Street Trees

North Americans surround City Hall

More London is the could-do-better new development of the usual eateries, open spaces and largely unremarkable office buildings on the southbank just west of City Hall. It does try hard though and has some interesting bits like the water feature running the length of the dramatic diagonal pedestrian conduit between Tooley Street and the river. The developers have also planted a swathe of North American tree species including Liriodendron Tulipifera – the Tulip Tree, Quercus Rubra – the Red Oak and Betula Papyriera – the Paper Birch.

I wonder why they chose these species over native ones? Particularly the Red Oak which while undoubtedly a handsome tree and mildly exotic with its large serrated leaves has none of the character of native Oaks. It’s straight, business-like stature – particularly evident in these young nursery-nurtured trees – mirrors the buildings and their daytime inhabitants. The irony is that the beauty of this tree in its native New World is surely its fiery autumn colours which in our damper and milder oceanic climate is watered down from a rich red to a pedestrian caramel brown.

Paper Birch (betula papyrifera)
Paper Birches at More London

I like to think there was more imagination behind the selection of the Paper Birch as one of the other species used in the landscaping. Like the European Silver Birch, Paper Birch is a pioneer coloniser of marginal land and was prized by native Americans for its use in the construction of canoes.

So, well done developers for making an interesting open space and ensuring there’s lots of greenery (I particularly like the shady planted rows of Box hedging under an Oak canopy interspersed with stone benches), but wouldn’t the whole development have been more characterful and perhaps had more of a sense of place if the planted trees were the familiar native Oak and Birch?

The dramatic diagonal leading from Tooley Street to the Thames:

Street Trees

Barnsbury’s golden tree

I cycle past this very fine Robinia Pseudoacacia var. Frisia in Barnsbury on my way to work. It always gladdens the heart with its magnificent golden foliage. Not strictly a street tree this one as it is in a private garden, but it is most definitely part of the urban landscape rather than a garden tree.

Robinia Pseudoacacia var. 'Frisia'
Streets in Islington paved with gold? Robinia Pseudoacacia var. 'Frisia' on the corner of Thornhill Road and Barnsbury Square
Robinia Pseudoacacia var. 'Frisia' closeup
There's even a birds nest perched on one of the branches,,,

You too can find it here:

London has many fine Robinias which make attractive street trees although the ‘Frisia’ variety is less common. Robinia Pseudoacacia originates from eastern North America where it is known as the ‘Black Locust’, in the UK it is known as the ‘False Acacia’ and it’s widely planted and perhaps beginning to naturalise. In late spring Robinias have short-lived white flower racemes that provide an important source of nectar for honey bees. 2011 was a good year for the flowers – in London at least.



Helleborines at Yockletts Bank

I love the downland landscape around Canterbury, there is a maze of ancient hollow ways overhung with coppice and hedgerows traversing steep banks and hidden valleys occasionally allowing a peek at a lovely English landscape which in my imagination has been unchanged for millenia. This was the scene as we turned off Stone Street (the Roman Road connecting Canterbury to Hythe), went through Petham and on to Gogway, a fantastically named and no doubt ancient lane cutting through the Yockletts Bank nature reserve.

I have not visited Yockletts Bank before, but it is famous for it’s Lady Orchids which being August we were far too late for. We were rewarded by a diverse woodland flora though, including Field Maple and Hornbeam coppice, ripe hazelnuts (can I call them cobnuts?) on the floor and most excitingly, helleborines. I am not a helleborine expert and I wasn’t able to immediately identify them, but there may have been two species present. I think one was certainly Broad-leaved Helleborine but the other was smaller, had darker, smaller flowers and was a more shy plant altogether. I was able to take these pictures of the two differing flower spikes:

Broad-leaved Helloborine
Tall Broad-leaved Helleborine flower spike
Smaller helleborine with darker, redder flowers (pity the picture is out of focus - they will improve!)

You can find Yocklett’s Bank here: