My Blog List

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Bluebells in Perivale Wood

A short walk from Perivale underground station in west London is a wood that's open to the public just once a year, when the forest floor is carpeted with more than five million bluebells. Dozens of people make a note of the day, and journey to see them.
Perivale Wood takes in 27 acres of ancient oak forest and meadow, a remnant of the forest that once covered all of southern England. It was one of the UK's first nature reserves and is owned and managed by the Selborne Society, founded in 1885 to commemorate the 18th c. naturalist Gilbert White. In 1957 it was registered as a site of Special Scientific Interest and the Society began an intensive management programme to restore its fragile habitat, which had suffered from neglect during and after World War II.
The bluebells are all English, with stems that curve over - if any upright Spanish ones appear, they are quickly removed. The wood is carefully managed. We saw signs of coppicing on the larger trees, such as this hazel (below) and a programme of planned felling is creating clearings where seedlings have a chance to develop and rejuvenate the forest.
The first Open Day was held in 1970, initially in May, but now it's on the last Sunday in April as global warming means the bluebells are flowering earlier. The carpet of blue was actually just past its best this year, but the colour and scent from the flowers was still wonderful.
The reserve is also home to 24 species of trees, among them two oaks, at least 400 years old, and planted to mark the boundary between Perivale and Greenford (above). As well as the bluebells, there are banks of wild flowers, three ponds, two streams and glimpses of the Grand Union Canal that runs along part of the wood’s border. The Open Day is on the last Sunday of April. Entrance is £1, and no booking is necessary.

Friday, 26 April 2019

My easiest container planting ever

 It's that time of year when everything in the garden is racing ahead and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. But when it came to planting up a container (above) I had major help this afternoon from Pop Plant.
A pre-planted basket arrived by post with all that was needed, so there was no visiting the garden centre with a wish list, then finding not everything was in stock.
All I had to do was put some compost in a container, put the basket on top, and water. The plants are colour co-ordinated - there are 11 options - in both basket and container versions. It was all done in less than five minutes. The large, healthy plants are already starting to bloom.
The Pop Plants system would also be ideal for someone just starting out in gardening - according to a recent survey by Common Sense Gardening, 84% of millennials questioned said they wouldn't garden unless it was simple to do and their gardens were easy to maintain. They also said they'd appreciate gardening being made easier. So someone has been listening!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Exploring Willesden Lane

There’s so much to be seen and enjoyed in London that sometimes we forget to explore the history of our own neighbourhood. A recent walk with neighbours took us from Willesden Green station down to Kilburn, via Willesden Lane – not the most obviously interesting trail, but one that uncovered a story of change and development typical of many suburbs. The station itself is a Grade II Listed Building, opened on Nov 24, 1879 and upgraded in 1925 by the Metropolitan Railway’s architect, Charles Walter Clark, when crowds were flocking to the British Empire Exhibition further up the line at Wembley. The diamond-shaped clock on the facade is a trademark of his style, and the ticket hall retains much of the original green tesserae mosaic tiling.

One surprising feature - just below the ceiling is a frieze of dark red tiles representing trees: once Willesden Green was a hamlet surrounded by forest.

Incidentally, the wide space outside the station (above) is not the remains of  Willesden's green, but a turning circle for the trams that ran there from Cricklewood from 1906 until the 1930s.

Our trail led from there along to Willesden Lane, stopping to look at Electric House, a residential block that replaces a 1920s art deco building that was once an electric goods showroom. Willesden Lane is itself a remnant of the area’s past before the Reformation it was the route taken by pilgrims heading for the Shrine of the Black Virgin of Willesden.

An 1823 map shows it surrounded by farmland and called Mapes Lane. But this name goes back even further, to Walter Map (1140 – 1210) who served King Henry II, and was a canon of St Paul’s cathedral; he was assigned rents from lands St Paul’s owned in the area. It was not until Victorian times that the fields began to be covered with homes for the rapidly expanding population of central London. This began in Kilburn, and gradually crept up the lane, the houses becoming larger and more up-market the further out they got. Many churches were built to cater for these new occupants.

The True Buddha Temple, on the corner of Sidmouth Rd, was once a Welsh Methodist chapel, with a Welsh-language school. Today the Victorian facade has been adapted and a large statue of Buddha sits beneath a tree in the front garden.

Further down the lane is another example of how the area is changing the Sree Swaminaryan Hindu Temple.

Once St George’s church, built in 1888 in Early English style, stood on this site, but falling congregations led to it being demolished in 1986. Another historic building that has been lost, Mapesbury Manor House, was on the same stretch of road. First built in Tudor times with a moat, it later became a school, but was pulled down in  1925 the front of the site is now covered with a row of houses.

Christ Church, on the corner of Christchurch Ave, has managed to survive, despite fluctuations in its fortunes. The second-oldest parish church in the area (the oldest is St Mary’s of Willesden, mentioned in the Domesday Book), it was consecrated in 1866 to cater for the fast-growing area, and attracted a large congregation – people arriving late for the 11am Sunday service had trouble finding a seat. It suffered some damage in WWII and financial and structural problems led to part of it being converted into flats in the 1980s, but one part has been reserved for services. Opposite is a large 1937 art deco apartment block, Tarranbrae.

Walking along towards Kilburn, we spotted a row of what may once have been exclusive Italianate villas and a curious art deco building decorated with Egyptian motifs.

All these new residents needed sustenance, and in 1899 a large pub was opened.

Having started life as The Prince of Wales, it’s now known as the Kilburn Arms, but still retains some original features, including etched glass in the old Saloon Bar doors and the curved windows.

The afterlife of residents was also catered for. Next to the pub is an elegant gate house, one of two  that guard the entrance to Paddington Cemetery, a 24-acre site dating from 1855 and today a green refuge with many interesting monuments. By now we were nearing Kilburn High Rd, and the threatened rain had set in. We turned north into the maze of smaller streets, the terraced houses built to provide accommodation for local workers, but with decorative details that would not have been out of place on grander developments.

In Dyne Rd a large 1970’s block of flats, James Stewart House, occupies what was once the site of Willesden Town Hall. No trace of this earlier, grand building remains (it was demolished in 1972, having become redundant when the London Borough of Brent was established) but on the pavement there is another survivor of the past: a Victorian letter box, still providing the service for which it was designed. Long may it last in these days of email and Instagram.