A Walk in Bluebell Wood

Bluebell Wood as seen from Winton Avenue

Dear Readers, the talk by David Bevan about North London’s ancient woodlands gave me the impetus I needed to go and rediscover Bluebell Wood, a tiny fragment of oak and hornbeam forest just behind the Sunshine Garden Centre in Bounds Green. I love the way that you discover this wood at the end of a suburban street, as if by magic.

Although it’s called Bluebell Wood, there haven’t been any bluebells for years, apart from the odd hybrid that’s jumped over a garden wall. I seem to remember seeing wood anemones there a good ten years ago, but I could have been hallucinating.

As you can see from the map, it borders some rather fine allotments (last time we were here they had an open day and were selling tea and cake). Ah, those were the days. At the moment, the lockdown means that even if you can find someone prepared to sell you a beverage, you can’t stand around and drink it because it’s takeaway only. Let’s hope that it helps to bring the R number down so that we don’t get a massive spike before the vaccination programme kicks off.

But as usual I digress.

The oaks in Bluebell Wood are largely sessile oaks (Quercus petraea). In this species, the leaves have stalks and the acorns mostly don’t, while the English oak (Quercus robur) has it the other way round, with stalkless leaves and stalked acorns. You might think that they would hybridise, but according to my Collins Tree Guide this is unusual, as the sessile oak flowers a fortnight after the English oak. It might be interesting to see what happens as climate change confuses things.

I love this time of year, as the leaves fall away to reveal the shape of the trees. And I loved the caramel colour of the hornbeam leaves below, as they twist and contort.

Hornbeam leaves (Carpinus betulus)

There is quite a lot of hazel in the understorey too, probably because the wood seems a lot more open than some of the other woods.

There were a few indignant squirrels, who are no doubt willing the hazel to put on a growth spurt so they can have a break from eating endless acorns.

Two young women are sitting socially-distanced on a huge log, while their dogs, a Shiba Inu and a ‘bitzer’ (as my Dad would have said – ‘Bits of this and bits of that’ in other words) run around in the leaves in a kind of canine ecstasy. This week I read that smelling the scents of other dogs actually releases serotonin in the doggy brain, making it all the more important to let them have a good sniff when they’re out for their walk.

There’s a very pronounced ditch to the north of the wood, which would have been a way of keeping the commoners’ animals out of the forest (which was another part of the Bishop of London’s extensive estate). In his talk, David Bevan mentioned that the woodland inside the ditch was technically ancient woodland, while the trees that had appeared on the other side were classed as secondary forest. Who knew? Another reason for attending these London Natural History talks.

And then, a quick loop back and out. There was some cherry laurel, but a few ‘exotics’ don’t seem to do any harm. If it was rhododendron it might be more of a concern, as this is much more invasive. I was also intrigued by the bird poo on the lower branches, which implied to me that a bird sits round about regularly. I wonder who, and what they’re doing?

The cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is just starting to show through, ahead of its flowering in May. I love how sweet and green these first leaves look.

On the way to the garden centre we pass a bed with some Roseanne geraniums, still in flower, and a splendid salvia (I’m thinking Amistad?)

Geranium ‘Roseanne’

Salvia (Amistad)

And there’s a whole bed of Mahonia, a real boon for queen bees emerging on the warmer days for a sip of nectar. It smells sweet, too.

Now Readers, I wanted to ask you a question on the subject of Mahonia. I have one rather sad plant in a pot, which has a single stem, a rosette of leaves at the top and some flowers. If I put it into the ground and cut that one stem back, do you think it would produce multiple stems or do you think it would just keel over at the insult? I will not hold you responsible for your advice, I promise.

And finally, here is the pyracantha hedge. I do hope that it attracts birds, in particular waxwings, who are known to frequent supermarket car parks because of these berries. And if a flock does descend, I hope that I somehow find out about it. We’ve had waxwings on one of our street trees several times in the past few years, so I will keep an eye open there too. Fingers crossed.


Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) on street tree in East Finchley


8 thoughts on “A Walk in Bluebell Wood

  1. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    Your Mahonia would be much happier in the open ground, they don’t really grow well in pots. Generally you leave them to reach their full height before pruning, best time after flowering. Having said that, once they’re established they are a very forgiving plant, i’m always taking bits off mine and it just bounces straight back.

  2. Sarah

    I’m the last person to ask for horticultural advice, but if it was mine, I would put your mahonia into the ground. I had a huge mahonia bush in my last garden and it not only attracted bumble bees, as you say, but was a magnet for blue tits and blackcaps throughout the winter.


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