Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 2

This is my second half dozen, for the first six, see Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 1.

In the first post, I wrote about how my lockdown urban nature rambles turned into my new book, London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Through the Green Metropolis. Lockdown allowed me to really get to know parts of the city near where I live in north London, and as the rules eased, I ventured further afield, mostly on two wheels, and occasionally on public transport, allowing me to get to the tropics of Acton, Fulham, Pimlico, and beyond.

Out Now: London Tree Walks

The book consists of twelve walks in many corners of London from Brockley to Walthamstow, I hope these brief arboreal portraits will offer a taste of the book.

Here are the second six:

7. Churchill Gardens Chinese Tree Privet

The most prominent of several fine examples of mature Chinese tree privet trees in Pimlico’s Churchill Gardens Estate, one of the Architectural Utopias Among the Trees.

Modern: A mature Chinese tree privet in early March

Churchill Gardens is one of central London’s finest modernist housing estates. It was largely constructed in the 1950s, and the young architects responsible, Powell and Moya, worked with a former head gardener at Kew to devise the planting*. Seven decades later, and the estate is awash with fine, and often unusual trees. One species that makes its presence felt, particularly in winter, is the evergreen Chinese tree privet, the finest example of which stands outside Wilkins House towards the western end of the estate.


8. Fulham Oak in Fulham

Fulham oaks really do originate from SW6, and a rare example can be seen in Hurlingham Park on the route tracing Rock Family Trees.

Old Peculiar: Fulham oak acorn and leaves

There are lots of different hybrid oaks, and to confuse us, there are lots of different named cultivars of hybrid oaks too. The Fulham oak is a cultivar of the hybrid between cork and Turkey oaks: Quercus x hispanica ‘Fulhamensis’ (or Q. x crenata to some). It is so named because it was offered for sale by a Fulham nursery, Osborne’s, around 1760, when semi-evergreen oaks were popular. It is very similar to Lucombe oak, another cultivar of the same hybrid, but is far rarer, so it’s good to know there’s at least one alive and well in Fulham!


9. Acton’s Swamp Cypress

On the way to discover How the Elephant Got its Trunk, Acton’s huge old swamp cypress is a very surprising sight.

Road Hog: The magnificent swamp cypress on Julian Avenue

Swamp cypresses are one of those curious conifers of the deciduous kind. Other types you might come across are soaring dawn redwoods, a tree much planted around London, or one of the larches (trees more likely to be encountered on a Scottish mountainside than in suburban Acton). So it will be even more surprising to discover this one, and a very large one at that, on Julian Avenue, W3. It’s been here for many years, possibly a couple of centuries, it certainly appears to predate the Edwardian terraces that now surround it. Intriguingly, it grows in its own build-out into the road (it must be cursed by impatient drivers), suggesting it may have been protected by the Edwardian developers from some earlier landscape. If so, it must have already been a tree of note over a century ago.


10. St. Paul’s American Sweetgum

Tucked away in one of the Green Corners of the City is the towering American Sweetgum growing against the southern wall of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Heavenly: The towering sweetgum in St Paul’s Churchyard

St Paul’s Churchyard is stuffed with great trees including several magnificent and aged London planes, but the American sweetgum is perhaps the most interesting tree here. It is an exceptional example of a species much planted in London in recent decades, giving us a hint of how big these trees might become. It is by far the largest one I know, an even more remarkable fact when you discover it is a mere 70 years old.


11. The Inner Temple Manchurian Walnut

Between Holborn and Temple lies Legal London, a part of town renowned for Lincoln’s Inn, the Royal Courts of Justice and the sanctuary of the Temple, within which a delightful and  rarely opened garden can be experienced.

Your Worship: Is this fine spreading tree a Manchurian walnut?

Inner Temple Garden doesn’t get too many visitors as it’s only open for an hour or two on weekdays, so make sure you plan your visit in advance. It’s a charming place boasting a splendid tulip tree, a lovely Atlas cedar and a rare hybrid strawberry tree among dozens of fine trees. But the one that stands out for me is a spreading Manchurian Walnut tree – it’s the only one I’ve seen, and I’m still not 100% convinced that I’ve correctly identified it…


12. The Honor Oak

No book about trees in London could be complete without mention of the London Plane, and in The Embankment’s Nineteenth-Century Planes, there’s a whole walk devoted to them. But there are one or two other species making a guest appearance too, including the Palace of Westminster catalpas.

Right Honourable: The catalpas at the Palace of Westminster date to 1859

Of the other trees, there are several characterful southern catalpas or Indian bean trees to discover in the gardens along the Embankment. Many of these date from their opening in 1870 and, unlike the long-lived and far more abundant London planes dating from the same period, they are showing their age. Catalpas are relatively short-lived trees, and the oldest of the bunch, in fact the oldest trees on this route, are the wonderful wizened group in New Palace Yard just below the Elizabeth clock tower housing Big Ben and behind the security fence.


There are of course many, many more trees to see on each of these routes, and they are detailed in the book. As well as hundreds of photos and dozens of features, the book contains detailed OS maps to aid your passage.

If these half dozen arboreal stars have whetted your appetite, check out the first six trees, and get the book. It’s available from all the usual places including Bookshop.org, Stanfords and directly from me (signed of course!)

* Read more about the Churchill Gardens estate on the brilliant Municipal Dreams blog.

That wonderful avenue of mature London planes at the top of the page can be found on the Legal London walk.

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