Dear Readers, one of the great pleasures of walking in Austria is finding a little patch of woodland as you come down from the higher, sunnier, more exposed slopes. I am lucky in living close to two small areas of ancient woodland , but there is a special place in my heart for one tiny patch of trees that was, until recently, a wilderness of brambles hidden away behind a fence. You might remember that back in November 2018 I paid a visit to Barnwood, a community forest garden just off Tarling Road in East Finchley. I had heard that there had been a lot of new planting, and that the site had been the scene of numerous community events since then, so I jumped at the chance for a visit when the opportunity presented itself last week. As the gate was unlocked, it was like stepping into another world. There have been new paths laid all around the site, a new hedge containing over a dozen wildlife-friendly shrubs has been planted, and the air was full of the buzzing of bees. The teasel has certainly set up home, and I have no doubt that in the autumn it will be covered in goldfinches.
There are a number of well-established fruit trees and shrubs, and there are plans to have foraging events for families, and maybe even a jam-making workshop at some point. There are some lovely old plums:
And the beech tree is full of nuts (either hazelnuts or cobnuts, depending on your view), though if it’s anything like the small saplings in my garden, the squirrels will be after them with great enthusiasm.
The volunteers at Barnwood have planted lots of berry bushes too, everything from exotic Goji berry to raspberries via loganberries and jostaberries. There’s a black mulberry to honour London’s long association with the silk trade. This is especially welcome as these venerable trees are being grubbed up all over London to make room for luxury flat developments.
The oak tree is covered in acorns this year too, and I’m told that jays breed in the wood.
The site attracts a lot of insects: we saw a fresh-minted comma butterfly sunning itself on the brambles.
And a beautiful red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) seemed especially drawn to the bristly oxtongue, evidence that the best plants for pollinators are not always the showiest.
I loved seeing the smaller flowers too: there was some cut-leaved geranium with its tiny cerise flowers, and the tomato-red faces of scarlet pimpernel.
I also love finding a plant that I haven’t seen before, and this one went to prove that although I’ve learned a lot through researching the Wednesday Weed, I still have a long way to go.
I saw this poor plant, which had been blown over, and cheerfully declared that it was caper spurge.
And then I had a look at the flowers, and was so taken aback that I actually picked it up because I couldn’t believe that there were yellow daisy flowers attached to what I was so convinced was a euphorbia. Hah! That’ll teach me. It’s actually a prickly lettuce (Latuca serriola) and I definitely feel a Wednesday Weed coming on.
Barnwood manages to squeeze an extraordinary variety of plants into a small space. There is a fabulous guelder rose which is absolutely covered in hips this year.
There are some Indian bean trees (Catalpa bignoniodes) in full flower – the friend who was showing me round said that they reminded him of foxgloves, and I can see exactly what he means.
And among the interesting shrubs that are being grown there is a medlar (Mespilus germanica). This close relative of the hawthorn has been eaten since Roman times, but the fruit needs to be ‘bletted’, either by frost or by being left in storage until the flesh becomes as soft as apple sauce. Apparently this isn’t the same as letting the medlar rot, though those unfamilar with the process often think that this is what has happened. In fact, the sugars in the fruit act as a preservative. The medlars can then be used to make jelly or medlar ‘cheese’, which resembles lemon curd.
So, it was lovely to revisit Barnwood, and to hear about the different events that have taken place. Holocaust Memorial Day has been honoured both with the planting of spring bulbs and fruit trees. There was a petting zoo event, which has led to a fine crop of oats and other cereals. There has been a mindfulness and relaxation event, and the socially-distanced trustees meeting took place in the woodland circle in the middle of the site. A flower-meadow is planned, and all in all it feels as if Barnwood is becoming a fantastic resource for the community. I shall certainly be reporting back on how things are going in the future.