Category Archives: Bugwoman on Location

A Visit to Lilactree Farm

Dear Readers, you might remember that in April last year I reviewed ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ by Brian Bixley, a fascinating book about a year in the life of a garden in Ontario, and lots of other things besides. This year, the stars aligned so that, on an exceptionally sunny day, we were able to visit Brian and his wife Maureen at Lilactree Farm, to see the garden in its spring glory. I should say that my photos don’t do the garden justice, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what a delight it is.

I have noted how splendid the scilla was in Collingwood, but it really comes into its own here, along with the chionodoxa: the shrubs stand ankle-deep in different shades of blue and pale pink, with hellebores, winter aconite and summer snowflake marking the changes.

On a sunny bank outside the house there was a fine selection of fumitory – I’m familiar with yellow corydalis, which grows like a weed in London, but these were a rainbow of lilac and pink. Known as ‘bird-in-a-bush’, the wild type of the plant (Corydalis solida) is a pale lavender, but there are several varieties in pink and coral. They looked spectacular growing amongst the chionodoxa, and were very popular with the bees – the bumblebee in the second photo is, I think, a Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), but as it was the first one I’d ever seen I was enchanted by its completely black, furry abdomen. Bumblebees are important pollinators of long-throated flowers such as fumitories, and the bees certainly need the early nectar and pollen, so everyone is happy. In fact, I have never seen a bank of flowers so abuzz with bees and hoverflies – I even asked Brian if he was keeping bees but no, these are travelling to enjoy his largesse.

There was a row of daphne just coming into flower, and a tricolour bumblebee(Bombus ternarius) was foraging – again, a new species for me, and surely one of the most handsome bumblebees anywhere.

The garden has what I always think of as ‘good bones’ – the structural elements, such as the sculpture and the blue posts below, will look different throughout the year, as they are enhanced and supported by what is happening botanically. The sculpture below twinkles in the sun, reflecting aspects of the landscape.

And when you reach the top of the path, you have a wonderful view over the hills and woods beyond.

The blue posts below provide a strong linear element in a garden of many curves. In the spring they pick up the colour of the scylla. I would love to see them later in the year as other plants come into flower.

Blue posts with scilla

It was wonderful to see Lilactree Farm after falling in love with it through Brian’s book. It seems to me that it’s a prime example of gardening with passion – Brian grows what he loves, and is constantly experimenting to see what will work in the temperamental Canadian climate. He is not a ‘wildlife gardener’, and yet his garden is absolutely full of life. By growing a variety of plants with a long flowering season, Brian has created a place which is welcoming to pollinators as it is to people. It was an Open Day for the garden, and there was a constant stream of people coming to see it, many of them repeat visitors who obviously love it. It made me yearn to see what it’s like in the summer, or in autumn. But in spring, when we have been so deprived of colour and scent, it is a real treasure. I could imagine myself sitting under a tree with a book in a pool of scilla and feeling very content with life.

You can buy Brian’s book ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ here.

Chionodoxa luciliae

Blue posts with scilla

 

 

The Mourning Dove – Canada’s Own Pigeon

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Dear Readers, Canada is blessed with the usual feral pigeons and (increasingly) the Eurasian Collared Dove (which looks set to be as successful in North America as it has been in the UK). However, the Mourning Dove is the bird that always typifies Canada to me. It’s a small, bright-eyed bird with a distinctively doleful call.

Interestingly, the wings also make a strange whistling sound, which you can hear at the end of the clip below – it sounds almost like the call of a different bird, or maybe a very tiny horse whinnying. Like most pigeons, the Mourning Dove is an excellent flyer, being able to reach speeds of over 55 mph.

The bird is a popular game bird in the USA, with up to 20 million of these small birds shot every year, but it maintains its population by being able to have up to six broods every year, each with two chicks. Both parents feed the squabs with crop milk, a secretion unique to the pigeon family which enables the birds to breed more or less all year round, especially as the adults eat seeds and so are not dependent on the insect population.

Photo One by By Andrew Atzert from Mesa, AZ, USA - Family of DovesUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11044215

Mourning Dove parent with two chicks (Photo One)

Mourning Doves are not showy birds, but their feathers have a delicate, misty beauty. A legend of the Huron/Wyandot people of North America tells how a Mourning Dove was the favourite bird of a maiden, Ay’ura, who died. Her spirit travelled towards the entrance of the underworld but all the Mourning Doves followed, and wanted to go with her. The Sky Deity, who guards the gate to the underworld, lit torches so that the smoke would obscure the entrance, and so Ay’ura went on to the spirit world, but the feathers of the Mourning Doves were smudged with the smoke. Their cry is said to resemble the chant that used to be said over the dead.

Photo Two from By http://www.naturespicsonline.com/ - http://www.naturespicsonline.com/galleries/Nature15/_mg_8449a.htm, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1083262

Mourning Dove (Photo Two)

The birds that I saw in Canada are probably recent arrivals – Ontario is towards the northern range of the Mourning Dove, which can be found throughout the US and down into Mexico. The Canadian birds tend to migrate south every year, returning into Canada between March and May. On arrival, the males court the females with graceful, circular glides, followed by the usual pigeon-y bobbing dance. The male then leads the female to some potential nest sites, and she chooses one. The male then finds the nesting material while the female builds the nest, no doubt being extremely picky about the male’s offerings. Both parents incubate the eggs, and both feed the young. They seem to be devoted parents, which is probably another reason for their success – they are considered of ‘Least Concern’ as far as conservation goes.

And while this is not directly related to the Mourning Dove, I am in the mood to share this poem with you. It has been such a hard two years, and yet the birds are still singing, and the sun is shining outside my hotel window. If nothing else, so many of us have learned to look at familiar things in a new way. The Mourning Dove is one of Canada’s commonest birds, and yet I’d never really considered it before. There is always something new to learn, and to admire.

“Hope is the thing with feathers”  by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sound Credits

First file by Manuel Grosselet from XC381111 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) :: xeno-canto

Second file by Paul Marvin from https://xeno-canto.org/153648

Photo Credits

Photo One By Andrew Atzert from Mesa, AZ, USA – Family of DovesUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11044215

Photo Two from By http://www.naturespicsonline.com/http://www.naturespicsonline.com/galleries/Nature15/_mg_8449a.htm, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1083262

Toronto after Covid – First Impressions

Pusateri’s Food Hall in Saks Fifth Avenue, Toronto, in pre-Covid times (Photo by Alexander Vu from https://urbantoronto.ca/news/2016/11/eaton-centre-new-pusateris-comes-saks-fifth-avenue)

Dear Readers, one of my first treats when I arrive in Toronto is to follow the underground PATH system from our hotel to Pusateri’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, which used to be the food hall to end all food halls. Fancy a salad, made up before your very eyes? Or Icelandic Skyr yoghurt with raspberries and melted chocolate? Or fresh bread, straight from the oven? Admittedly, you needed deep pockets to shop regularly at Pusateri’s, but as an occasional treat, you couldn’t beat it.

Today, the only outlets open in the whole food hall were one selling pizza (admittedly delicious), and one selling the most ornate eclairs you’ve ever seen. Everything else was silent and fenced off. Black boxes with the word ‘Pusateri’s’ were on all the shelves instead of artisanal pasta and fancy chocolate. An occasional member of staff drifted past to clear up the detritus from someone’s pizza meal. Before the pandemic, you could queue for twenty minutes for your salad. Today, there is no salad at all.

Pusateri’s didn’t cover itself in glory early in the pandemic, when it was charging $30 for a tin of hand wipes, and was called out for price-gouging by the Ontario premier Doug Ford. But I suspect that the problem with Pusateri’s is much more to do with the way that many workers have voted to stay at home rather than coming back into the office. And of course, this is what’s happened all over the world. People are working from home (me included) because it feels safer, less stressful and more efficient, but the sandwich shops, the shoe repairers, the greeting card shops and the purveyors of office clothing are all going to the dogs. It’s been a massive shake up of our urban ecology, and I suspect that, much as Jacob Rees-Mogg might leave little passive-aggressive notes on the desks of civil servants who aren’t in the office, working from home, at least for some of the time, is here to stay.

Of course, this is a massive opportunity for local shops and businesses. People who work from home still need a break, and maybe they will pop out to a local newsagent for a magazine, go to the neighbourhood coffee shop and get their groceries from the place around the corner. What a good thing that could be! In many communities there was a coming-together during the pandemic, and there’s plenty of scope for that to continue. Many of us fail to see the appeal of getting up at 5.30 in the morning to be in the office for 7.30 so that they can leave by 4.30 and miss the worst of the rush hour, especially when compared with the 30 second commute from the bedroom to the office that many of us currently have.

I wonder what happened to all the staff who used to work here, chopping and packaging, taking cash, adding toppings to yoghurt and dressings to salad? There are other Pusateri’s outlets in the city, so I’d like to think that some people have moved to them, but nonetheless I wonder about the bulk of the employees. Canada had a pretty generous furlough scheme, but even so, jobs must have been lost here. It might be that the food hall will be reopened gradually, but I wonder if it will ever have as much custom as it did before the pandemic.

I have only been in Toronto for a couple of hours, so no doubt there are lots of other changes, some for the good, some not. But my initial feeling is that the centre of the city has been somehow hollowed out by the pandemic and its aftermath. I wonder if I will still feel the same at the end of the holiday? Let’s see.

Pusateri’s eclairs

A Canadian Adventure

Toronto Skyline (Photo by Aaron Davis)

Dear Readers, after two years in the UK, with nothing more exciting than occasional visits to Dorset and Somerset, we are off on an adventure for the next couple of weeks, to catch up with some people that we love, and haven’t seen since 2019.

I must admit that it’s a bit daunting – my travel muscles, which used to be up for any destination, seem to have atrophied, and the new covid regulations are an extra layer of anxiety-provoking paperwork. However, I think that we have all our ducks in a row, and we will be going first to Collingwood to see my two favourite aunties, and then on to Toronto to spend time with family and friends. I am hoping to get some walking in as well, and there are a few things that I especially want to share with you, including a dog fountain and a dawn redwood, so let’s see how we get on.

So, for the next few weeks there will be a mixture of new posts and old favourites, depending on a) my energy levels, b) what’s going on, c) how well the technology is working and d) how inspired I feel. Also the time zone change might throw things a bit out of whack, so if you don’t see a post when you expect to, it will just be the gremlins.

I’m looking forward to sharing this amazing country with you all, so I’ll see you on the other side of the Atlantic!

Trumpeter at Wye Marsh in Ontario, March 2019

A Winter Walk in Dorchester

Rook

Dear Readers, this week I have been in Dorchester, visiting Mum and Dad’s grave out in Milborne St Andrew. And when I came back, I needed to walk, but the night draws in so quickly now that it’s December. I looked up the time for sunset, and it was 16.07, so I had just about an hour for my expedition. The ducks were starting to settle down for the night….

and I noticed all the molehills for the first time. Someone has been very busy…

Then it’s across the blue bridge…

And I’m sure I saw a kingfisher flying like an arrow up the stream, but it was too quick for me to photograph.

And then I look back to see the sun beginning to go down.

How often do we get a chance to really savour a sunset? We should do it more often, I think. I cross the field that was full of sweetcorn last time I was here, in September, and the crows and gulls and pheasants are gleaning the fallen seeds.

The field where the birds are feeding has some magnificent trees. I love that they remain although they must make it awkward to plough. I admire the farmer who recognises that some things are more important than convenience.

And around every corner there’s a new view of the sunset.

And here is a sheep wearing a bemused expression.

There’s a family of swans out on the meadow, and the old, rusty machinery that used to be used to direct the water and flood the fields. By now it’s getting cold, and dark, and so I head back towards the guest house. But as I walk up the hill, the sky blushes and changes until I can do is gawp and take photos. Let’s take some time to watch this twice-daily miracle, friends. Although watching it made me sad, because my parents are no longer here to see it, it also made me feel alive, and that is a very important thing.

 

Farewell to Somerset (Again)

View of the sunset from our window at the Shrubbery Hotel

Dear Readers, I have already said goodbye to Somerset once, but here we are again, still sorting out my Aunt H’s house. A lifetime of 93 years gives ample opportunity to accumulate ‘stuff’, especially when you are interested in family history and local history and all matters church-related. And so we headed down to Broadway this morning to sort out the kitchen and to prepare for all the paperwork that will need to be signed tomorrow. While John went off to collect the keys, I had a chance for a walk around the garden. I would say a ‘final’ walk around the garden, but clearly that would leave a hostage to fortune.

The foliage on the shrub below is gradually turning scarlet, and there is a fine crop of berries, but what on earth is it? I would have said some kind of berberis, but those long fruits are confusing me somewhat. Let me know what you think, gardening people!

There has been a lot of judicious pruning in the garden and it’s looking in much better shape than it was.This Viburnum is in full flower and I could smell its sweet scent from ten feet away. What a boon to a winter garden this plant is! I wonder if I could squeeze one in.

Viburnum bodnantse

The white periwinkles have come back, having been strangled by the bramble. I love their pale, star-like flowers.

There is a fine Hawkshead fuchsia, another plant that I’ve been thinking about trying – in fact I might nick a cutting and see how it does. I’m sure Aunt H would have approved.

And the cyclamen are in flower. I love the way that they carpet the ground under the shrubs, to be replaced by the snowdrops and primroses and crocuses in the spring.

Whatever happens to the house, I doubt that the garden will be a priority for anyone – the garden is large, the cottage is small, and at the very least I imagine someone will want to extend. Even if they don’t they will probably want to change the garden into something else, as people always do. I hope that they give it a year so that they can see what’s already there, but folk are in such a hurry these days. It makes me think of what might happen to my resolutely idiosyncratic garden when we move, or when I die – no one with small children will want a massive pond, and I suspect that the days of the inconvenient whitebeam and the prickly hawthorn will be numbered too. But if this year has taught us anything it’s that the future is out of our control. Who knows what will happen? It’s certainly not worth worrying about.

As I go through Aunt H’s belongings I am struck by her frugality, and how much it chimes with the mood today – the desire to recycle, to reuse, to save things ‘for a rainy day’. There’s a jar full of bottle tops. There are plastic Stork margarine containers, used and reused over and over again to store soup and stews for freezing. I find jars of chutney from ten years ago, and boxes full of buttons. There’s much to learn from a generation that had to make things last and was reluctant to waste things. If we were all a bit more like Aunt H our beaches might not be full of plastic bottles and crisp packets and wet wipes. I’m pretty sure that Aunt H never utilised a wet wipe in her life, and if she had I have a suspicion that she’d have washed it and hung it out to dry somewhere.

Back in our hotel room, I watch the sun go down, and realise how rarely I allow myself to do such a thing. Tonight, the sun is painting the edge of the clouds with a light as sharp as one of Aunt H’s knives. She had knives for everything, most of them past their best, all of them kept in case they’d be needed again. It is hard, putting aside the remnants of a life. But our things are not us, though they sometimes tell our stories. Aunt H trod more gently on the earth than most of us, though she also trod on the toes of those who didn’t adhere to her standards of behaviour. Like all of us, she was complicated. She drove me to distraction on occasion, but I miss her, and so do many other people. She has left a hole in the village and church community that it will be very hard to fill.

A Late Summer Walk at Walthamstow Wetlands

The Engine Room at Walthamstow Wetlands

Dear Readers, last time I was here with my friend S, the site was closed due to flooding, so it was a relief to actually be able to see the reservoirs and lakes this time. The whole place was full of dragonflies, not one of which sat still long enough for me to get a photo. Still, they are such a delight, zipping about like those toy planes powered by elastic bands that you used to get for about a shilling when I was a girl. 

They currently have a Moomin trail for the children. I was never a great fan of the little critters, but my lovely friend Susie, who died much too young, was an avid collector of all things Moomin, so I had to take a few photos for her.

On the ‘real’ wildlife trail, though, my Birdnet app proved its worth again. I heard some calls coming from what I thought were small birds in one of the goat willows. Well, I was half-right – they were small birds, but they were Little Grebes, or Dabchicks (Tachybaptus ruficollis). According to my Crossley Bird Guide, their ‘very well-known call is like whinny of tiny horse or slightly insane giggle’. I love this book!

The young birds can apparently retain the stripes on their head through their first winter, which I think is what is going on with this bird. It has a fluffy tail too, which leads Crossley to describe the bird as a ‘floating rabbit’. All in all it’s a slightly bedraggled-looking little bird, but it bobs under the water with all the efficiency of its larger relatives and then bounces back up like a cork. Dabchicks eat insects and larvae, so any baby dragonflies had better watch out.

On one of the other lakes, I spotted an adult bird, looking a bit more dapper. That splendid chestnut neck is diagnostic for the species, and I’d have though that the white mark below the bill was a good indicator too.

Adult Little Grebe

What’s going on with the water, though? Although in some places it looks like one of those Venetian marbled papers, it does look a little alarming. It’s not duckweed, and it doesn’t seem to be chemical pollution, so I’m assuming that it’s algae.

And how about this fabulous spider, who was floating in mid-air half way across the path and wasn’t best pleased when we accidentally undid all his/her hard work by walking right through the web…

There’s also some flowering Japanese knotweed (though as we know there are only female plants in the UK so it’s not the seeds that are the problem, but the roots) and! apparently some Giant Hogweed though I couldn’t see it. For those of you who don’t know, the sap of this plant can cause blisters, and it also makes the skin photosensitive so that it becomes red and sore on exposure to sunlight, sometimes for years afterwards.

There are lots of rosehips about too, including this sweetbriar( Rosa rubiginosa) – the hips have much longer sepals than on a dog rose.

A lot of the paths are out of action at the Wetlands at the moment – when ducks moult they lose all their flight feathers at once, and so are extremely vulnerable and need places to hide without disturbance. It’s always a great place to wander around, though, with lots to see if you’re patient. Today felt like summer’s last gasp, with temperatures in the high twenties, and so it was good to make the most of it. Plus, the cafe does the most delicious sandwiches and cakes, so it makes it easy to just ‘hang out’. What a great addition Walthamstow Wetlands is to the green spaces of London!

And At The End

Dear Readers, it’s taken eighteen months, but on Saturday we finally said goodbye to my Dad, Thomas Reginald Palmer. We were blessed with one of those glorious days that Dorset does so well: soft sunlight on green fields, the glow of old stone, finches singing in the hedgerows and a great calm over everything.

The church had been dressed for the harvest festival, and the flowers looked as if they were illuminated from inside.

Dad’s sisters arrived and I showed them to the grave. I hadn’t seen them since the start of the lockdown, and I think for them Dad’s death hadn’t been real until they’d seen the headstone. I left them to spend some time with Dad on their own. How hard it is to lose someone of your own age, and because Dad had moved to Dorset they hadn’t been able to see him as much as they would have liked. But how much time is enough, when someone you love is gone?

The service itself went in the blink of an eye: I managed to deliver my eulogy with only a few tears, something that I don’t think I could have done if the service had been closer to Dad’s death. We listened to some Spanish guitar music, to ‘The Lark Ascending’, and to the Celtic Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

And then there was home-made cake and sandwiches, and a lot of memories shared. Lots of people came from the village and it was lovely to catch up with people’s lives. I wondered if this would be the last time that I’d come to Dorset – all the tasks related to Mum and Dad are now done – but Dorchester and Milborne St Andrew are so imbued with their spirit that I think I’ll still come to visit, to see my Dorset friends and to enjoy this beautiful part of the country.

Before we headed home, I walked out to the grave on my own to say goodbye, and God bless, to Mum and Dad. What remains for me, now, is an immense stillness, filled with sadness but also with so much love.

Thomas Reginald Palmer 5th December 1935 – 31st March 2020.

Return to Dorchester

Dear Readers, I am back in Dorset for a few days for my Dad’s Memorial Service in MIlborne St Andrew. He died in March 2020 but apart from a brief visit for his interment a year ago, I haven’t been back. And so, today, I am almost overwhelmed with memories. Every shop, every restaurant, reminds me of when I was visiting every few weeks while Mum and Dad were in the nursing home. The walks through the fields were taken at Christmas, when Dad was still alive. I turn to the natural world to take me out of myself, to remind me that life goes on and that every thing is both beautiful and temporary. In fact, maybe the beauty comes from the transitory nature of things.

But first, I am delighted to see these two moggies asleep in one of the windows on the High Street.

And then, look at these sunflowers!

And I love these woodpigeons, up to their shoulders in meadow grass.

And there is a Himalayan Honeysuckle down by the old machinery that used to flood the meadows.

I am pleased to see that there are sheep out on the field.

And I didn’t even realise that I’d seen a heron as well until I got home and uploaded this photo.

There is some lords and ladies….

and the harts tongue fern looks glossy and somehow primeval.

I believe that this might be our old friend wild angelica, though I have to say that it hasn’t done as well as the one in my garden.

And then I was distracted by the snails…

The field that was pasture last year is now full of sweetcorn, though the magnificent oak trees don’t seem to mind.

So by now I’m starting to feel a little less distressed. On I go along the bridle path.

I am passed by three runners – apparently there’s a charity road race on on Saturday in aid of MacMillan Cancer nurses. But once they’ve passed, silence reigns. I spot a new plant – this is red bartsia, which is apparently partially parasitic on grass and has its very own bee species. I sense a Wednesday Weed coming on….

Red bartsia

And then there is a single patch of rosebay willowherb which is abuzz with common carder bees – these little ginger critters are amongst the last bumblebees on the wing.

And how about this henbit deadnettle, another new plant for me (though very common). The whole plant seems to be exploding with enthusiasm.

And then I turn for home, and pause by the sheep because something catches my eye.

The swallows are circling and diving, catching the insects that the sheep have disturbed, fuelling up for their long flight back to Africa. And it might sound strange, but it makes me weep because the year is turning, and the swallows are going home, and maybe Mum and Dad have gone home too, but they’ve left me behind. Grieving can be so lonely, and that’s why grieving collectively is so important, and why I sense that I’ll feel better once we’ve gathered to say goodbye to Dad properly.

Bon voyage, swallows. Travel well, until the world turns.again.

A Legal London Tree Walk from London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – Part 2

 

Dear Readers, after saying goodbye to the falconer and his Harris hawks yesterday, I made my way across the Strand and into the Middle Temple via a twisty little lane called Devereux Court. Wood describes this as ‘entering another world’, and so it is – the sound of traffic falls away, to be replaced, in Fountain Court, by the splashing sound of the oldest fountain in London, dating from 1681.

The two twisted trees to either side of the fountain are black mulberries – although they look ancient, they were planted for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. I was just a little early to see them in fruit, so a return journey is definitely in order! Although James I is credited with trying to kickstart the British silk industry by importing mulberries back in the 1600s, Wood explains that archaeologists have found Roman-era mulberry seeds in remains in the city, so the berries have probably been on the menu since well before the silk link was established. Incidentally, black mulberries are the wrong species for silk worms, who prefer white mulberries, but black mulberries are apparently infinitely better eating.

Leaves of the black mulberry

One of the black mulberries being given a helping hand…

The gardeners in the various parts of the Temple are obviously extremely busy people, as we shall shortly see. I love that they have adopted that most insect-friendly of plants, the echium, as a statement in some of their beds – they crop up everywhere, and I am possessed with a need to try to grow one, after my success with my giant angelica this year. Echiums are in the borage family, and viper’s bugloss is an echium, though this plant is probably Echium pinana from the Canary Islands, otherwise known as Giant Echium, for obvious reasons.

On I go, past some more magnificent plane trees and the Middle Temple Hall, said to be central London’s finest Elizabethan building. This is probably where the first ever performance of Twelfth Night was held, and Shakespeare himself is thought to have been in attendance.

Middle Temple Hall

I have a quick look at Middle Temple Garden, which is a lovely spot, notable for its splendid acers and a particularly lovely peach-coloured climbing rose.

Middle Temple Gardens

A splendid rose…

Then it’s off into Pump Court. I am rather taken by the geometrical branches of the Tree Cotoneasters in this gloomy spot – they seem to be trying to sketch out a Mondrian painting.

A pump in Pump Court

Some very geometrical cotoneaster branches

I pause briefly at Temple Church (where a barrister friend got married), and am very taken by the pale blue clematis (possibly Blue Angel, but feel free to put me right) growing up the banisters to the Master’s House. This is my kind of garden, and I know how much effort it takes to make something look this informal. However, I haven’t seen anything yet.

Steps up to the Master’s House

Clematis (Blue Angel?)

 

Then it’s a quick turn into King’s Bench Walk, which is mostly a car park, though again the London planes are magnificent.

London Planes in King’s Bench Walk

There is a heap of building work going on, and I felt a little sorry for these poor echiums peering out over a hoarding…

But then I entered Inner Temple Garden. Oh my goodness! If you have never been here before, do make time when you come to London – it’s one of the most idyllic, beautifully designed gardens that I’ve ever come across. It has a breezy informality and romanticism that must take a shedload of work. It’s extremely pollinator-friendly which of course keeps me happy, and, as you would expect from a tree walk, it has some magnificent trees.

So, here we go. First up is a hybrid strawberry tree with rust-red bark, which was full of fledgling blue tits when I visited.

Hybrid Strawberry Tree

Mexican fleabane and ox-eye daisies have seeded themselves in the cracks on the steps.

The entrance/exit to the gardens

On one side of the path, euphorbia and verbena and a host of other flowering plants pour over the gravel….

Euphorbia

…while on the other side, there is a meadow of mixed grasses, poppies, ox-eye and other daisies.

There is a magnificent Atlas Cedar with blue-grey foliage, and the sound of goldcrests coming from the branches…

Atlas Cedar

…and the bed on the other side of the path as I turn towards the Thames is themed in dark red and white, with the largest scabious I’ve ever seen….

…some amazing white foxgloves with deep magenta centres and a kind of lacy frill around the edge (much appreciated by bumblebees as you can see)…

and some deep purple poppies…

There is a very unusual Manchurian Walnut…

Manchurian walnut

And although the alliums are going over, their seedheads are still very striking.

Allium seedheads

There is a magnificent dawn redwood….

Dawn Redwood

And then there’s an avenue of London planes. I defy anyone’s blood pressure not to drop as you walk along this green passage, regardless of the traffic belting past just over the wall.

There are 3 enormous plane trees planted in the lawn which are thought to date to the 1770s, but the avenue is younger – Wood thinks that the trees on the northern side (on the right-hand side of the first photo above) are probably nineteenth century, the ones on the southern side (closest to the river) are early twentieth century. When you look at the girth of the trunks you can see that those on the left are clearly still slim and youthful, while middle-aged spread has taken the ones on the right.

There is a lovely little fountain with the waterlilies just coming into flower.

And a splendid view back to the Manchurian Walnut.

The next border is a positive cornucopia of different varieties of hydrangea – it’s not my favourite plant, but some varieties are attracting bees who are after the pollen.

I have just missed the flowering of the tulip tree, but it does gift me with one blossom. This is a very fine tree. Its branches look like a cupped hand. I also appreciate the way that the gardeners have left a wide circle unmowed under pretty much all the trees in the lawn.

Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree flower

Tulip Tree

I walk past a young woman who has posed a china tea set with a shortbread biscuit on a tiny miniature table with a gingham table cloth against a backdrop of pink hydrangeas, and who is clearly taking a photo for her Instagram feed. I imagine it will be very pretty.

I am rather taken by this enormous plant. The chair underneath it is full-size. It looks a bit like Gunnera but not as spikey – some giant version of Rodgersia perhaps? I obviously have a thing for giant plants currently….

And then there’s this very unusual fuchsia.

A final turn, and I’m heading back towards the gate. It’s like being kicked out of Narnia…..

…because just a few hundred metres out of the garden I come to the Embankment, and this is the sight that awaits me.

Holy moly, what’s going on? Well, apparently it’s the Tideway Super Sewer, which aims to collect and transport more of London’s sewage (the current Bazalgette sewer was built when London’s population was only half the size). Every year, millions of tonnes of raw sewage end up in the Thames and its tributaries, so if this can be cleaned up it can only be a good thing. At the moment it looks a bit of a nightmare, but it will no doubt be great once the carpet’s down, as my Nan used to say. In the meantime, I would stick to the peace and tranquillity of the Inner Temple Garden if I was you. It’s open from 12.30 to 15.00 on weekdays (nb not weekends or public holidays), and I would check before making a special journey as I think it’s sometimes closed for special events. Well worth a look though, and another splendid walk from Paul Wood’s book.

London Tree Walks by Paul Wood is available here.

One of the older plane trees, probably dating back to about 1770.