I didn’t manage to get tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show this year so here’s my own Chelsea garden in Stroud Green. I love the bronzes and purples of the heuchera, astrantia, cirsium and acer against the greens and whites in this border.
And here is the same border as an aerial view showing the different textures of the plants.
Here’s another border. Geranium Johnson’s Blue, aquilegia (I think Nora Barlow?) and self-seeded Alchemilla mollis and valerian.
Another border fringed with the ever-multiplying Alchemilla mollis! It’s so pretty with raindrops on but I couldn’t get a photo of those rare drops.
I’m keen on geraniums, especially blue ones. Here’s the lovely Geranium Rozanne, much beloved, and deservedly so, by Carol Klein. It’s out from June till October, but this is a very early flower.
I’ve also just discovered a newer relation to Rozanne – Geranium azure rush which I’m told has a more compact form and is even more long-flowering. I bought mine from Claire Austin which came in excellent condition.
I haven’t got many roses, but who could fail to love the Rambling Rector – a cascade of unruliness, just like some unkempt Victorian vicar’s garden.
Another rose I bought at this time from David Austin is New Dawn, which after several years has come into its own. Its a modern rose and flowers repeatedly and has the most delicate fragrance. Worth waiting for.
At the end of my garden is a pond with various planting around it. Here is a rush with some fish sculpture from Crocus floating above.
And lastly a picture of my pond. It looks tranquil but I have many newts, water snails, water boatmen and damsel and dragonflies. I even have a daily visit from a sparrow hawk sipping from the pond. There’s been a pair nesting in the trees on the railway at the bottom of our gardens for several years now.
I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.
On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.
We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.
I can’t ride a bike so when David, one of the staff at Pedal Power, offered to teach me I was somewhat sceptical. Pedal Power is a club for cyclists with learning disabilities running sessions at the Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. “But my feet fall off the pedals,” I said. “Then we’ll start you off on a scooter,” he replied. So there I was scooting round the Emirates Stadium with one foot hovering above the ground in case I fell off. It was slightly scary but by the end of the circuit I was able to scoot for longer periods with both feet on the scooter.
Pedal Power was founded twelve years ago by Jo Roach. “My daughter, Suzie, who has a learning disability, has been cycling since she was four and is a good cyclist,” Jo told me. “Suzie lives independently but can only ride when she visits me. I looked for an appropriate cycling club but there was none available. So I sought advice from the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start one myself. I’d already got some starter money from running a tea party at Christmas. I love baking and my tea parties are always successful. After all, the more you cycle, the more cake you can eat,” Jo said with a twinkle in her eye.
With the cake money and some money for bikes from Waltham Forest Council, Jo set up the club at the Eastway Cycle Circuit, but when this was demolished to build the Olympic Park she looked for another venue. Fortunately she was able to find a regular slot at Finsbury Park, and later on Islington Council got in touch and commissioned her to start sessions at the Emirates.
“I see so much success,” said Jo. “It’s so rewarding seeing people riding for the first time when others say they could never do it. It’s about fun, freedom and fitness.”
The following Tuesday I attended a session at the Finsbury Park running track. It was a fine sunny day and cyclists of all ages were out in force – from four years old to 70! Jo told me that about 100 people would attend throughout the morning. She pointed out one of the cyclists, Pete (not his real name), looking very cool in his bright blue helmet. “Pete’s been coming for a year and was shaking all over when he first got on the trike but now all he needs is a bit of support to mount, and he’s off.”
The variety of bikes and trikes is amazing – who knew there were so many? I was especially impressed by the variety of trikes, some of which could be ridden independently and others with a support worker either at the side or at the back, tandem style. There’s even the Velo, a Dutch built trike, used to carry wheelchairs.
At the end of the session I met Phyllis who was riding her trike with confidence. “I’ve raised money for Race for Life through Centre 404 [a centre for people with learning disabilities and their families in North London]. That was a five kilometre race and I raised £84. This year I want to do a ten kilometre race,” she said with pride.
The club couldn’t do without the part-time workers who are qualified cycle trainers, the many volunteers – and of course the funders.
I heard about the club through a friend who told me that her colleague, John Thorne was running the Shakespeare Marathon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 7th May in aid of Pedal Power. John works for Islington Council’s Leisure Team and helps funds Pedal Power’s Emirates sessions with help from Sport England. I’ve sponsored John and hope you can donate too by getting in touch with him on email@example.com. Donations can be taken for some time after his marathon.
Pedal Power sessions take place at Finsbury Park (10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and 12-4pm on alternate Saturdays) and the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal (10am to 2pm on Thursdays).
I crept out of the house at 4.30 am on Sunday to get to Coldfall Wood, one of Haringey’s ancient woodlands, for a Dawn Chorus Walk led by birdman David Darrell-Lambert for the Friends of Coldfall Wood. I’ve been on quite a few of these walks over the years – local ones as well as one at Minsmere in Suffolk – but this was quite the best. It was as if David were conducting a choir. ‘There’s a blackbird over here and one answering there. A wren on that bush. And a robin just above us.’ He could hear each bird in the chorus and taught us to focus on screening out the birds we knew so that we could concentrate on learning a new song. Below the fluting of the blackbird and trill of the wren I learned to identify the chiffchaff – an example of onomatopoeia if ever there was one. We heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming and as it became lighter we saw one of the old nesting holes pecked in a tree.
There’s a sequence to the dawn chorus, with the blackbirds, robins and wrens amongst the first to sing, and the song thrush usually coming in slightly later. By 6 am we could hear the tiniest of British birds – the goldcrest, along with the chiffchaff, nuthatch and blue, great and coal tits. Blackcaps sing a bit later. They are a type of warbler and I’ve seen them in my own garden, but I was really impressed when David identified a willow warbler whose habitat is mixed or deciduous woodland. We heard both stock doves and wood pigeons. Nothing remarkable about those but their song reminded me of a ditty taught by a friend: ‘My feet hurt Betty,’ calls the wood pigeon. ‘My feet hurt,’ says the collared dove. Whereas the stock dove just shouts ‘My feet! My feet!’ Just as we were leaving the woods at about 7 am we heard a chaffinch sing. I know the song of the chaffinch, which can be likened to a cricket bowler running up to the crease and letting go of the ball.
Birds sing in the spring to proclaim their territory and/or to find a mate. At this time, most birds are already breeding but some lonely ones will still be looking for a mate. By late June the birds are quieter and the chorus reduced.
David not only identified the songs but also gave us snippets of interesting information. I can’t remember hearing a dunnock on this walk but David told us that it’s just been discovered that it’s the female that sings, rather the male, which I think might be quite unusual amongst birds. We talked about migration. Even wood pigeons, the most common bird in my garden, are known to migrate – possibly short distance within the UK or maybe to France. There’s not been a tracking device attached to a woodie as far as I know. I love stories of bird migration. The longest migration recorded is of the bar-tailed godwit flying nonstop from its summer breeding ground in Alaska to New Zealand, a distance of over 7000 miles, in nine days.
David is leading two more local Dawn Chorus Walks in Queens Wood on Sunday 30th April at 5 am and 9 am. You can book here.
The wonderful bird photos are by my photographer friend Mike Reid.
I used to work with the Conservation Volunteers in my student days in Scotland. Many are the rhododendron ponticum shrubs I’ve dug up to make way for native Scottish plants, and once I spent an idyllic two weeks camping on the beach at St Cyrus near Montrose, building a cliff path. So I was pleased when I met a group of Conservation Volunteers constructing a Wildlife Trail at the Highgate end of the Parkland Walk.
I chatted with Simon Olley, who chairs the Friends of the Parkland Walk: “The idea for the Wildlife Trail came out of a conversation I had with Ian Holt, the conservation officer at Haringey Council, about 18 months ago,” he said. “The idea came to fruition when we were successful with the Tesco Bags of Help grant which gave us £10,000 to spend on fencing and materials.”
The Trail area consists of about 3000 square metres of gently sloping land just off the main path. The idea is to create pockets of interest and a variety of habitats around a meandering path. Information boards, mainly aimed at young children, will help identify the flora and fauna. The lower section will be completely accessible to those with mobility issues and work is being done to improve access to the sloping area so that they can use the whole site with some assistance.
The Trail is really shaping up with mixed hedging of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, field maple and dogwood forming the boundaries. As well as forming a habitat of its own, the hedging will also act as protection for neighbouring houses. The path is already set out but is awaiting a covering of woodchip which can be sourced from the sycamores that are due to be felled. “There’s a bit of a controversy about the felling,” Simon explained. “Some people think nature conservation is about conserving the status quo and find it hard to understand why a woodland has to be managed. But a healthy woodland has a much lower density of mature trees. The current woodland area is crowded which means the trees compete for light and grow up towards it becoming unbalanced. Originally in Haringey’s wild woods there would have been wild boar and deer keeping the saplings at bay and creating open glades where wildflowers could thrive. We must explain this to local people so they come on board with us.” Simon also told me that sycamore is a non-native tree and only hosts about six varieties of native insect, whereas oak can host 200-400 different varieties.
There were about ten volunteers working when I arrived. I met Sarah who was looking for trees marked with orange dots. She would cut back about a third of the ivy on these trees to reduce the weight of ivy so they would prosper. “I come out with the Conservation Volunteers most weeks,” Sarah told me. “It’s addictive and I’ve worked at sites all over Haringey.” Other volunteers were clearing a patch of ground ready to plant the wildflower seeds donated by Kew Gardens under its Grow Wild initiative, a campaign bringing people together to transform local spaces by growing native pollinator-friendly wildflowers and grasses. This mixture should attract a wide variety of insects and butterflies such as common blues, silver-washed fritillaries and small tortoiseshells.
I asked Simon what made him become interested in the Parkland Walk. “I think, like a lot of people living in densely populated towns, I’ve got more and more interested in green spaces. I’ve always been interested in gardening and I walk my dogs regularly in the Muswell Hill section of the Parkland Walk. It gives me the opportunity to stop and listen to birdsong and take in all the colours of the plants and the activity of the wildlife. I wanted to put back something I’ve gained so I contacted the Friends. I’ve been on the Committee now for six years and what I bring to being the Chair is my encouragement to get more people involved.”
That’s certainly true, as Simon has now signed me up to become a litter picker on the section of the Parkland Walk near to me!
It’s Easter so it must be baking time. I’m a member of Stroud Green Women’s Institute and we’ve formed a Cake Club where we meet every six weeks or so to bring, bake and, of course, eat cakes. Last week we baked a variety of Easter cakes from all over Europe.
First up was La Mona de Pascua from Catalan. It’s a Genoese sponge with an apricot jam filling and a rich custard topping with no fewer than 15 egg yolks mixed with icing sugar. Traditionally the cake is made with hard-boiled eggs embedded in the centre, but the modern recipe is somewhat plainer!
We tried Russian Paska, a tower of cream, ricotta cheese and cream cheese mixed with nuts, glace cherries and crystallized ginger. Unfortunately it didn’t come out quite like the one demonstrated on Mary Berry’s Easter show last week, but it tasted delicious.
Of course we sampled Simnel cake, a fruit cake layered with marzipan and topped by twelve eggs representing the twelve apostles.
One member made a fertility cake, Fruchtbärkeit torte, using a recipe from her Austrian aunt. The sponge is mixed with copious amounts of poppy seeds, a traditional symbol of fertility. It reminded me of the poppy seed cake my mother used to bring home from a Polish deli when we lived in Birmingham in the 60s. This fertility cake was filled with a custard flavoured with a generous amount of Tia Maria and was topped with chocolate and flaked almonds.
Lastly there were chocolate truffle scotch eggs with a creme egg filling.
Anyone familiar with the Parkland Walk will know about the brick railway arches that make ideal canvasses for graffiti artists. I used to think that spray cans were wielded by local young people who use the Cape Play and Youth Project, but I now realise the arches attract graffiti artists from across London who want to make their mark one way or another.
Walking underneath the arches last week I met Nil, from Marseille, who moved to London a year ago to work in advertising. I talked to him about his art: “I’ve been interesting in painting all my life and became obsessed by graffiti when a friend introduced me to it when I was 18.”
Nil was taking some paintings to a friend who works as a framer in Crouch End when she told him about the graffiti wall.
I asked him what the graffiti meant and he said that he always paints in light blue and pink: “I love these colours and last year I chose them to mark my work. It should be more recognisable now.” Who is Ben, I wanted to know. “He’s a friend of mine. I’ve also signed this with my own name and the date,” he said, indicating his signature.
“This is a new place for me. I usually paint at the wall surrounding the Trellick Tower in North West London near my home.” The Trellick Tower wall is one of the three legal graffiti sites in London, the other two being Stockwell Hall of Fame and the Leake Street tunnel at Waterloo.
Further along I examined a menacing masked figure clad in black and red armour with the hashtag #do1cancer. I’m intrigued so when I’m back home I do a bit of searching to enlighten me, finding that do1cancer is a group of graffiti artists who organise events to raise money for cancer charities.
Concern about graffiti along the Parkland Walk has been raised by users. However, most complaints are about the ‘tagging’ or non-artistic variety rather than the artistic graffiti underneath the bridges. So it’s a controversial issue, but the graffiti is tolerated because probably most people would agree that the wall paintings brighten up the dark arches.
Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org who shared his photos with me.