Categories
Books London is a Forest

The Low Down on the New Edition of London is a Forest

I’m excited to announce that the New Edition of London is a Forest will soon be published. It’s more than just a makeover: the New Edition has been fully revised and updated, AND it contains a brand new seventh urban forest trail. The new book has 32 more pages, a lush and luminous cover, and a fancy gold badge, making it an even more desirable tome.


Pre-order your signed copy now


The new chapter describes a route from Harrow to St Pancras. It takes in some splendid trees, some memorable views, and green spaces that certainly surprised me.

Kensal Green Cemetery
Alive and kicking: Kensal Green Cemetery is home to a significant group of mature oriental planes, could this be the finest clump in London?

The first edition was published in 2019, since when it has sold steadily and by Christmas 2021 it was pretty much out of stock. The publisher decided they would reprint, and asked if I’d like to make any updates. There were one or two things that I thought could be improved, a couple of individual trees I’d misidentified and there were a few things missing from the nerdy species lists too. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, we decided it would be great to include a new trail – I’d always felt there was a bit of a north west London green hole – and this was the opportunity to make amends.

Here’s an excerpt from the new chapter, this snippet introduces Acton and a memorable swamp cypress that resides on a residential street:


“The North Circular marks the start of a gradual transition from outer to inner London as Ealing becomes Acton, another area of Victorian expansion. Acton has very old roots. Its name is derived from the Old English word for tree, ‘ac’, which is also remembered in the common names ‘oak’ and ‘ash’, as well as the Latin Acer, the maple genus. These enigmatic names for different tree species are thus very, very old, coming from a single, simple word – more a sound, really – that contains myriad influences, meanings and questions. An ‘ac’ might be an obstacle, resource or landmark – the sound of things that are frequent and boundless. How were trees differentiated in the past? Certainly not by modern taxonomic methods. More likely it was by practical means. Pollard, coppice, spinney, copse, frith and penge are all terms associated with trees that have very specific meanings but are now largely forgotten. It seems implausible for a place to have been named after something generic, so the ‘ac’ of Acton must have referred to a noteworthy feature, perhaps a single oak, a multitude of landmarks, or a place noted for the quality or fecundity of its trees.

Acton is not known for its trees today, but offers frequent evidence of a boskier past. Alongside Ealing, it was a popular location for country houses, handy for London, but definitely not the city. These estates would have been grand and leafy, but are now only remembered in street names and open spaces given over to other uses. Springfield Gardens is one such space, while Shalimar Gardens remembers an estate of that name, and Perryn Road is named after Sir John Perryn, a local landowner who left his estate to the Goldsmiths’ Company. Where Shalimar Gardens meets Julian Avenue, a monumental reminder of Acton’s past soars above the Edwardian terraced cottages. The considerate developers of this corner of London thought fit to build around a tree that now takes over half a carriageway of the narrow street. Unlike Ealing’s Elephant Tree, this one has a protective kerb to reduce its exposure to frustrated motorists. It is a huge and aged swamp cypress, its size emphasised by its surroundings.”

Categories
Books Urban landscape Walking

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.

Categories
Books Urban landscape Walking

Twelve Trees that Defined my Lockdown – Part 1

During Lockdown 1.0, I spent as much time as I could outdoors. Like many, I found it gave me an opportunity to appreciate nature on my doorstep even more than usual. Combined with a beautiful spring and the dramatic reduction in pollution, it seemed especially piquant. My lockdown urban nature explorations turned into a project which came to fruition in October with the publication of my new book, London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Through the Green Metropolis. 

Out Now: London Tree Walks

The book consists of twelve walks in many corners of London from Acton to Walthamstow, and during the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting two blogs featuring a tree on the route of each walk. I hope these will offer a taste of the book.

Here, then, are the first six:

1. Queen’s Wood Hornbeam

A charismatic hornbeam can be found near the start of this seven mile circular walk from Highgate Tube station exploring North London’s Ancient Woodland.

Rippling: Dramatic sinewy trunk of the Queen’s Wood Hornbeam

Hornbeam is a common species in all London’s precious pockets of ancient woodland. It was a tree favoured for its hard wood, a valuable commodity in days past when Londoners relied on wood, charcoal and coal shipped from Newcastle to heat their homes and power their businesses. This is a particularly characterful example, one that appears to have been spared the regime of coppicing and instead seems to have fulfilled a role as  boundary tree, tucked away in the dense undergrowth of Queen’s Wood. From Queen’s Wood, this walk takes you through no less than three other tracts of ancient woodland.


2. Wood Street Horse Chestnut

The Wood Street Horse Chestnut is a local landmark on this circular walk from Walthamstow Central: Surprising Trees Between River and Forest.

Awesome: Walthamstow’s landmark conker tree

The iconic Wood Street Horse Chestnut in Walthamstow is a fine example of the much-loved conker tree. It’s difficult to say how old this one is, but the clapboard building, now a health food shop but once a butchers, is around 200 years old. Like all London horse chestnut trees, this one suffers from leaf miner attack resulting in the leaves appearing brown and shrivelled from the late summer. It’s a problem caused by the caterpillar of a micro moth eating the leaves from the inside. While it doesn’t seem to stop trees rebounding each spring, it must surely be gradually weakening them. Enjoy this tree while you can. 


3. Mentmore Terrace Bee-bee Tree

It’s almost impossible to select a single tree that sums up London’s Urban Arboretum, another circular walk, this time from Hackney Central, but the bee-bee tree is one of the most unusual.

Sweet spot: Hackney’s unusual bee-bee trees are irresistible to pollinators

Typical of Hackney’s exciting and diverse tree canopy is this example of a rare east Asian bee-bee tree near London Fields, seen here laden with berries in late summer. This walk offers a taste of the borough’s ambitious and surprising modern tree planting, but also traces the legacy of Loddiges nursery, a botanical institution located in Hackney during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


4. Wapping’s ‘Baobab’ Plane

On the route of Docklands Old and New between Wapping and Canary Wharf, I discovered a rare ‘Baobab’ London plane.

Doggone: The striking swollen bole of a ‘Baobab’ London plane

There must be less than a hundred ‘Baobab’ planes in London, so it’s always a thrill to come across one I hadn’t heard of before, like this one in Wapping’s St John’s Churchyard. Called ‘Baobabs’ because they have peculiarly swollen trunks, it’s thought these are an unusual, and now forgotten, Victorian cultivar. From picturesque Wapping, this walk leads east hugging the river before exploring heroic modern tree planting nestled between the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.


5. Tree of Heaven on Enid Street

On the trail of Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey, between Borough and Rotherhithe a splendid mature Tree of Heaven is encountered.

Angel’s Delight: Tree of heaven seeds and leaves in SE1

Trees of Heaven are synonymous with Bermondsey. They were the tree favoured by tree planting pioneer and local heroine Ada Salter from the 1920s. Salter set about transforming the former borough of Bermondsey (now a corner of Southwark) partly through planting thousands of trees there. Many of those early twentieth century trees can still be seen, and this fine specimen on Enid Street was resplendent with deep red seeds when I walked the route in August this year.


6. The Honor Oak

The surprisingly bosky, not to mention, hilly route from Honor Oak Park to New Cross Gate, A Local Community Gets Involved, takes in great views and great trees.

Your Honour: One of south London’s finest

Both can be experienced at the top of One Tree Hill where the Oak of Honor grows a few metres from one of the finest views over London. The current Oak of Honor was planted in 1905 to replace a much older oak that reputedly had the ‘honor’ of shading Queen Elizabeth I who passed this way en route to Lewisham… The walk also leads through the flatter ground of Crofton Park and Brockley where trees planted by the inspirational grassroots charity, Street Trees for Living can be found.


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, look out for the next six trees which I’ll be posting in a week or so. And if you would like to get hold of the book in the meantime, it’s available from all the usual places including Bookshop.org and NHBS, and I have signed copies available too.

And if you’re wondering about the Canary palm… it’s outside Hackney Town Hall and can be seen on the London’s Urban Arboretum walk.

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 Urban landscape

Trekking through the urban forest

In August last year I walked through Epping Forest from Epping tube station to Chingford. It’s an amazing walk with incredible beech pollards and prehistoric earthworks, musclebound hornbeams and rare wild crab apple trees to be seen along the way. It’s just a section from one of the trails through London, from the greenbelt to the inner city, I describe in my new book, ‘London is a Forest‘, published by Quadrille Books on 2nd May.

London is a Forest Endpapers trails
Trail Mix: The six forest trails in London is a Forest

As well as Epping to London Fields (its eventual destination), I walked five other urban forest trails, High Barnet to Barbican, Erith to Canary Wharf, Richmond Park to Westminster, Croydon to Deptford and Tower Bridge to Heathrow.

GPS coordinates for dozens of landmarks and fascinating individual trees have been included in each trail, allowing them to be plotted. I hope this book will hold as much appeal for intrepid explorers armed with phone, map and compass, as for those who prefer the comfort of an armchair or a seat on the tube. Along the trails, I attempt to outline what the forest is and how it takes the form that it does. I explore the rich diversity and interdependence of species through the fragile and entangled relationships between places, plants and animals, including us humans. 

Of course, today’s urban forest has been shaped over many centuries, and I have included insights and anecdotes about the history, heritage, ideas and people that have influenced it too.

The trails have been turned into beautiful graphics by Fieldwork Facility, and feature as the end papers from the book, and each landmark has been plotted on a Google Map. In the book, these appear as GPS coordinates in the margin, so the truly adventurous might follow the trails independently. And here’s the map:

Want to read more? You’ll have to wait until 2nd May when the book will be published, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon or Waterstones.

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

Quercus rubra SE1 06 leaves shard_MG_8667
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

Koelreuteria paniculata W4 27_MG_8391
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

Prunus padus N19 01_MG_2665 sq
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

Platanus x hispanica SW1 33_MG_9900
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
Urban landscape

Engaging people with trees through technology

Trees and technology are not, on the face of it, natural bedfellows. But I believe new technology can provide the trigger for people, especially young people, to become interested in what is around them. 

So, I’m very pleased to be part of a ‘Trees and Technology’ seminar during London Tree Week where I am sure this will be one of the hot topics. Other topics to be discussed are the Mayor’s street tree map, the data behind it, which is now in the public domain, surveying urban canopy cover from space, creating digital tree trails and how Internet of Things (IoT) technology can help monitor tree populations.

This event is part of the London Tree Week Lecture Series organised by the Mayor of London and the Woodland Trust. It takes place on Friday 2nd June, 2.30pm – 4.30pm at Convocation Hall, Church House, Westminster, London SW1P 3NZ

And it’s FREE!

So, to find out more and secure your place now visit the Woodland Trust’s website.

 

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!

london_street_trees_2___mayor_of_london
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?

nyc_street_tree_map___nyc_parks
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.