A Revisit to Coal Drops Yard

Dear Readers, you might remember a previous visit to Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross – I was very intrigued by the planting, but it was February and the plants were very new. So the first day of October seemed like an ideal time to pop in and see what was going on. It was also a good place to meet up with my friend S, what with it being outdoors and all.

As you can see, the plants have certainly had a good summer. There are swathes of bright red persicaria and yellow rudbeckia, plus the trademark Piet Oudolf-esque grasses (though I should point out that the garden is actually by Dan Pearson). I think Pearson has also taken a leaf out of Oudolf’s book when it comes to autumn and winter interest – Oudolf once said that ‘brown is also a colour’, and there are many shades of taupe and chestnut, chocolate and ochre to add depth to the scene and to contrast with all the bright hues.

I have no idea what this pretty little mauve plant was, but it reminds me rather of a sparkler. Any ideas, readers?

Here we have the persicaria mingling with a dark blue/purple salvia, maybe Amistad? It’s such a punch of colour. And there seems to be a cheeky thistle at the front too.

I rather like the frothy Mexican fleabane with the Hotlips salvia here too.

There are white and pink Japanese anemones – these seem to have a strange arrangement of petals, almost as if some of the flowers only have three. That bright orange middle certainly catches the eye, though.

Last time I was really fascinated by the seedheads on these Chinese licorice, so it’s fun to see them at an earlier stage.

There are massed banks of Michaelmas daisies as well, always a favourite with the hoverflies.

And just around the corner, near Waitrose, there are nerines coming into bloom amidst the Russian sage.

I was glad to revisit the site today, not least because in my most recent copy of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) magazine, there’s an article about the Middlesex Vice-County ( a recording area that encompasses most of North-West London) by the Vascular Plant Recorder, Mark Spencer. Coal Drops Yard would fall into this area, and he has this to say.

Sadly, much of inner London’s canal system is now vigorously tidied and in many areas, plants, both native and non-native are dwindling. This affect has been particularly severe in the areas around the King’s Cross and Olympic Park developments, nearly all of the semi-natural urban vegetation has been destroyed and replaced with prairie-style horticultural plantings. We are eradicating our urban natural heritage in favour of a colour-by-numbers floral arrangement to please the eye’.


I have been rather in favour of this style of planting, because it contrasts so much with the typical attitude of ‘bung in some bedding plants’. I like the mixture of grasses, perennials and bulbs, and the beds were certainly abuzz with pollinators, even on this grey, sad day – there was a queen bee as big as my thumbnail on the salvia, wasps and honeybees on the ivy and lots of little pollinators on the Russian sage. Inner city areas can be a desert, and this is certainly an improvement. On a previous visit to King’s Cross, there were sparrows and a wasps’ nest to get excited about too.

Queen bee centre-right if you squint 🙂

However, I do take Spencer’s point about the loss of wild plants. The canal was historically a site for all kinds of plants to thrive, and it’s a shame to lose them. We are losing many of our brownfield sites, which are a haven for rare plants and invertebrates of all kinds. Where will the nationally vulnerable Bur Medick (Medicago minima) go if we build on every spare inch of waste ground and blast the rest with herbicide? The report this week that 40% of the world’s plants and fungi are at risk of extinction should give us all pause. Plants are responsible for a large proportion of the oxygen that we breathe after all, and fungi are what increase the fertility of our soils.

Photo One by By Fornax - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3982929

Bur Medick (Medicago minima) (Photo One)

Also, I wonder if we could use more native wild plants in these plantings, without them becoming too unkempt – I’m thinking of the completely natural ‘bed’ that I’ve been keeping an eye on next to Muswell Hill Playing Fields, which looks very ‘blooming’ pretty to me, at least in summer.

Of course, you might not want all that creeping thistle, but knapweed, ox-eye daisy, lady’s bedstraw, mallow? Maybe there’s a middle-ground that could be achieved here. There is no doubt in my mind that many of our pollinators much prefer the plants that they have evolved alongside, although the more adaptable of them will use our garden plants if there isn’t anything else. Personally, I am glad to see any square inch of space that’s being used to support our stressed ecosystem, but we can always be more imaginative.

Photo Credit

Photo One By Fornax – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3982929


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