Willow pattern

Hunting through some photos today and I came across a set taken in Christchurch in February. It was a momentous time to be in the city – our baby was leaving home to begin university and it was the third anniversary of the earthquake that killed 185 people with visible reminders of that terrible day all around in the form of broken buildings.

Strolling by the Avon River one morning, I noticed the way the sunlight was outlining the weeping willow fronds and paused to take a photo. Just as I was lining up the shot a punt came under the bridge and into view. Perfect.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

And if I hadn’t moved closer for the shot, I wouldn’t have seen the plaque that explained the history of the riverbank willows, which are Salix babylonica or one of its many hybrids.

The planting commemorates Francois Le Lievre who came to New Zealand on the French whaling ship Le Nil in 1838, returning in August 1840 on the Comte de Paris as  part of the attempt to create a French colony at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula.

The plaque is unclear as to when the planting took place, but says that “after landing” in Akaroa Francois planted weeping willow cuttings taken from the grave of Napoleon on the south Atlantic island of St Helena.

An illustration of the grave site on St Helena by JC Mellis. Note the willow. Image: Wikimedia Commons

“There is strong evidence to suggest that the first willows planted on the banks of the Avon River grew from cuttings taken from those trees,” the plaque says. It was erected by the Christchurch City Council and Marie Emily Le Lievre of Akaroa, the great-great granddaughter of Francois, in 2001.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

After I’d taken the photos a passerby came over and said, “it’s nice to see something beautiful, isn’t it?”. We noticed that strangers often spoke to us in Christchurch, and always to say something positive. It’s a wonderful trait to have developed when it must have been so tempting to do otherwise.

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