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Friday, 18 August 2017

A tree walk in Gladstone Park

How many trees are there in London? Some estimates say 8 million - almost as many as there are people. A walk through Gladstone Park in Brent with Lawrence Usherwood, the council's principal tree officer, provided an insight into some of them. The park was created in 1901 and named after former Prime Minister William Gladstone, who'd been a frequent visitor to the area. Some of the trees are in fact much older, brought in from nearby Roundwood Park, which had been overplanted by farsighted Victorian arboriculturalists with an eye to other locations.
Our first stop was by a much-loved Black Poplar, recently felled because a fungus had been detected on the trunk and it was right by a railway line. Lawrence showed us the fungus (below), which weakens a tree by destroying its interior. The trunk exterior was healthy but there had been concerns the tree would become dangerous.
Lawrence, like many park visitors, regrets the loss. He's hoping the fallen trunk will remain where it lies to provide a useful habitat for the park's wildlife.
Not far away was a crab apple tree, laden with blossom in the spring and now bearing fruit. It's quite young, but could live for 50 or more years.
Lawrence also pointed out a Balsam Poplar, so-called because of the smell of the resin that coats the buds at the start of the year. But this being late summer, there was no whiff of it.
We passed a columnar Fastigiate Oak – so different in appearance from the more familiar English oak - and came to a Swamp Cypress, unusual in that although it is a conifer, it is deciduous.
In autumn its fine, feathery needles produce a spectacular seasonal display of red foliage, making the tree look as if it is on fire. Because it likes water, this specimen has thrived next to a boggy patch of the park. To ensure it gets enough oxygen, it grows roots above ground known as ‘knees’ that act as snorkels, carrying air to the submerged roots. Nearby a frog was crouching, waiting for us to pass.
As we came up on the park’s ridge, with a magnificent view of London in the distance, Lawrence told us about elm trees and the Dutch Elm disease that has wiped out 25 million of them.
It arrived in the UK in 1927, with a further, much more serious outbreak starting in 1967. It’s spread by bark beetles, and we were given a graphic description of the efforts made to contain this: cutting down and destroying trees, clearing the land and creating quarantine areas. Fortunately a new variety has been developed, New Horizon, that is resistant to the disease. It’s a cross between a Japanese and a Siberian elm, and is starting to be available in the UK.
Our final stop was by one of the park’s many London Plane trees, a favourite because of their ability to absorb pollution in the bark. This then falls away, leaving a distinctive camouflage pattern. They’re a cross between the Oriental Plane and the American Sycamore, and the hybrid was discovered by John Tradescant the Younger in the mid 17th c. in his Lambeth garden, where the two parent varieties, brought back from opposite sides of the world, were growing. The oldest ones in London are believed to be those planted in Berkeley Square in 1789. These ones in Gladstone Park, which form avenues along the winding paths, are not so ancient. They and the rest of the park's many trees should be providing shade, shelter and homes for wildlife for many years to come.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Transforming a Tube station

The plans for London’s Garden Bridge may have been jettisoned, but passengers on the northern section of the Jubilee line can enjoy some greenery on their commute - plant-loving volunteers have turned Willesden Green tube station into a mini-oasis.
The platforms are bedecked with flowering planters. Even a wheelbarrow has been pressed into service.
Willesden artist Kevin Vincenzo Keating has created a Wishbone sculpture for one of the flower beds, and against all odds, the espaliered apple tree seems to be thriving.
On Sunday, August 20, from 4pm to 5.30 pm, there will be free guided tours of the platforms by some of those involved in the transformation, plus a chance to buy home-made cakes and maybe some little gifts. All proceeds will go to the continued greening of the area.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Walking the Lea Valley 10: From Rye House to Ware

Who could have asked for a better day for what was probably our penultimate walk along the Lea Valley? Postponed from the previous month because of torrential rain, this ramble took us from Rye House to Ware under a cornflower blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.
We’d stopped at Rye House before - it’s a once-splendid moated mansion built in 1443 by Sir Andrew Ogard, and was one of England’s first brick buildings - but a chance to see it in the sun drew us back. More than 50 different types of brick were used in its construction, many apparent on the former gateway.
From there we continued to follow the Lea/ Lee (there seems to be no definitive spelling), pausing to watch mother birds supervising their fast-growing chicks as they foraged for food.
There are quite a few houseboats moored along this stretch of the waterway, their decoration ranging from traditional to quirky.
I hadn’t realised Stanstead had a lock as well as an airport, but it looked to be as busy as the nearby runway.
One of the boats passing through was heading for Devizes, but expecting the journey to take at least eight weeks – slow travel at its best.
A short detour to Amwell Nature Reserve was rewarded by the sight of hundreds of birds, including a cormorant. The banks were rich with wildflowers.
There were more flowers, too, when we arrived at the historic town of Ware, which we hope to explore on our next walk. “Ware in Bloom” the signs proclaimed proudly. More of the area’s delights were highlighted at the station on a door covered with wildlife scenes. No indication of the artist, but fun to look at while waiting for the train back to London.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Stanmore Country Park - designed by Nature

The last time I visited Stanmore Country Park, there were carpets of bluebells under the trees. At the moment its Wood Farm area is bedecked with interwoven wild flowers and grasses – a stunning carpet that would rival anything in a show garden.
We followed the marked nature trail path up to the higher ground where the trees give way to a meadow with yarrow, vetch and thistles of all colours. 
A touch of drama is added by teasels.
Among the wild flowers beside the paths are hundreds of daisies.
A lovely surprise near the path we followed was the discovery of an almost-hidden pond, the still water reflecting the scudding clouds.
The high point - literally - was the viewing area on the ridge, where a panorama of London stretches before you. A detailed plaque points out landmarks such as Alexandra Palace, the Shard, Canary Wharf and the Gherkin. Even the Heathrow control tower to the west is identified. In the far distance you can just make out Box Hill and the North Downs.
Returning to Stanmore station, there were swathes of delicate flowers underpinned with frothy grasses. And I thought: who needs a garden designer when nature does it so well?

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Twelve London gardens to delight and inspire

Last weekend saw the Open Gardens Day for our NW2 neighbourhood. Twelve gardens opened to the public – all very different, but equally entrancing, and a tribute to their owners who nurture them with such care and attention (above: Maggie and Peter's garden with terrace, lawn and pond; below  Heidi and Gavin's family garden, where plants are grown mostly from cuttings.)
It was very much a community affair, with plenty of opportunities for catching up with neighbours and making new friends. Several hundred people stopped off for refreshments in the tea garden, went up the tower of St Gabriel’s for a birds-eye view, and bought plants grown for the occasion by members of the garden club. 
They discovered Alvio's garden (above), that he has transformed over the years from a jungle of ash and sycamore trees to a colourful oasis.
They saw how Kate and Simon's relatively small plot manages to include 8 varieties of trees, a rose garden, woodland walk and stream.
Andrew has rejevenated this family garden with a palette of cooler whites, greens and blues. (Loved the way buckets were used for lavender planting.)
An unusual sight at the end of Rosie and David's garden: a tranquil woodland glade.
Hester's garden is on three levels with a large box parterre and a pergola of reclaimed wrought-iron railings.
Alio and Dominic's family garden has three main areas providing entertainment and relaxation for adults, children and a large dog.
Elayne and Jim's garden, brimming over with plants, has a wildlife pond, pergolas with clematis and roses and a collection of acers.
Belinda's surprisingly large garden has four ponds, self-seeding plants, fruit trees, roses and hydrangeas.
Deborah and George's immaculate lawn is surrounded by colourful borders and mature trees.
The Dell, NW London's best-kept secret, was also on show. It's a park hidden behind a a row of houses and at this time of year is awash with roses.
The money raised through ticket and plant sales will go to local charities, while some children collected £50 for the Grenfell Tower victims by selling home-made lemonade from their front garden. The event is organised every two years by the garden club, part of the Mapesbury Residents’ Association, and some 80 people were involved in the planning and preparation. Grateful thanks to everyone for such a memorable afternoon.