involving Peter the Great of Russia. Intriguing.

The plaque, installed by the Russian Embassy to the United Kingdom Russian Heritage Committee, says,

This mulberry tree is believed to have been

 planted in John Evelyn's garden in 1698 by

 the Russian Tsar Peter I the Great,

 who stayed in Sayes Court during his trip

 to England as part of the "Grand Embassy".

London The Unfinished City
Perpetuating a myth?

However, there are conflicting stories as to who did plant this tree and as to when it was planted.

How old is the tree?

The short answer is... nobody knows, for sure.

There is a mulberry tree in the garden of nearby Charlton House, planted in 1608 which looks similar to Evelyn's tree. So, it could have been planted in 1698.

Who planted it?

The short answer is... nobody knows, for sure.

In Cunningham’s 1850 Handbook of London there is a reference to “a tree said to have been planted by Peter the Great when working in this country as a shipwright”.

In Nathan Dews’s 1883 History of Deptford there is a quote from an unnamed 1833 work by Alfred Davis "A forlornly looking, ragged mulberry tree, standing at the bottom of Czar Street, was the last survivor of the thousands of arborets planted by John Evelyn in the gardens and grounds surrounding his residence at Deptford.” 

Peter the Great, himself, was no real gardener as, during his stay at Sayes Court, he caused considerable damage to the gardens. So-much-so that on John Evelyn's return he was granted substantial damages from the Treasury, once Peter had left.

So, until the tree dies, gets blown down in a storm or new technologies are invented, we will never know how old this tree is.

Regardless of any new technologies we will never truly be able to say with any certainty who actually planted this tree.


  1. Another fascinating piece of horticultural history. Hope the tree stands for many more years.

    1. So do I. Hopefully they may find out more about who did plant it and when.