An Early June Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, this might not look like much but it gives me hope for the future. Traditionally, cemetery lawns have always been close cut and relatively lifeless, but I noticed that, in the sweeping sward of the green closest to the entrance, some little patches of grass have been left unmown, and the daisies, buttercups, speedwell and cut-leaved geranium were all the happier for it. Well done, L.B. of Islington!

Cut-leaved geranium in the sward.

It’s definitely dog rose time too, with bushes bursting into flower all over the cemetery.

However, I have officially designated this week as buttercup week. Just look at them! And they are popular with bees too, something that I’d never noticed before.

And look at this handsome little chap, sunning himself in the woodland grave area – it’s a small copper (Lycaena phlaeas), and at this time of year the males establish territories close to areas where females might want to lay their eggs (usually on sorrel, of which there is a plentiful supply). The male flies up in the hope of intercepting any passing females, but will also see off other males, and butterflies of other species. This one was particularly brightly coloured, and for a moment I imagined myself amongst the alpine meadows of Austria, which is where I usually see these creatures.

The elder is in flower too, and in the sun there was that faint smell of gooseberry. There seems to be salsify everywhere as well – last year it was just along the path next to the North Circular, but this year it’s busting up all over.

Two other great pollinator favourites are the flowers on the pyracantha (firethorn) which are now studded with bumblebees, and the various forms of comfrey in the damp areas close to the stream.

Sadly the Japanese Knotweed continues to gather pace right along the stream and the edge of the playing field. It really is such a thug – there are thickets twenty or thirty feet deep in some places now. I am a little intrigued by the leaf damage on this plant though. Could it be leaf miner damage? I shall do some research and let you know. It would be great if some creature decided that it was dinner and started to bring it into check.

There was a rather tired-looking speckled wood butterfly along one of the walks. I hope that it has done its duty by the next generation and can have a bit of a rest now. It flew up at another butterfly but seemed a bit half-hearted, I thought. Spring is tough on all kinds of animals, and this spring has been colder and harder than many.

As we left a woodland path and started walking in the sunshine, something enormous shot past. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but then I spotted it perching in the long grass. It wasn’t until it flew up and started quartering the grass again that I realised it was a male broad-bodied chaser, using this spot to survey its kingdom with those enormous eyes before setting off on patrol again. I always get a frisson when in the company of large dragonflies – this one circled us with what I’d describe as curiosity before returning to exactly the same place on a sturdy stem. I like this shot because you can see the way that the wings are stacked on the body.

Now, have you ever noticed the way that teasels develop little ponds at the base of their leaves after it’s rained? I hadn’t this week, but I was very curious about it. I had no idea that an alternative name for the plant is ‘Venus’s Basin’, and that the water was said to have healing properties. In one experiment, where some plants were allowed to ‘keep’ their water and others had it emptied out, the plants where the water was allowed to stay set more seed and were taller.  There is one theory that teasels are on the evolutionary path towards becoming insectivorous although this is usually an attribute of plants that live in extremely inpoverished soils such as bogs. More likely is a second theory that the water acts as a way of stopping insects climbing up the stem, though as aphids in particular can fly I wouldn’t have thought that this was so much of an advantage. What do you think, readers? All theories gratefully considered. If only there was a little frog that could live in the pools, like the tree frogs in the tropics who live in the middle of bromeliads.

Water at the base of teasel leaves.

I am going to make a point of taking a photo of the Scotsman so that I can see how the wood changes during the year, so here is this week’s shot. Lots of tree cover but no lesser celandine or crocuses. The next plant to put in an appearance will be hogweed I suspect.

And so we meander home, past the daisies, pausing only to look at the sculptural form of some ivy working its way up a tree. The cemetery is about the only place round about here where you can walk for a couple of hours and see just a handful of people. Unlike so many of our green places, which have been trampled relentlessly for the past eighteen months, the cemetery retains a kind of serenity that is very pleasing in these fraught times. Long may it remain so.

2 thoughts on “An Early June Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Anne

    I like your idea of having a central focus (the Scotsman) as a measure of change and look forward to seeing the progress of nature.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Perhaps that well of water is simply kept for drier times, so that it’s ‘consumed’ to help the plant grow (while others without the well are withering in the heat)? 🤔 Also, last week almost all of our dandelions had disappeared, to be replaced by, you guessed it, buttercups. Very tall ones too.


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