Dear Readers, this week I have mostly been playing with spreadsheets, moving costs from one project to another and then, on receiving subsequent information, moving them back again. It feels like the modern-day equivalent of poor Sisyphus and his stone, but at least any backache I get can be alleviated by going out on the hunt for another bit of green in the City. This week I headed off to Guildhall, where a reader had mentioned that there was a pond. I couldn’t find it at first, and the area in front of the Guildhall itself (which was once the site of a Roman amphitheatre) is relentlessly un-green. It does have some wonderful busts looking over it though, including one of Cromwell looking positively apoplectic.
Although the Guildhall itself dates from 1411, some of the buildings around it are most definitely more modern. The church of St Lawrence Jewry also abuts the site – it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also has a bust overlooking the yard)and was so named because of its proximity to the old Great Synagogue which existed just across the way. This area is such a palimpsest of the different layers of history – many buildings were destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London, and many more were damaged during the Blitz. You might argue that the building boom in the 1960s also contributed to the general mayhem.
But where’s the pond? I advance towards the tree in the upper left-hand corner, and voila!
It has a little bit of a duckweed problem to be sure, but how refreshing to find some water bubbling away in the middle of the City. Whilst we are unlikely to spot any kingfishers, there was a determined London pigeon picking over the leaves in the corner. I had seen him (or her) being shooed away by a young City gent earlier, but this wasn’t going to stop him investigating the leaves in the corner of the pond for something edible. I love how, in the absence of opposable thumbs, pigeons still manage to break their food into manageable chunks.
The seats by the pond are made of stone, and are a bit cold and uncomfortable at this time of year. I thought that, having spotted the pond, I would head back to my spreadsheets but somehow my feet had other ideas.
This rather sooty row of birches leads down to the gardens of St Mary Aldmanbury. On the way, I pass a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) – this will be absolutely splendid in springtime, when the pink flowers erupt straight out of the bark. At the moment it’s the leaves that are splendid, with each one seeming to want to variegate in its own unique way. In some, the golden colour seems to be coming from the central vein, in others the leaf is going yellow from the edge inwards, in still others all the veins are picked out in green. The whole tree seems like a hymn to organised chaos. I am finding a lot of trees to fall in love with in the Square Mile.
Across the road is Love Lane and St Mary Almandbury Gardens.
I go for a little wander, and discover my second swamp cypress in a fortnight, having never seen one before. This one is dropping its needles and looks frankly unwell. No wonder folk used to take one look at this tree and think that it had contracted a terrible disease.
The gardens themselves have a memorial to two of Shakespeare’s players, Heminge and Condell, who were co-partners with him in the Globe, and who put together the First Folio in 1623, giving away their own rights . Shakespeare had died in 1616 with no plan to publish his plays, so who knows what would have happened if it hadn’t been for them? And then there are the sonnets. Sonnet 73 feels particularly appropriate for this time of year, especially after my personal tribulations during the past twelve months.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
I start to circle back, and the brash modern buildings of the City come back into view, towering over the venerable old ladies of the Mansion House and the Bank of England.
But wait! There is a little alley, and I never could resist one. Surrounded by offices, there is a tiny pocket park. A young woman is having a loud conversation on her phone, and a courier is having a sneaky smoke before he jumps back onto his bike. But it’s this tree that astounds me. It reminds me of a caged tiger, hemmed in but still determined to get out. It has twisted in its confined quarters until it can see the sun, and at the very top there are a handful of pods from last year’s fruiting. The papery leaves are the size of dinner plates, and I realise that this is a very tall Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignoniodes), a tree that was introduced back in 1726 from the banks of the Mississippi, and which seems to tolerate the pollution of the City very well. The flowers are said to be remarkable and bloom in July, when everything else has finished. Also, the leaves secrete nectar, a most unusual attribute, and one which probably makes the tree a friend to all manner of pollinators, who will be getting a meal for nothing (thanks to Paul Wood’s ‘London Street Trees’ for the information).
And now, I really must be getting back to work, but my spirits are lifted, and even if I have to move the costs in my spreadsheet to another location, I shall not sigh heavily or even raise my eyebrow a fraction. Such is the power of a little spot of green.