Category Archives: London Places

An Autumn Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Parasol mushroom

Dear Readers, autumn in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery means a wealth of fungi. The cemetery is now open during the week as well as at weekends, so today I went for a walk with my friend A to see what was popping up. This parasol mushroom was a particularly fine specimen (though a closer look revealed that some little creature had been nibbling at the gills underneath, but there were lots of white fungi of various kinds. You need to be very sure about what you’re doing before you start nibbling at them, however tasty they look. I could imagine some of these bubbling away in garlic butter and finished with a touch of parsley, but personally wouldn’t dare to eat them. How about you, readers? Do you forage for mushrooms yourselves?

On the way to the cemetery, we were briefly detained by this rather unusual oak. It’s a street tree with a very upright habit – from a distance you’d almost think it was a larch. However, I suspect that it’s actually a ‘normal’ English Oak (Quercus robur) but of an upright variety known as fastigiata (otherwise known as the Cypress Oak, and becoming increasingly popular as a a council planting.

The oaks in the cemetery itself are frequently heavily infested with spangle galls, such as those in the photos below.  These galls are caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. The wasp ‘persuades’ the plant to develop the outgrowth of tissue that covers and protects the egg and then the developing larva. In the autumn the galls fall to the ground around the oak tree, and the young wasps overwinter before emerging in the spring to lay their own eggs, normally on the leaves on the lower limbs of the tree because the wasps are poor fliers. Although they look unsightly, the gall wasps appear to live in relative harmony with the oak trees, and do no lasting damage.

Deep in the woody area of the cemetery we found this impressive sessile oak (Quercus petraea) with its surprisingly thin, elegant stems. I usually think of oaks as being robust, thick-set trees, but they can be lithe and graceful too.

And we are coming into the season for the Raywood ash trees to put on a show. These are a variety of the Caucasian ash tree (Fraxinus angustifolia ssp oxycarpa ‘Raywood), also known as the Claret ash. The variety originated in Australia but during the 1970s to 1990s it was a very popular street tree. Sadly, as Paul Wood reports in his book ‘London’s Street Trees – A Field Guide to the Urban Forest‘, Raywood ashes have a habit of unexpectedly splitting apart, not a great characteristic for a tree that comes into such close contact with people. Furthermore, it doesn’t respond well to pollarding, becoming ungainly. I shall make a point of appreciating these trees while we have them – their autumn colour is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will also have resistance to the ash dieback that is going to kill most of our native ash trees.

Some of the cedars of Lebanon are in flower: I always get confused between the cones and the flowers, but these seem to be the male flowers, just cracking open to release their pollen. The female flowers are smaller and green-coloured and, if pollinated, will eventually turn into the barrel-shaped cones that are so familiar.

‘My’ swamp cypress hasn’t turned rust-brown yet, but it has produced some round, green cones. The tree got its leaves very late in the spring, so I think we’ll have to be patient for the autumn colour,

We spotted this young woodpigeon pecking about – it hasn’t developed the white flash on its neck yet. Plus I think all immature pigeons and doves spend a while ‘growing into’ their beaks (much as I had to grow into my size 8 feet, which looked a bit daft until I grew to 5 foot 11 inches tall – at that point it seemed rather important to have big feet, otherwise I’d have fallen over).

On the way out of the cemetery, we were rather surprised when A suddenly spotted a dead animal bird of some considerable size laying beside the Payne mausoleum. It turned out to be a small white goose, maybe from the allotments that border the cemetery. I have spared you a photo of the ex-goose, but suffice it to say that it was definitely demised. Was it taken by a cunning fox, or did it fly into some solid object and meet an untimely end? At any rate, it was a most surprising thing to spot on an autumn walk. We alerted the cemetery staff, and no doubt the corpse has been removed by now. Life and death are everywhere in a graveyard, and not always in the way that you’d expect.

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!

A Bank Holiday Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it was extremely quiet in the cemetery today. I’m guessing that lots of people are away, what with it being the August Bank Holiday and all, but it meant that I spotted two handsome foxes (though they dashed away too quickly for me to get a photograph), and also saw two buzzards circling overhead, mewing to one another. I expected the crows to rise up in umbrage, but they didn’t for once – maybe they’re all on holiday too.

Some Japanese anemones are just coming into flower in the woodland grave area, along with some most unlikely-looking plants – they remind me of one of my house plants. Let’s hope they survive.

Look at the swamp cypress, people! I am waiting for the first hints of rust to appear. There is a definite increase in tempo this week, with the coal tits and blue tits cheeping and the robins starting to announce their winter territories. I love autumn though, it’s probably my favourite season – there is strangely more of a sense of possibility and new beginnings for me at this time of year than in the spring. Maybe it’s all those years of education, when the school year started in September, but it’s always been pivotal for me – I got married in September, as did my mother and father, and I started my most recent job in September too.

The swamp cypress

Anyhow, I’m starting to see a lot of wasps drifting about. I wonder what this one was after on this conifer? Maybe there’s something sweet and resinous being produced.

The Cedars of Lebanon are looking particularly magnificent, and several of them are producing their female flowers, which will be shedding pollen and irritating the noses of hay fever sufferers for the next few months.


The conkers are filling out nicely, and there are plenty of berries on the holly.

And here’s a holly-blue butterfly, sunning itself. This one is a female (you can tell by the black edges to the wings).

I always stop and give the Tibetan Cherry trunk a little rub as well, to keep it nice and shiny.

There is a definite meadow-ish feel to some parts of the cemetery at the moment – the gardeners are out with their strimmers and, I regret to say, their leaf-blowers, but it’s been such a wet summer that everything is springing up as fast as it’s trimmed. Some grave-visitors have taken to bringing in their own strimmers. Still, I thought I’d try to take a couple of grasshopper-eye views of the plants while they’re still around.

Red clover and ribworth plantain

Other notables today were the hedgerow geranium, with its intensely mauve flowers..

…the common toadflax…

…the bristly oxtongue…

….the nipplewort…

…and the Japanese Knotweed in full flower. Just as well it doesn’t spread by seed in this country, there’s quite enough of it in the cemetery as it is.

And in other signs of autumn, there’s the tarspot fungus in all its glory on the sycamore leaves…

and the hogweed seeds, which are rather pretty close up. I’m sure someone on Masterchef actually used these in a dish recently, I shall have to check (though the umbellifers are a tricky family with several, such as hemlock, being extremely poisonous).

And finally, it’s funny what you don’t notice, until you do. I walk this way every week, but never saw that the ivy had covered a whole row of graves just by one of the woodier parts of the cemetery. It’s amazing the way that ivy just reclaims things. Was this part of the cemetery once pristine and neat, I wonder? I know that I prefer it the way it is now. Although a lot of the wilder parts of the cemetery are being dug over for new graves, I imagine that there will always be older parts where it’s just not economical to cut down the trees. I hope so, anyway.

Graves disappearing under the ivy.

London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – A Pimlico Circular – Part Two

Variegated Chinese Privet on Alderney Street in Pimlico

Dear Readers, after my meander around the Churchill Gardens Estate I was in need of a coffee, a sit-down and a loo (though not in that order). I found the Brewhouse cafe, which had all three, including some seats outside. Highly recommended in an area that’s actually fairly devoid of hostelries. 

Onwards! I have fallen in love with these Chinese Tree Privets (Lugustrum lucidum var Excelsum superbum) and this variegated variety was particularly impressive. I could smell the perfume of the flowers from twenty feet away, and it was abuzz with bees.

On the other side of the road are two Chestnut-leaved Oaks (Quercus castaneifolia) – these trees come from Iran, but they seem to love it here. A tree planted in Kew Gardens is the largest in their Arboretum, measuring 37 metres tall and 8 metres in girth. These trees are rather smaller (at the moment).

Chestnut-leaved oaks (Quercus castaneifolia)

On Denbigh Street there’s a statue of Thomas Cubitt, who was the builder of much of Belgravia and Bloomsbury. His vision was to convert the area of marshy ground close to the river to a grid of stuccoed terraces and garden squares, and this he largely achieved. He is shaded by an Indian Horse Chestnut (Aesculus indica) – I met one of these trees in East Finchley Cemetery a few months ago. It is increasingly favoured by street arborists because the tree doesn’t attract the leaf-miners that ‘ordinary’ horse chestnut does.

Thomas Cubitt

The leaves of the Indian Horse Chestnut

I noted that the lions are locked up in these parts, though you’d need some muscles to run off with this chap.

And you can tell you’re in Westminster when the wheelie bins are decorated.

Onwards! Here is a very lovely mimosa, which Wood remarks has already become a local landmark, and I can see why.

Mimosa (Acacia dealbata)

Just around the corner, on Moreton Street, are some of the most unusual street trees in Pimlico. Can you guess what they are?

Yep, these are Australian Bottlebrush Trees (Callistemon citrinus). But why are they planted here?

Because Billy Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, was born at No. 7 Moreton Street! I must pop back to see the trees when they’re in flower, they will look amazing.

Photo One by Zeynel Cebeci, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottlebrush in flower (Photo One)

From here, I cross Vauxhall Bridge Road to find another London Plane-lined square, Vincent Square. This is private land (it forms the playing fields for Westminster School) and the trees are slightly younger than the ones that we saw on St George’s Square yesterday. There are splendid views through the square towards the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, or there would be if it wasn’t for the vans and street furniture.

London Plane trees along the edge of Vincent Square

Then I head off to another square via Elverton Street, which has been recently planted with Chinese Red Birches (Betula albosinensis). Look at this lovely bark!

And then it’s along Horseferry Road. Things are certainly changing on the taxi front. This lot are all plugged in to fast charging points. The drivers grab a quick coffee and their vehicles are recharged within 30 minutes.

The day has gotten a lot hotter by now, and I’m beginning to regret my raincoat and scarf, so it’s a real pleasure to walk into St John’s Gardens. This is yet another place that I’ve never visited before. The notion of a park being like a cathedral is a bit of a cliché, but these trees are so tall, and the interior is so cool and tranquil that nothing else seems quite as good as a simile.

Then I take a wrong turning, which is always fun. I end up outside the new Home Office building. Considering how brutal a department this can be,  the building is light-hearted and colourful. The sun is shining through panels of coloured glass on its roof and throwing Mondrian patterns on the pavement.

And finally, when I get back on the official route, I find the Millbank Estate, 32 blocks that were built at the turn of the twentieth century. The plane trees were planted at the same time. I’ve often walked along one of the main roads after the trees were pollarded, and thought how ugly they looked, as if they had their fists raised to the sky in protest. But today they are in full leaf, and they lower the temperature of this broad expanse of concrete.

Someone has built a whole container garden at the entrance to one of the blocks.

The Millbank Estate was built at the turn of the twentieth century on the site of the old Millbank Prison, which covered not only the area of the current estate but also the land now occupied by Tate Britain. The red bricks of the estate were taken from the prison. Prisoners from all over Great Britain were held in the prison prior to deportation, and some of the features of the prison remain, like this moat, which once formed its boundary.

This walk around Pimlico has shown the interesting ways that built communities have evolved in this part of London, and the ways that green spaces and trees have been incorporated over the years. From stuccoed terraces to the Arts and Crafts-influenced Millbank Estate to the modernism of Churchill Gardens, it’s shown how ideas of social housing have changed, but also how many houses were built during this period. There seems to have been a consistent idea that it was important to house people properly, right in the centre of London.  What a reflection on the lack of vision and imagination around housing today.

London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – A Pimlico Circular – Part One

St George’s Church, Pimlico

Dear Readers, all I really knew about Pimlico prior to this walk was the route from the tube station to Tate Britain, so this walk was a real revelation. Pimlico has been the centre of wave after wave of utopian housing developments for the past two hundred years, and the range of architectural styles that I passed was astonishing. Plus, trees have been part of these plantings during the whole of this period, and it’s fascinating to see the different species that have made their homes in the Capital.

First off, we walk along Bessborough Street towards the St George’s Church. St George’s Square is open to the public, which makes it unusual. On side there are the  impressive stucco houses that I expected to find in Pimlico.

But in the square itself there are towering London Plane trees, some of the tallest that I’ve seen. The trees were probably planted at the same time as the houses, so between 1839 and 1843, making the trees about 180 years old. Given good conditions, they could easily live for another 180 years. How enormous will they be by then, I wonder?

At the north-west corner of St George’s Square was the site of the brutalist landmark the Pimlico Academy, described as a resembling a battleship. It was finally demolished in 2010, and its destruction was described as ‘arguably the most philistine architectural destruction since the demolition of the Euston Arch’ in The Guardian.

Photo One from

The original Pimlico Academy (Photo One)

These days it’s rather more prosaic, though I do like the climbing wall on the outside. I note that it was recently the scene of protests by students about racism at the school, followed by the resignation of the Headteacher.

Pimlico Academy and the climbing wall

Pimlico Academy stands on Chichester Street, opposite Dolphin Square, which contains no less than 1,250 flats. These have been home to various politicians and grandees who needed a pied-a-terre, and Harold Wilson, David Steel and William Hague have all lived here, along with such notables as Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo fame. Apparently the flats have a bucolic garden in the centre, but it’s private, so, as directed by Wood, I spent some time looking at the street trees instead. On the Pimlico Academy side of the road there are some small-leaved limes, who fell out of favour as a street tree because of the aphids that feed on the tree and secrete honeydew all over the cars below.

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)

On the other side of the road, there’s a mixture of Chanticleer pear trees and ‘Beech Hill’ Pear trees. There’s lots of fruit on them too.

At the end of Chichester Street we turn into Claverton Street, which is a tale of two halves. On one side we have another stuccoed terrace, but on the other side we have a low-rise block, built during the 1970s. There are more pears alongside the older houses, but the new side of the road is planted with Italian Alders. I saw these before opposite St Pauls and they seem to have become a favourite, probably because, as Wood points out, they can survive in poor, rubble-rich soil.

An Italian Alder on Claverton Street

Then, it’s into the Churchill Gardens estate, which seems to go on forever, and does in fact cover 32 acres. The entrance includes some ‘Crimson King’ Norway Maples, which Wood tells me are the second most frequent London street tree after, you guessed it, the London Plane.

‘Crimson King’ Norway Maple

But who would have guessed that this estate of high-rises would feature such spectacular trees? First up is a Red Oak.

Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Leaves of Red Oak

Behind it is a splendid Tree of Heaven, which is considered something of a pest tree these days. It’s still very magnificent though.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Then I manage to get a bit lost (as usual). What an interesting estate this is! The first five blocks were completed in 1951, and received the Festival of Britain Merit Award.

A lady sitting on a wall asks me (very fairly in my opinion) what I’m finding interesting enough to take photos of. When I’ve bent her ear for five minutes about how amazing the trees are, her worries are calmed. And then this tree catches my eye.

What on earth is it? I can smell a sweet, creamy scent from across the road. It reminds me of something….

and it turns out that this is a Chinese Tree Privet (Ligustrum lucidum). We’ll meet some more of these trees later in the walk, but for now I was happy to just watch the bees making themselves drunk on the nectar.

Then I am distracted by this.

This is the Accumulator Tower, that was once used to provide communal heating to the estate. Originally, waste heat from Battersea Power Station was used for this purpose, but nowadays it’s been converted to using gas. It’s still said to be much more efficient because the flats don’t need their own gas boilers, and the Pump House holds the biggest thermal store in the UK.

I retrace my steps past the Grade II listed bin store….

Grade 2 listed!

and look to see if I can find a Varnish Tree (or Chinese Lacquer tree) that Wood mentions. I think I’ve missed it – it looks rather more like an ash than I expected. Oh well.

I didn’t miss the Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignoniodes) though. I always associate these trees with the Deep South of the USA. The tree has flowers that look like orchids, but not at this time of year.

Southern catalpa

Next to the catalpa is a Sycamore, but not as we normally see them – this is a purple-leaved ‘Spaethii’ variety

And then, I go off piste (as usual) and find something really delightful.

Tucked away behind one of the low-rise blocks is a tiny park with two meadows, one annual and one perennial.

There is not a soul around, although the people in the surrounding flats must have a lovely view.

The annual meadow is full of all sorts – I can imagine some people being sniffy about the flowers because they aren’t native, but there were plenty of bees. It was started with a grant from the London Wildlife Trust, and local children and residents are involved in its upkeep.

I thought it was lovely, and such a surprise.

I was pleased to see that there’s some dead wood left about as well.

I think this must be a really lovely spot to sit and enjoy the sunshine. I know that I did.

And finally, I head to Johnson’s Place. described by Wood as ‘a fine example of a mid-century civic open space’. And so it is. Churchill Gardens really is softened by the planting of trees and gardens and the availability of spaces to enjoy nature. I saw a good mixture of people walking their dogs, chatting, taking their children to and from the primary school in the middle of the estate. There’s a good range of shops on Lupus Road which skirts the estate too. I imagine there are plenty worse places to live in London.

Johnson’s Place

Johnson’s Place

So, after leaving Churchill Gardens I head off and find some most unusual things. But to find out what, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.


Falling Down in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Swamp cypress leaves

Dear Readers, those who’ve been following me for a while will know that I have a strange tendency to trip over the smallest of imperfections in any surface. Some people think that I could stumble over a misplaced molecule, and they are probably right. However, today I fell in spectacular fashion over a pothole in one of the paths that could have been seen from space. Fortunately both my camera, my knees and my ankles survived, though my hands smarted for a while and I think my poor husband will be traumatised for the rest of the week.

I suppose it’s something to do with the fact that we are finally holding my Dad’s memorial service in a fortnight’s time – I have always found myself rather distracted when significant days that relate to Mum and Dad are coming close. The service will be at St Andrew’s Church in the lovely Dorset village of Milborne St Andrew, and it will be a chance to see some people that I haven’t seen for well over a year. Covid numbers are rising, which is concerning, but the vicar is asking for social distancing and face masks, and I suspect that things will get worse as the year wears on, rather than better. At any rate, while I hate the word ‘closure’ because it implies drawing a line under an event that can only be integrated rather than tidied away, it will feel as if Dad has been honoured properly, and that people who have not had a chance to mourn communally will have been able to do so. I shall keep you all posted on how it goes.

Anyhow, although it’s a very damp, drizzly day, there is much to enjoy in the cemetery today. Everything seems to be on pause, but there is such bounty in the shrubs and trees.

This is why a cherry laurel is called a cherry laurel. Don’t eat these though, they contain cyanide.

I am watching the progress of the conkers and the leaf miners on the horse chestnut trees with equal interest. The conkers are growing nice and fat, but seem to have some kind of rust growing on them.

The leaf miners are having a great time. I’m starting to see the little holes where the tiny moths have exited (as at the end of the long brown streak on the left-hand side of the central leaf). I just hope that some Southern Bush-Crickets find the tree soon.

I was rather taken by this lonely Fox and Cubs (Pilotella auriantica)…

and I love the constellations on the flowers of the ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)…

But this plant stopped me in my tracks completely. It’s so perfect that at first I thought it was plastic. It’s a houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) though I’m not sure which variety. How splendid it is, and how utterly perfect.

There is a smaller plant in the other corner of the grave. Clearly this one isn’t in such a prime location but I have a suspicion that it will do its best to catch up.

It’s going to be a great year for hawthorn, my tree is bowed down with them.

It’s a good year for pyracantha, too.

And finally a long-standing mystery has been solved. I have been puzzling over this shrub for months – it has silvery, strap-like leaves. But finally I’ve seen the berries and all is clear. This is sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), rare as hen’s teeth in the wild but flourishing here alongside the North Circular Road. You honestly never know what you’re going to see in this uninspiring little strip of shrubs and wildflowers.

Sea buckthorn berries have featured heavily in the menus created for cookery show ‘The Great British Menu’, where established professional cooks compete to have a dish at a banquet to honour a particular group of people – D-Day veterans, health and care workers, musicians, children’s authors. Sea buckthorn is universally hated by the judges, but the chefs seem to think that if they can only come up with the right dish, they will win. It hasn’t happened yet, sea buckthorn berries being something of an acquired taste – Wikipedia describes them as ‘astringent, sour and oily’, which doesn’t sound like a winning combination. They do have medicinal qualities, however, so all is not lost.

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Anyhow, by now it’s pouring with rain, and so we turn for home. I’m aware of a sudden chorus of agitated crows and jays screeching and cawing, and turn just in time to see a heron flying over, probably headed for the Dollis Brook or the lakes of Hampstead Heath. It looks more like a prehistoric animal than a bird, but of course birds are basically little dinosaurs so this isn’t surprising. What I need now is a cup of tea and some arnica for my grazes.

Expect the Unexpected

Walthamstow Wetlands – the weir

Dear Readers, I met up with a dear friend for a walk and a coffee at Walthamstow Wetlands yesterday. When we arrived at the main gate, it said that the main part of the wetlands was closed due to flooding. Gosh! Walthamstow was one of the areas badly flooded in the torrential rains last month, but there had been no rain overnight, so we were a bit taken aback. But fortunately, the other, smaller part of the wetlands was still open, so off we went to see what we could

One thing that you can definitely see is the extensive building at Blackhorse Road. I wonder how much of this is on the floodplain from the rivers around the wetlands? Hopefully none of it, as it seems to be on slightly higher ground, so fingers crossed. I’m hoping that at least some of these new flats and townhouses are ‘affordable’, though as affordability = 80% of the market price, they’ll still be out of the reach of most people.

There were lots of men with binoculars walking along the raised reservoir, so I made enquiries. Apparently there were two greenshank on the edge of the water on the other side. I hadn’t brought  my binoculars as a camera is distraction enough when you’re catching up with a friend, but here’s a photo of a greenshank so you can see what we missed.

Photo One by By Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) (Photo One)

The edge of the reservoir is a haven for wildflowers, and many a Wednesday Weed has been discovered along this stretch of uninspiring-looking concrete.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris)

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

But who else is here?

A fine collection of mute swans, all happily preening and dozing.

These are likely to be young birds or those not yet paired up and territorial – once a pair have a territory they will guard it zealously, as anyone unfortunate enough to accidentally disturb a mute swan on its nest will attest. I was once chased along a country lane for a hundred metres by an irritate bird after I almost fell over its nest.

Apparently mute swans are so-called because their wings make a whistling, humming sound in flight, which means that they don’t need to have a flight call like other swans. Who knew? Not me for sure.

Two swans were swimming in parallel. One would raise its head, then the other one followed suit. One would dip its head under the water, and then the other would do the same. I always wonder what strange and subtle signals birds send to one another that we can’t read. How close are you allowed to stand to one another if you’re not a pair? Do you preen synchronously too?

And so, although it wasn’t quite the morning we’d planned for, it was still a good walk, full of plants and animals and interesting Victorian architecture, like this water tower. Those Victorians didn’t do things by halves.

And as we headed back to Blackhorse Road tube station, I spotted this bush. It’s clearly some kind of vetch, but I’m puzzled by the way that the seedheads seem to have exploded. Can any of you gardeners out there a) identify the plant and b) tell me if the seedheads are supposed to look like that? All information gratefully received..

Mysterious yellow bean-plant

Seed capsules of mysterious yellow bean. Are they supposed to look like deflated balloons?

Photo Credits

Photo One By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0,


An August Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

‘My’ swamp cypress

Dear Readers, I didn’t get to the cemetery last week because of the interminable rain, so it was a real pleasure to see what was going on this week. For a start, the swamp cypress was looking extremely fine. I know you’re not meant to have favourites, but this tree is very close to my heart.

But then, how about the trunk on this oak? It seems to have been much-lopped in its early years, and it’s covered in puckers and scars, but is no less characterful for its troubles. It reminds me of one of those many-breasted statues of Artemis that you can see in museums, and, like all oaks, this tree probably has been ‘mother’ to many, many other species. Or maybe it’s just me. See what you think

Photo One by Son of Groucho from Scotland, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Artemis from the Ephesus Museum (Photo One)

In other news, one of the cherry laurels has become a refuge for snails of all kinds. I guess that the waxy leaves provide an excellent protection against drying out, though the snails don’t appear to be eating them. This brown-lipped banded snail (Cepaea nemoralis) reminds me rather of a mint humbug.

I think that this is probably a rather worn garden snail (Cornu aspersum). It looks like an elderly snail to me, battered by life but clinging on.

And this is another brown-lipped snail, though not quite as pristine as the first one. Isn’t it interesting how we (generally) view snails as small characters, rather lovable in their way, but don’t extend the same tolerance to slugs? Maybe the shells help to offset the general sliminess.

Late summer is already shading into autumn, with bountiful supplies of conkers…


And rosehips….

But there are some new plants in flower as well, such as this musk mallow (Malva moschata)…

and these lovely common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). I love this plant, with its lemon and orange flowers. In fact, I have a great fondness for all toadflaxes – they are often great for pollinators and their flowers just ask for a bee to land on them.

There has been a whole lot of strimming going on on the banks where I’ve seen green woodpeckers in the past, but at the moment the magpies are there, working over the dried grass for tasty insects.

We take a quick run around the field and have a look at the Himalayan balsam. This is such an attractive, showy plant. I can see why people planted it in the past – it’s like having a giant moth orchid in your back garden. What a shame it’s such a thug – the bees seem to love it.

I spot a sparrowhawk flying overhead. I also see a recently-fledged blackbird, looking very small and vulnerable. Fortunately I could hear at least one adult bird in the tree overhead, so I moved quickly on, keeping my fingers crossed that this little one would soon be fully equipped for life in the cemetery. At least there are very few cats.

This crow was pecking at a piece of cellophane that had been used to wrap flowers with great determination, and even tried to fly off with it when we approached.

We couldn’t see anything of food value, and so my husband put the cellophane back in the bin. I reminded him that experiments have shown that corvids don’t forget someone who has done them a disservice – it’s been shown that they can identify someone who has wronged them even if they change their clothes and wear a mask. Let’s hope that this act of kindness won’t be misinterpreted, or our walks in the cemetery are about to become much more ‘interesting’.

Photo Credit

Photo One by Son of Groucho from Scotland, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Wet Saturday in East Finchley

Rain dripping from the awning outside Coffee Bank

Dear Readers, our usual Saturday walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery was terminated abruptly today in favour of a flat white in Coffee Bank on East Finchley High Road. What a morning! It poured down relentlessly, and I look forward to the statistics which are going to announce that this was the wettest August ever. Even in the rain there are still things to see, but I wanted to start by showing you who popped into the garden yesterday.

This little one is very skinny but otherwise healthy – her tail looks mangey in the photo but it’s actually just a lighter silvery colour. She is all legs, and ears,  and is clearly one of this year’s cubs. Normally they haven’t been visiting until it’s properly dark,  but I imagine this one was very hungry. After about five minutes she loped off into the undergrowth and disappeared. It always feels like such a privilege to be visited by these animals.

Back to the High Road!

Coffee Bank stands right next to what is known as Carol’s Crossing. A wonderful local woman, Carol Jackson, was killed in a car accident at this spot in 2019. There had been many complaints about the difficulties for pedestrians who wanted to cross the road at this point, and it was very sad that the refuge in the middle of the road which makes things so much easier was constructed literally weeks after her death. Flowers are often left here in memory of Carol.

The ‘Carol’s Crossing’ embroidered sign