Dear Readers, we often underestimate the power of small spaces. Today, I decided to have a look at the car park beside East Finchley Station. It’s an unpromising area, with a steep embankment beside the tube lines themselves, and then lots of small isolated areas of greenery. To the right is the red-brick MacDonalds training centre (though the good people of East Finchley fought off the possibility of an actual MacDonalds) and the back of the Diploma Court apartment complex. I wasn’t hoping for much in the way of biodiversity, but, not having a car, I had never had cause to visit. I just hoped that my camera-wielding presence wasn’t going to cause any problems in these security-conscious times.
As I walked towards the car park, I discovered that someone had been busy on the minute strip of steeply-sloping, partially-shaded ground by the station wall. There were two tiny vegetable gardens, one mostly empty, the other showing a good harvest of rainbow and swiss chard. There was a little sign saying ‘No Litter’, next to a discarded coffee cup, and another sign saying ‘N2 Community Garden’.
I was delighted to see how insect-friendly this little plot of land was, though whether by direct design or by restraint when ‘weeding’ I’m not sure. There was borage, still in flower at this late stage of the year, white and red dead-nettle, hardy geraniums and ivy, and a Mahonia, already a mass of spiky sherbet-yellow flowers. Whatever time of year they emerge, queen bumblebees will find something to feed on here. What a good job this tiny garden is doing.
I marched on into the car park itself. The tube trains rattle into the station every few moments. Nearly every parking space is taken. What a barren place it looks! And yet, there are tiny islands of green, full of ribwort plantain and purple toadflax, dandelions and feverfew, nipplewort and thistles.
And, as I got close to the back of Diploma Court I could see where the municipal planting of pyracantha, probably for security purposes, was pouring over the fence in a sea of red and orange and yellow. Tangled up amongst all the primary colours were the black berries of ivy. This is a feast for thrushes of all kinds, from blackbirds to fieldfares to redwings, and, if we’re lucky, even waxwings if they pay us a visit this year.
By the pay machines, little hummocks of moss were turning the smallest pieces of detritus into soil in those spots where cars didn’t crush everything. Tiny buddleia plants were emerging from every chink in the tarmac carpet. I had a sudden flash forward to a world when cars didn’t exist, and the plants had taken over – would this space be a honey-scented buddleia forest? It seemed the most likely immediate progression.
I marched on. I passed the sub-station with its menacing hum, as if it contained a huge swarm of electric hornets. I counted three signs warning of the danger of death from electrocution in the space of ten feet of wall. But at the bottom of the protective chain-link fence, a clump of Herb Robert was still in full flower.
At the very back of the car park, there was a ramshackle collection of more ribwort plantain and pruned buddleia. But there was also another plant, strangely delicate for this hard-bitten area. Its flowers were five petalled, bright yellow and full of fluffy stamen which reminded me of Tutsan or Rose of Sharon. It shook gently in the breeze. I had never seen it before, but I have a feeling that I’m looking at a species of St. John’s Wort, famous for its anti-depressive properties and a most worthy candidate for a Wednesday Weed all of its own.
I head back to the High Street. I note that the N2 Community Garden folk have hung baskets full of flowering heather on the tree.
And above us, about to fire into Cherry Tree Wood, is the Archer, his bow drawn back, his brow furrowed as he searches for the deer that used to walk here, but that are long gone. Yet, I have the feeling that the power of life to survive in the most hostile of conditions, and to adapt when those situations change is the lesson here. In a week which has seen so much human-induced misery, it is good to remember that our troubles, overwhelming as they seem to us, do not count for much at all when seen against the greater power of leaf and seed.