Dear Readers, one of the things that I like most about Austria are the way that the plants seem to grow in great drifts of colour and shape. In the meadows they are a feast of colour, while along the riverbanks they mass in cool shades of blue, pink, lilac and frothy white.
I had pretty much despaired of finding anything so splendid in East Finchley and environs. But then as I walked around Muswell Hill Playing Fields yesterday, I was stopped in my tracks by the site of a swathe of plants that looked almost like an early work by Piet Oudolf. Creeping thistle, greater knapweed, ox-eye daisies, red deadnettle, black horehound, greater burdock, lady’s bedstraw, common mallow and a dozen other species vied for attention.
Now, the rest of the area between the Fields and St Pancras and Islington Cemetery is much, much less diverse than this: there are some baby sycamores and crack willows, some thistles, some brassicas of different kinds, and a lot of brambles and Japanese knotweed. But this looks almost as if it was once planted on purpose, and has retained some of that sense of ‘stuff planted in groups’. Plus, there are a few plants that have popped up that are not what you would expect.
Here, we have some Lambs-ears (Stachys byzantina), which is not native, but is much loved by wool carder bees, who stroke the hairs from the fuzzy leaves to use in their nests.
A few months ago I also spotted some aquilegia here, a typical cottage garden plant. It was right in amongst the other plants, so it hadn’t been just dropped in. What on earth is going on?
I spoke to some of my friends who have lived in East Finchley for much longer than me, and asked about the history of the playing fields. It used to be ‘Horseshoe Farm’ until some of the land was bought in 1854 to create the cemetery. In the Second World War, a lot of vehicles were dumped on the area that is now the Fields and then the whole lot was grassed over. One friend told me that the council used to cut the grass right up to the cemetery fence, but they were asked to stop so that there could be a bit more diversity for bird and bees. There’s certainly plenty of that in this little patch here.
So, I wonder why this corner of the Playing Fields is so much more biodiverse than the rest of the area. Could it be that it was once the garden of the farmhouse, and that those plants have, somehow, persisted in the seedbank? Is some lovely person throwing a few seeds in now and again? I have no idea, but I do know that there are plants here that I haven’t seen anywhere else in my ‘territory’, and this has become my go-to site for new ‘Wednesday Weeds’. I also know that I didn’t expect to find a little patch of Austrian meadow so close to home, and it lifts my spirits so much to see it. On a breezy afternoon with the bees wobbling on their way into land on the thistle heads, I could be marching along a hilltop path on my way to get an Almdudler and an apfelstrudel.
But, would I have noticed it if I hadn’t been primed by thinking about the mountains, if I hadn’t been trying to distil the essence of what my holiday so special into my present situation? I like to think that I would have been impressed, but maybe I wouldn’t have made the connection. I do believe that if we go out with an open mind and a longing in our hearts, we often find an answer.
Photo One by Esther Westerveld from https://www.flickr.com/photos/westher/15063832640
Photo Two By Loimo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46016694