Categories
Ancient trees Books Street Trees Urban landscape

Calling Mancunians, Glaswegians, Dubliners, Cardiffians and Urban Tree-Fanciers Everywhere!

I’m very excited to have been commissioned to write a book about the great urban trees of Britain and Ireland. Research is underway and, hopefully, I’ll be travelling all over these islands to see as many of its great trees as I can over the coming months.

Visitor Attraction: A rare and distinctive ‘Baobab’ London Plane in Canterbury

There are some towns and cities I know well, but there are many more I know less well, and so that’s why I’m asking for your help. I’d love to hear about the special trees in towns, cities and villages all over the UK and Ireland. They might be in town centres or in urban woods, they might be in parks or on estates. They could even be street trees, or glimpsed over a wall in a school or a hotel. Ideally they’ll be ones that people can visit and see for themselves just why they’re great.

I’m interested in discovering the trees that are local landmarks or historical markers, the trees that in one way or another define a place. These are not necessarily the biggest or oldest trees (but of course, I’m interested in those ones too), they will be those that have stories associated with them, or those that mean something to the people who live with them. They might be survivors from a bygone age, or trees planted to remember a particular event or a moment in history. They could be those that are threatened by a future development (some may recognise Sheffield’s Chelsea Road Elm from the top of this post), or they could be trees that have been saved by people who care about them.

London has its Planes, and Manchester its Poplars. Edinburgh, like Brighton, is famed for its Elms. Plymouth has a pear named after it, Strawberry Trees are native to Killarney, Exeter has an elm, and I’m sure other species have urban connections too. I want to find the best examples of all these species!

Outstanding in it’s (Urban) Field: A splendid Spruce in Ballater town centre, Aberdeenshire

I’m interested in the intermingled history of towns and trees too. There are grand landscapes that bring trees right into cities like Phoenix Park in Dublin, Cardiff’s Bute Park or the Pollok Estate in Glasgow. The Victorians have bequeathed their great legacy of public parks, botanical gardens and arboreta like those in Belfast, Nottingham, Birkenhead, Derby, Lincoln and Walsall. Urban growth has grown around ancient churchyards and country estates, and remarkably, woodlands survive in the most unlikely places. Towns and cities have been associated with the great plant collectors and nurserymen of the last 200 years, and their arboreal traces surely live on too.

Smaller towns and villages have great trees too, and I’ve come across the old fenced in Ginkgo in the Cotswold town of Chipping Camden, the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs tree in Dorset or a huge Cedar of Lebanon at Tredegar House in Newport. But these are, I’m sure, just the tip of the iceberg.

So, please let me know about the great trees of Truro, Lerwick, Haverfordwest, Cork, Bradford, Sunderland, Dunbar, Gloucester, Aberystwyth and Dundalk, to name just a few. These are just some of the places I’ll be looking for trees, so if you can think of any others, or know of any trees that I must see, please do let me know about them using the form below.



One For the Road: The old Ginkgo gracing the main street in Chipping Campden
Categories
Ancient trees Street Trees Urban landscape Walking

The Carlton Road Oak: Ealing’s Elephantine Tree

A few months ago, I heard the strange tale of an oak tree in Ealing which marks the spot where an elephant is buried. My interest increased when one of my Twitter friends, a former gardener, told me she had uncovered a huge bone while doing some work nearby. I realised it was the duty of any tree-regarder worth their salt to investigate, so off to Ealing, ‘Queen of the Suburbs’, I went…

Showstopper: Circus celebs of yesteryear

Back in the days when any self-respecting circus had a menagerie of badly-treated animals as part of its entertainment, great processions of clowns, acrobats, caged tigers, feather-adorned horses and semi-comatose elephants would progress slowly through towns and cities drumming up business before they pitched their big top in the local park. And so it was back in 1889, as a circus was trooping down Ealing’s Castlebar Road, when one of its four-legged stars expired. Being of such bulk, the deceased animal was buried, presumably with little ceremony, on the spot it fell: the junction with Carlton Road. Such a memorably macabre event must have impressed those who witnessed it, the fact that the story circulates to this day is testament to that. 

Today, an old and rather battered oak tree grows in the middle of Carlton Road just near that fateful junction with Castlebar Road. But was it planted as an elephant memorial?

Island Queen: The middle of Carlton Road, a very precarious spot for a veteran oak tree

The tree is a local landmark and, judging by its appearance, something of an obstacle too. Its trunk shows signs of having been whitewashed in the past, no doubt in an attempt to make it more conspicuous to speeding motorists, some of whom, it seems, may have had a tussle with the tree, which sports a few battle scars.

The Elephant Tree, or the ‘Carlton Road Oak’, is actually one of four trees – three other oaks on the verge just across the road are in much better shape – forming a row suggesting they mark a boundary, now long forgotten. They are clearly old, maybe veterans of several centuries. So, the Elephant Tree must have been here when the circus was passing all those years ago, and the death of a hulking great pachyderm on an Ealing street has been conflated with an equally memorable tree that also happens to grow in the middle of an Ealing street, into a single super animal-arboreal memorial.

Gang of Four: The Elephant Tree is one of a row of veteran oaks

But how did the tree, elephantine in appearance, come to be in the middle of the road? If it is part of a boundary row, it could be that a lane always went past it, and even forked at the grassy triangle known as Tortoise Green (what might be buried here I wonder?), but perhaps in the past the tree was not dislocated from the Green. It’s likely that road widening over the years has resulted in its isolation, along with its rather diminished canopy and swollen and battered trunk. It is remarkable that the tree has survived in this position, not only because of the knocks it has sustained, but also because of the pollution and the compaction of the ground around it.

Roadblock: Explore Carlton Road on Google Maps to get a closer look at the tree and to see how the local environment might be improved by shutting off the street

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the road could be narrowed to a single fork at this junction? Or, better still, blocked altogether – the residents of Carlton Road would surely appreciate the lower levels of traffic that would result in it becoming a cul-de-sac?


Road Hog: The Carlton Road Oak in all its battered yet resilient glory

Circus elephant image from Alison Marchant on Flickr.

The Carlton Road Oak features in my new book, London Tree Walks, signed copies of which are available from yours truly.

Categories
Books Street Trees

London’s Street Trees revised edition is officially launched

It’s been a busy few weeks in the tree publishing world. Hot on the heels of virtually launching the Great Trees of London Map last week, last night was the official launch of the fully revised edition of London’s Street Trees.

Over 60 people joined the Zoom which involved the publisher, Graham, and I speaking about how the book came about. I went on to give a presentation about some of the things that have changed since the first edition was published. These include the appearance of new species like the Pineapple Guava and the Peanut Butter Tree, the impact of Sheffield on raising awareness of the threats street trees can face, and how in south east London, Street Trees for Living are providing a model for the future of funding, planting and maintaining street trees.

If you missed the launch, it was recorded, and the very committed can view all of it here (it is over an hour long, so you might need some fortification lined up before you start watching!)

Boom: Will book launches ever be the same now that we’ve have discovered Zoom?

Since the first edition of London’s Street Trees was published, what then seemed like a very old fashioned street tree, the rather lovely ‘Pauls’s Scarlet’ cultivar of Hawthorn, appears to be having something of a renaissance. And, as it’s May Day, I shall end this post with some Hawthorn or May blossom. It’s looking particularly lovely this year…

Mayday: The striking double pink flowers of ‘Paul’s Scarlet’, a street tree of the old school

If you’d like to buy a copy of the new edition of London’s Street Trees, it is available from Amazon, direct from Safe Haven and from me too! Just click the button below to buy a signed copy.


Categories
Books Street Trees Urban landscape

London’s Street Trees gets an update!

Three years ago, my book, London’s Street Trees was published. Since then it’s been through three print-runs and has been the subject of kind comments and favourable reviews. And today, I’m very pleased to announce that a new, expanded and fully revised edition has been published by Safe Haven Books.



Tree Nut: One former Islington urban forester clearly had a thing for C
aucasian Wingnuts, planting dozens of these huge, spreading trees across London’s most densely populated borough

In that first edition, I calculated around 300 species and cultivars could be found on the streets of London. I have since discovered Hackney alone has over 350. And while that borough has the most remarkable and diverse collection of street trees in London, there are still species not present on its streets that can be found elsewhere: Islington has over 100 Caucasian Wingnuts, there’s at least one rare Catalina Ironwood in Chelsea and a handful of Cork Oaks in Southwark. 

This new edition is larger in every way – it’s physically bigger, has more pages and includes more tree species. It also includes hundreds of new photographs, the result of three years of my continued obsession with London’s trees.

Rare fruit: A persimmon ripening on a Stoke Newington street tree

But just as the number of species has increased (a decade from now I would not be surprised to count upwards of 500 species and cultivars), so has Londoners’ interest in them. What began as the novel idea of one or two guided walks to inspect the street trees is now, nearly three years later, a regular activity. Even in the current health emergency, I have been able to harness the latest technology and lead virtual walks allowing people to join from all over the world. Above all, I report how Londoners are raising funds to plant their own streets with resplendent species like Persian Silk Tree, a species admired in the pages of this new edition.

Anything but: Plane trees mature into handsome trees that define London

The diversity of today’s urban forest is relatively new. A century ago, A. D. Webster wrote in ‘London Trees’ that ‘nothing very remarkable is to be found in the way of street trees in London.’ Sixty per cent, he estimated, were London Planes, then the height of arboreal fashion. Now, it’s only around 3%. But that is because the overall number and diversity of trees has increased dramatically, not because we have lost thousands of Planes. So, to Webster’s generation, and those before him, we owe a debt of gratitude for the mature giants that now define this city, and the very desire to plant street trees at all. It was only fifty years earlier that the first street trees were systematically planted along the Embankment. Now it would be hard to imagine London, or indeed any city, without them.

We could think of the last 150 years as a great experiment, and one we are still engaged in. The pace of change in the urban forest is rapid. The humble Field Maple, the glamorous American Sweetgum and the rare Paper Mulberry thrive in what appear pretty unfavourable conditions. 

Space invader: Trees of Heaven, once the favoured tree of Bermondsey’s tree planting heroine, Ada Salter, are now a notoriously invasive species

Of earlier species like poplars, by contrast, only aged examples of these magnificent billowing trees can be seen on the street. The attractive, fast-growing Tree of Heaven was once commonplace in places like Bermondsey, but its propensity to jump ship and opportunistically take up residence wherever it can has made urban foresters less keen on what was once considered a wonder tree. But as the looming climate emergency makes the benefits of trees in cities more obvious, one of the most remarkable, and hopeful, things I’ve noticed is just how fast trees can grow on London’s streets. In just a few years, a vulnerable sapling can transform itself into a confident adult tree. 

Then again, since this book first came out – Sheffield happened. Campaigners had to fight a long battle to save hundreds of magnificent, mature street trees from the axe. It shows, I think, just how much we value our urban trees, and how far we are prepared to go to protect them.

Street trees reflect the aspirations of a city, the conditions of the present and our legacy for the future. In London, grand oaks and planes offer a direct connection with the glories and inequalities of its past; exotic Olives and Crêpe Myrtles celebrate our multicultural world city as well as its changing climate, while Tulip Trees, Dawn Redwoods and Ginkgos will grace our streets for generations to come. I hope you enjoy discovering them all.  


If you’d like to buy a copy of the new edition, it is available from Amazon, direct from Safe Haven and from me too!


Categories
London is a Forest Street Trees Urban landscape

Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey

Today, London has 32 Boroughs (plus the City of London), but before 1965, it was made up of a multitude of small boroughs, one of which was the Borough of Bermondsey. 

Now subsumed into the super-borough of Southwark, Bermondsey was, a century ago, filled with warehouses, tanneries and docks stretching from London Bridge to Surrey Quays. It was an overcrowded area teeming with humanity where more than 120,000 people were crammed into crumbling, insanitary slums. For comparison, the 1961 census records that Bermondsey’s population had declined to just over 50,000.

The following is selected from my new book, London is a Forest. It discusses the work of Ada Salter, her Beautification Committee and the trees she planted around Bermondsey.


Into this toxic environment an idealistic young woman arrived intent on transforming the lives of the area’s residents. By 1920 Ada Salter had become a Bermondsey councillor, and set about making ambitious changes. Together with her doctor husband, Alfred, they started improving housing, health and the environment. Ada set up a ‘Beautification Committee’ with the ambitious task of turning Bermondsey into a garden suburb. By 1930, 7,000 trees had been planted on the new estates and the streets of the borough. 

Far Sighted: A statue of Ada Salter on Bermondsey Wall East

Salter was the driving force behind the transformation of Bermondsey from industrial slum to green oasis. She was a quaker and an ethical socialist who felt her mission was to deal with the great iniquity of slum housing and the intolerable conditions in which the urban poor were forced to live. She arrived in Bermondsey as a social worker where she met her husband, Dr Alfred Salter. Together they lived in the slums among the people they represented and helped, he providing medical assistance to the poor and needy while she threw herself into alleviating social injustices affecting housing, health, worker’s and women’s rights.

Ada Salter became Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922, an important and powerful position back then. She was one of the first female mayors in the country, and was the first ever female Labour mayor. From this platform, she and her fellow councillors were able to set in motion a whole host of radical policies and reforms. Great strides in public health were made decades before the NHS existed, a programme of slum clearance alongside the erection of new homes, vastly improved sanitation, and public washing and laundry facilities were completed.

But perhaps Salter’s most long-lasting and far-reaching achievements were those of the ‘Beautification Committee’ she chaired from 1919. This innocuous sounding task force was driven by the compulsion that improving the environment was part and parcel of improving people’s lives, and that by raising aesthetic appreciation of their neighbourhoods, a sense of personal wellbeing and civic pride would be engendered. Salter’s ambition with the Beautification Committee was to turn Bermondsey into nothing less than a garden city.

This transformative vision for the borough can still be seen. Estates dating from these interwar years often have central green courtyards and balconies which, although less festooned nowadays, at one time would have been bedecked with window boxes. Elsewhere the legacy of thousands of trees planted all those decades ago can still be seen, Tower Bridge Road, Tooley Street and Jamaica Road are grand plane-lined thoroughfares, indeed virtually every street within the former borough is lined with trees. 

Mistaken Identity? Caucasian wingnuts on Wilson Grove

Had it not been for the Great Depression of the early 1930s, many more workers cottages with gardens may have been built rather than the cheaper-to-construct flats that abound here. Wilson Grove and Janeway Street represent what might have been. These streets, completed in 1928, exemplify Salter’s utopian vision for ideal social housing to replace the slums. Rows of neat, faintly art deco garden-cottages were designed in consultation with local women who advised on the practical necessities required for their new homes. Greenery was at the heart of the development, gardening was encouraged, and trees lined the new streets. On Wilson Grove today, large, spreading Caucasian wingnuts (Pterocarya fraxinifolia) cast their shade. These handsome trees have big pinnate leaves (multiple leaflets on a single stem), and long, dangling seed clusters. They are unusual in London, particularly so as street trees because they require considerable space to reach their impressive potential. It could be that these individuals were planted in 1928, but, more likely, they are replacements for short-lived birches (Betula spp.) or trees of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) – the latter was Salter’s favourite species – that may well have been specified for Bermondsey’s high profile housing project. Intriguingly, trees of heaven and Caucasian wingnuts have similar leaves and are quite easily confused, particularly when they are saplings. Maybe then, Wilson Grove’s wingnuts were planted in error by a well-meaning but mistaken urban tree planter in decades past.

Tree Museum: The tree of heaven planted above the vault containing the ashes of Ada and Alfred Salter

Not far away, on Druid Street, opposite the arches carrying the elevated railway lines from London Bridge, lies the Dr Alfred Salter Children’s Playground. Here, on a raised flower bed between the swings and flats of the Fair Street Estate (typical of Bermondsey’s low-rise interwar developments) a broad-crowned tree marks the vault where the ashes of Alfred and Ada Salter are interred. This is a tree of heaven, between 20-30 years old, and one of just a handful consciously planted in recent years. Ada Salter planted hundreds of them though and they are, perhaps, the species that defines the work of her Beautification Committee. Originating from China, they were introduced in the 1700s and have been in and out of fashion ever since. Originally they were an attractive curiosity: large trees with huge leaves almost resembling palm fronds, and conspicuous seeds, more or less red, appearing in the high canopies in late summer. In the nineteenth century, their pollution tolerance, rapid growth and easy propagation – seedlings and suckers can, remarkably, grow several metres in their first years – meant they were good candidates for planting in industrial cities.

A Tree Grows in Bloomsbury: Trees of heaven are noted for their ability to thrive in difficult urban environments as this handsome tree in Marchmont St, WC2 demonstrates

By the early twentieth century, they were particularly recommended for planting in the grimier parts of east and south London for these reasons, and having encountered them in Paris, Salter was, apparently, smitten. They appeared to be the perfect tree for Bermondsey, and large trees from her era can still be seen today, Long Lane between Tower Bridge Road and Borough tube station is lined with fine, mature examples. While they are large and fast growing, they are also short-lived – in their dotage at seventy – so these trees may only have a few years left before they are replaced. When that time comes, they will no doubt be succeeded by a different species.

Since the mass planting days of the last century, trees of heaven have proven to be invasive, springing up in front gardens, railway embankments, cracks in walls and anywhere else they can find a niche. Unlike the misunderstood sycamore, there are many good reasons not to plant them. They barely support other species, they can cause structural damage, they can poison other plants, and their abundant seeds produce an overpowering or according to some, appalling, smell. In North America they have become known as the ‘ghetto palm’, a reference to their giant leaves and propensity to quickly colonise unused lots. 

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Opportunist: A tree of heaven thicket in Nine Elms. Note the inscription on the old metal cabinet in the left foreground recalling Battersea Borough Council. Like Bermondsey, it is another lost borough consumed by Wandsworth in local government reorganisation of 1965.

Further Reading

Web
See my posts about trees of heaven and those in Bermondsey more specifically.

Municipal Dream’s thoroughly researched post about the Beautification of Bermondsey.

Print
Graham Taylor’s excellent biography: Ada Salter, Pioneer of Ethical Socialism.

Fenner Brockway’s biography of Alfred Salter, now out of print. Bermondsey Story; the life of Alfred Salter.

Mark Johnston’s important work, Street Trees in Britain: A History contains a section entitled Bermondsey and the Salters


July 20th would have been Ada Salter’s birthday, and to celebrate her legacy, the Cherry Garden TRA is throwing a birthday party in 2019 at which I shall be leading a walk around Wilson Grove and speaking about her environmental legacy.

Categories
Street Trees Urban landscape

Sheffield’s tree protestors show stainless steel

This is the post I’ve been thinking about for months. Yep, the one about how they’re cutting down all the street trees in Sheffield.

Until now I didn’t feel I could quite do it justice, but a few days ago I went to Sheffield to meet the campaigners and to see for myself what was going on. I was impressed and appalled in equal measure; impressed by the beautiful canopy that does still grace the city, impressed by the determination and positivity of the protestors and their very worthy cause, and appalled by the reckless actions of the city council and their contractor, Amey.

Death Row: Kenwood Park Road, typical of lime tree-lined avenues in the Nether Edge area of Sheffield. Note the yellow ribbons on condemned trees.

I was asked to lead a guided walk through the leafy streets of the grand Victorian neighbourhood of Nether Edge as part of the Sheffield Street Tree Festival. Now, I should say the point of the Sheffield Street Tree Festival was to celebrate the city’s trees rather than to be a focus for protest, and this was the sense that pervaded the festival. But everyone in attendance was, I’m sure, all too aware that the festival had been born out of the community brought together through adversity, so the fate of Sheffield’s trees was never far from our thoughts.

Community Chest: A doomed lime tree has it’s CAVAT valuation attached – £40,948

Sheffield is one of the greenest cities in the UK, it is home to 4.5 million trees, a fact provided by the city council (retrieved 01/10/2018), whose veracity on arboreal matters may, at times, appear wanting. This huge figure has been deployed in the propaganda war around the street trees, of which, we are told there are 36,000, and so to lose some of these is not unreasonable, surely? And again, according to the council the losses will amount to just 0.3% of the total tree canopy – a mere trifle. But 0.3% of 4.5 million is 13,500. That’s more than a third of the city’s street trees! And if that’s not bad enough, campaigners eventually managed to get the contract between the council and Amey into the public domain in which it stated 17,500 trees would be cut down.

Our group of sixty street tree admirers – something of a record for me, even in the urban arboretum of Hackney I’ve only had 25 – walked the streets of Nether Edge on a route that I was doing ‘blind’. I wasn’t disappointed: the street tree canopy here is soaring, verdant and in fine fettle. It’s easy to understand why Sheffield residents feel so strongly. Nether Edge was laid out as broad avenues of large stone villas lined predominantly, but by no means exclusively, with common limes or lindens (Tilia x europaea). Many trees must date from the area’s original development, so most are well over a century old. These vigorous hybrid trees do well in Sheffield and are in their prime, with many decades, or even centuries of service left in them. The splendid boulevards of Nether Edge have survived world wars, industrial pollution and post-industrial decline, but among their number, arbitrarily, individual trees are now destined for the chainsaw. The protestors have attached yellow ribbons to the trees earmarked for felling and wandering down one of these streets it is shocking to see how many, and how randomly they have been selected. It’s not just limes, other trees have been condemned including London planes, horse chestnuts, sycamores, oaks and, most cruelly, a towering elm on Chelsea Road. The elm, a Huntingdon (Ulmus x hollandica ‘Vegeta’), is enormous and may well be the only one of its kind left in Sheffield having somehow managed to survive the ravages of Dutch elm disease. Not only is this individual tree worthy of veneration and preservation – who knows, it could be an important source of disease resistant genes – it also hosts rare white-letter hairstreak butterflies, a species that feeds only on elms.

Chainsaw Massacre: The Chelsea Road Elm surrounded by well-wishers at the Sheffield Street Tree Festival

So why are the trees being cut down? This frequently asked question does not appear on the council’s website or indeed on that of its ‘infrastructure support service provider’, Amey plc, the recipient of the multi-billion pound Streets Ahead contract to ‘upgrade’ the city’s streets.

The council argue that the the city’s street tree stock is mature or over mature – code for ‘too old’ – and therefore needs replacing. This very tenuous assertion simply doesn’t stack up. Yes, many trees are mature, but they are also in rude health, so why cut them down and replace them with ten-year-old saplings?

Maybe the motivations for felling trees are more depressing than that. In the murky world of cash strapped local authorities and opaque PFI contracts it’s easy to imagine the types of discussions being had. Picture the boardroom at Amey’s discrete Oxford head office and a question being posed along the lines of, “how do we increase our margins on the Sheffield street tree management contract?” It doesn’t take a very creative bean counter to deduce that a reduction in the number of mature and over mature assets will reduce exposure to costs associated with managing those very same large and tall assets. Kiss my face! (With apologies to Alan Partridge).

Ready to Rumble: Rundle Road represents one of Sheffield’s finest mature streetscapes

But however it was arrived at, a policy amounting to civic vandalism is being wrought by the city council and Amey plc. Thousands of perfectly healthy street trees across the city have been felled, and thousands more are on death row as part of what appears to be a supremely short-termist cost saving exercise. Sure, trees are going to be replanted, but that’s not the point – how can you replace the history, grandeur and joy that towering, consistent avenues of mature trees bring? And, of course, you don’t need me to bang on about the ecosystem services, mental and physical wellbeing, and traffic calming benefits they bring too…

If you’re interested in reading more about the Sheffield situation, the Sheffield Tree Action Groups website is a good place to start. But there’s lots more too. Perhaps because the protests are so righteous, the council and contractors (not to mention South Yorkshire Police) have been so belligerent and the whole David and Goliath story is so quintessentially English, reams of media articles have been written about it:


If you’ve got this far, here’s something to restore your faith in humankind:

The Heartwood Community Choir’s first public streetside performance of ‘Heartwood’, written especially for the Sheffield tree protectors by writer and academic Robert Macfarlane. Performed under the canopy of the condemned Chelsea Road Elm.


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Categories
Street Trees

Winter-flowering Cherry – the Great Deceiver

This post was originally published in March 2018, towards the end of the harshest winter in London for years.

You may have noticed – possibly with some alarm – the delicate, yet persistent blooms of the winter-flowering cherry which have been flowering for months now. The snow and ice of last week hasn’t been kind to them and many trees in London previously in full flower are now sporting a wilted coat of brown petals, but look beyond these and more flower buds are on their way!

Flower power: Winter-flowering cherry of the ‘Autumnalis’ variety going for it in mid-December

A few years ago a trend began for planting early or late-flowering (depending on your point of view) Japanese cherries as street trees, and in some parts of town two closely related cultivars, like craft beer outlets, seem to be popping up on every street corner. Look out for the white flowered Prunus × subhirtella ‘Autumnalis*’ and the pink flowered Prunus × subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

Millennial: The pink blooms of ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ on a February afternoon

For the uninitiated, the sight of cherry blossom in the depths of winter has been known to elicit strong reactions, from concern for seasons going haywire, to global warming incarnate. But, although I wouldn’t want to deny the very real climate change phenomena for which overwhelming evidence exists, the winter-flowering cherry could not in itself be defined as an indicator. It’s supposed to flower in mild weather from November through to April. And this season, trees in London have been particularly good, blooming consistently since November despite the see-sawing of temperatures within the space of a few days. So, despite it feeling wintry out there, there has not, until last week been a sustained cold patch and this appears to have been exactly what this tree likes.

Frostbite: Wilting blooms mingle with new, unblemished pink flower buds on the ‘Autmnalis’ tree

Which leads us to the question: why does the winter-flowering cherry flower in winter? The short answer is it has been bred to, its flowers are not filling an environmental niche to take advantage of a winter flying bee, it’s flowering because humans wanted something to cheer them up during the gloomy winter months. Prunus × subhirtella is thought to have Japanese horticultural origins, but it has been around for so long, its provenance disappears into the mists of time. It is sometimes also called Prunus subhirtella – note: no ‘×’ denoting hybridity – it’s unclear (as with many other ornamental cherries) what parent species have hybridised to create our tree. Sometimes too, it is called Prunus pendula, an appellation most commonly ascribed to another cultivar, the spring-flowering weeping Higan cherry. This though seems to be sloppiness and it should properly be called Prunus × subhirtella ‘Pendula Rosea’.  Something else to look out for in Winter Flowering cherries is the last flush of blooms appearing in April with the leaves. These flowers differ from those of previous waves in having stalks – winter blooms are stalkless (or sessile).

Interestingly one of the world’s oldest Cherries, the 1,000 year-old ‘Miharu Takizakura’ in Fukushima province, is a weeping Higan and is often claimed to be the ‘most beautiful cherry tree in Japan’. This is a cultivar unknown as a London street tree, but it may bode well for the longevity of the trees we do have, not to mention their long term potential for craggy good looks.

Dessert course: Delicate pink Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) flowers of the ‘Nigra’ cultivar appear in March

As spring approaches, Winter-flowering cherries will be competing with other early flowering Prunus species, particularly the widely planted purple cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) of either the ‘Pissardii’ (white blossom) and ‘Nigra’ (pink blossom) cultivars. If you’re lucky, you may see almond (Prunus dulcis) with big pink flowers, blireana plum (Prunus × blireana), with almost fluorescent pink blossom or another Japanese tree, Prunus × incamp ‘Okame’ again with pink blossom preceded by distinctive maroon coloured buds.

The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden holds that ‘Autumnalis’ should actually be known by its Japanese cultivar name of ‘Jugatsu-zakura’ 

Learn more about London’s Street Trees with my book 🙂


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Categories
Street Trees Urban landscape

Five of the Best London Boroughs for Street Trees

From Hibiscus in Shoreditch, Golden Rain Trees in Osterley, and Bottlebrush trees in Pimlico, London has unexpected and fascinating street trees. Our urban forest, often under appreciated, is extremely varied and, what grows where differs around the city. So, which are the most interesting boroughs for a discerning London street tree admirer to visit, and why? Read on to find out about 5 London boroughs that, in no particular order, stand out…

1. Hackney

Hibiscus ? EC2 03 flower_MG_6480
Hipster Tree: Flowers of a Red Heart Hibiscus syriacus in trendy Shoreditch

Until about 20 years ago, Hackney was one of the less forested boroughs but around the turn of the millennium, it started catching up, and boy, did it catch up. Hackney now is a veritable arboretum: you can find streets lined with Kentucky Coffee Trees (Gymnocladus dioicus) in Clapton, Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.) in Shoreditch, Wild Service Trees (Sorbus torminalis) in Stoke Newington and Scots Pines (Pinus sylvestris) in Dalston. The urban forest is relatively young here but what it lacks in maturity, it makes up for in diversity. There is something of interest at virtually every turn, and it will be exciting to see this part of town mature in the coming years.

2. Southwark

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Shard of Oak: Autumnal Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves in Southwark

Southwark is a big borough (by inner London standards), stretching from the southbank at London Bridge all the way east to Canada Water and south to Dulwich and Nunhead. Street tree planting is varied, and, like Hackney, you don’t have to go far to find something of interest. There’s a street of spectacular Yoshino cherries (Prunus x yedoensis) in Herne Hill, some of the biggest Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) specimens in London can be seen in Bermondsey and Magnolias (Magnolia spp.) are planted outside Borough Church. Southwark has pioneered some unlikely species too, including Persian Silk Trees (Albizia julibrissin) and, one of my favourites, the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

3. Hounslow

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Old Gold: A mature Golden Rain Tree in Chiswick

That long ribbon of a borough, Hounslow, has been planting great trees for years. It’s got everything, from stately Planes (Platanus x hispanica), classic Lime tree (Tilia x europaea) boulevards and landmark Cherry (Prunus spp.) avenues to being perhaps the best place to see mature Golden Rain Trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) in London. Of these elder statesmen, a tree right outside Osterley Tube station is an arboreal landmark, displaying beautiful coral pink new leaves in spring, yellow flowers in high summer, glorious autumn foliage and seed lanterns in the winter. There’s at least one tree in this borough playing host to Mistletoe too.

4. Islington

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My Cherie Amour: Lovely as a spring day, Bird Cherry in full flower, Islington

My home borough, so I might be a little biased, Islington is the part of town I know best. It’s the best borough for Caucasian Wingnuts (Pterocarya fraxinifolia), a fabulous spreading tree easily identified by tell-tale dangling clusters of little winged nuts, and is home to some other intriguing species. Islington was, of course, the first borough to plant Olive trees (Olea europaea) on the street – to reflect its Greek and Turkish communities perhaps? It is also home to some great Elm trees of various types including the Chinese Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia), the largest tree of this species in the country can be seen planted outside the Whittington Hospital. But perhaps what Islington is most noted for is ornamental fruit trees; dotted about the borough, the street tree aficionado can find rare pears (Pyrus spp.), notable Crab apples including plenty of Chonosukis (Malus tschonoskii), and unusual Yunnan Apples (M. yunnanensis). There’s also a good stock of flowering cherries including examples of the now rather out of fashion Bird Cherry (Prunus padus).

5. Westminster

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Frontline: Newly pollarded Plane trees separate Tate Britain from the Millbank Estate in Pimlico

Westminster plays host to the ‘Government Estate’, so has the job of keeping some of the most visited, filmed and photographed parts of the city looking green and pleasant. There are a lot of mature Plane trees in Westminster, as you might expect, adding to the grandeur of Whitehall and parts of the West End. But scratch the surface and you will find more interest around many corners. Westminster has pioneered the planting of Gingkos (Gingko biloba), a species well adapted to life in the busiest parts of town, and even in this most urban borough, English Oaks (Quercus robur) can be found outside Charing Cross and Pimlico stations. Perhaps the finest Mimosa (Acacia dealbata) to be found on the frontline can be seen in Pimlico and there’s even a street lined with Australian Bottlebrush trees (Callistemon citrinus)!

Stanfords

These trees and many more feature in my newly published book, London’s Street Trees and I shall be talking about the urban forest at Stanfords Map and Travel Bookshop in Covent Garden on June 5th. Please do join me!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider making a donation on my Buy Me A Coffee page. Thank you!

Categories
Street Trees Urban landscape

The London Street Tree Publishing Event of the Year, Possibly

I have an announcement to make: my book, ‘London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest’ will be published by Safe Haven Books at the end of May 2017.

Final Cover hi-res

This book documents my own journey of discovery, not just of the great variety of London’s street trees, but also their fascinating stories. I’m extremely pleased to include a Foreword from London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who will face the challenge of improving our air quality during his term in office, I’m sure that planting many more trees in the city will be part of the solution.

To quote A.D. Webster, who wrote the – dare I say – ground-breaking book London Trees; Being an Account of the Trees That Succeed in London, with a Descriptive Account of Each Species and Notes on Their Comparative Value and Cultivation. With Guide to Where the Finest London Trees May Be Seen in 1920: ‘Nothing very remarkable is to be found in the way of street trees in London.’ Nearly a century later I can confidently report that this is no longer the case. I have counted well over 150 distinct species, and at least another 150 cultivars or varieties. I am sure there are many more than this and I am also sure this number will only increase.

Londoners need only walk a few minutes from their front doors to encounter a hugely diverse and endlessly fascinating urban forest. My book is a celebration of the forest, its diversity and its beauty. It is a guide to the many unexpected, even improbable, species to be found around the capital, from Anerley to Walthamstow, and an attempt to shed light on things many of us never knew about the trees on our streets.

Most people will be aware of London’s own eponymous street tree, the London Plane – in itself unique among cities – and no doubt many could recognise one, but according to the London i-tree eco project report, Plane trees account for less than 3% of London’s street trees. I hope this book will go some way to helping you identify the other 97%.

Here’s a few spreads from the book to whet your appetite:

Chequer This Out: Wild Service Trees can be found on London’s streets

Feature Rich: One of many articles about the urban forest
Trail Mix: One of four London street tree trails

You may want to read more, if so, you’ll have to wait until the end of May, but you can pre-order on these sites:

Amazon

Book Depository

Waterstones

I hope to do some events around the publish date including walks and talks which I will announce on Twitter closer to the time.

Categories
Street Trees Urban landscape

London’s Street Trees on the Map (well, most of them)

Some months ago I heard rumours about a London Street Tree map being prepared by the GLA at City Hall. Excitingly, that map is now live and has been for a couple of months. For those who haven’t yet poured over the fascinating insights into what trees can be found on London’s streets would be well advised to stop reading this and get over to the map now!

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Genus loci: The most common 22 tree types are mapped, and all the ‘Others’ are there too – they’re the brown dots…

Underlying the map interface there exists a vast database of information, no doubt hard won, wrestled from individual boroughs. Each borough is responsible for the trees on their patch and each has a team dedicated to their management. Perhaps not surprisingly then, each borough holds their own records for their part of the urban forest, and each borough uses different ways to gather and store this data, not to mention what data it actually harvests and holds. Therefore the feat of wrangling data from these various sources into a single dataset providing consistent information should not be underestimated – makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

There are some black holes – for instance, Hackney and Haringey are two of seven boroughs that have yet to provide their data, but 25 of the 32 boroughs, plus the City of London and TfL have done and even with gaps, the potential of this map is becoming clear. Knowing what is planted on our streets is not only of interest to those who manage the tree inventory, this information can start to inform planning decisions, provide environmental insights and help shape policy to improve air quality. If there’s a correlation between levels of pollution and mature Plane Trees for instance, then this map could be a tool in that investigation right across the city. For me though, the most exciting possibility is the potential for public engagement.

The street tree data including location and species information is in the public domain and is released under an Open Government licence. It can therefore be used by third parties to exploit both commercially and non-commercially. And this is where the opportunities lie: imagine an app that can tell you what the tree is outside your front door, or the tree you walk past on your way to work? All possible with the data. Imagine walking up to a tree and discovering through your smart phone that it is a 150 year old Plane tree, it’s 33m tall and it’s one of 253,751 Plane trees in London, one of the most frequent trees in the city. This Plane tree stores CO2, soaks up pollution, moderates temperatures and has a financial value too. Imagine another app, this one educational, telling kids about all the minibeasts that make their home in an Oak tree outside their school or a Rowan tree on their street. It could tell them that an ancient pollarded Black Poplar tree in the local park was there long before the park and that it is a rare native tree that needs protecting. Another app could guide users on tree trails around Hampstead, Putney or wherever, it could allow the users to add comments about the trees on the trail, even add their own trail or check in at the Wembley Elm on Facebook.

And then of course there are more practical or nerdy applications, want to check out where all the Kentucky Coffee Trees are in London? Want to let your Local Authority know about the broken branch on a tree in your street? Want to see where the empty tree pits are? Want to get involved in community street tree maintenance?

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Big Apple: Every species is listed on the NYC map allowing users to easily locate their nearest Amur Corktree (Phellodendron amurense)

So, what do other cities do about mapping street trees? New York appears to be leading the way with their recently launched map. It is worth noting that New York is in a very different position to London in that one city-wide body manages the street trees ensuring the data wrangling issues faced in London just don’t exist, so they have the luxury of focusing on visualistaion and functionality. New York’s data is real time, users can register and once logged in, favourite individual trees and get involved with community street tree activities like planting and maintenance.

Melbourne’s map, like New York’s, allows users to zoom in almost to street level, but it only covers a relatively small area of the city centre. As reported in media around the world, users can email trees in Melbourne which while possibly a bit odd has clearly caught the imagination of many.

The London Street Tree map and especially the data underpinning it are tools that could help us understand, appreciate and value the trees in London which in turn could make our lives richer and healthier. I can’t wait to see it show all the street tree data, and with more detail too – exact species info would be great to see.