Category Archives: London Places

A Mid-June Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

‘My’ Swamp Cypress

Dear Readers, with the temperatures expected to be in the mid-eighties this week, it seemed that a walk in the shadier parts of the cemetery would be a good idea. However, first I wanted to say hello to ‘my’ swamp cypress, one of my (many) favourite trees. It’s looking very splendid at the moment, even though it’s a good few weeks later than I expected in greening up – the cold May certainly held it back.

It’s the changing of the guard again this week – as you can see from the photo above, the cow parsley is almost finished, but the hogweed is just getting going.

I always think that it looks as if it’s exploding from the stem like a firework.

This shieldbug seemed to be enjoying it as well – it’s the creature with the triangular patterns on it towards the centre of the photograph. Pretty sure it’s a hawthorn shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale) though they’re normally brighter coloured than this one.

The real star of the show this week, though, is the grass, which is waist-deep in some places. The chaps who do the strimming are having a real job keeping up. I quite like it wild, but for people visiting graves it can be a source of some distress. One lady that we spoke to had lost her mother to Covid a few months earlier, and not being able to keep her Mum’s resting place neat and tidy was a real source of distress.  Getting the balance right between the wild spots and the more neatly-groomed one is always going to be tricky, especially with council cutbacks, and such a large area to look after.

Grasses are definitely not my area of expertise, but these have piqued my interest. Let me know if you know what they are, readers! I shall do some research and get back to you. Just about the only grass I’m confident on is wall barley.

Perennial rye-grass (Lolium perenne)??

Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)??

It’s interesting to see how this year’s conkers are already forming on the horse chestnuts…

And the haws are already coming on the hawthorns.

However, spring isn’t quite finished for the birds – I saw a few unusual goings-on in the garden today, which I shall report back on tomorrow, and there was a song thrush singing his head off, so I thought I’d share the moment with you all. You can’t actually see the bird, so you can just relax and listen.

Along by the North Circular Road was a tree that looked like bird cherry, but is evergreen, with very shiny leaves. I’m thinking that it’s a close relative of cherry laurel, Portugal laurel (Prunus lusitanica) – it’s flowering just as the cherry laurel is finishing.

The ox-eye daisies are in full swing, too.

And look at this path. Doesn’t it just make you want to walk along it?

The hogweed always seems to know exactly where the sunny patches are.

And the Scotsman has the sun on his back too.


And all this abundance rather made up for what has happened on our road at home in East Finchley’s County Roads, because the council has been round with the glyphosate and have sprayed not only all the ‘weeds’, but the tree bed where my next door neighbour was growing some California poppies, and the poppy that had self-seeded under my lavender. We shouldn’t blame the people who are doing the spraying, because they are just doing what they’ve been told to do and are probably earning minimum wage for walking the streets all day, but Barnet Council should be listening to the locals, who largely don’t want weed killer sprayed willy-nilly around the places where they live.

My neighbour’s tree pit.

The weeds along the road

My ex-California Poppy

My California poppy last week (Eschscholzia californica)

The only good thing is that most of these annuals have already set seed, and so they’ll be back within a couple of days. And also, the man from the council missed the most enormous sow thistle that is hiding amongst the lavender flowers, which gives me a certain degree of glee. I feel a campaign for no-spraying coming on…..




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.

The End of May in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

The highpoint of the cow parsley show?

Dear Readers, I have been fascinated by the speed at which the massed ranks of flowers come and go in the cemetery. One week it’s full of forget-me-nots and the next it’s ablaze with buttercups. This week, the rhododendrons have just opened, and, in spite of the honey made from it being hallucinogenic, the bumblebees were very enthusiastic (see the pollen baskets on the bee on the right of the photo).

The meadow in the woodland grave area is full of red campion…

And the swamp cypress is greening out nicely…..

Under the horse chestnut trees, the masses of ground ivy and violas have been completely submerged under a sea of black medick, a tiny yellow clover.

But what really catches my eye this week are the patches of germander speedwell. I thought that the forget-me-nots were blue, but this plant is an intense lavender-blue colour.

Germander speedwell

Elsewhere, the red clover is coming into flower, and I am wondering if some of these flowers are actually the slighter rarer zigzag clover (Trifolium medium). I should have bent down and had a closer look – the flowers of zigzag clover are on a stalk, whereas those of red clover are more or less stalkless. Maybe next week I’ll have the wit to bend over for a closer look.

On the path next to the North Circular Road the salsify flowers are out in force, and very pretty they look too, though I remain puzzled as to how on earth they got here.

Salsify flowers

The herb Bennett (wood avens) is in flower too.

Herb Bennett (Geum urbanum)

I have this all over my garden, along with herb Robert, greater celandine and green alkanet, and to tell you the truth I’ve rather given up the battle in some of the damper, shadier places. The plants that thrive there are perfectly suited to the habitat, and only this week I got into a gentle Facebook argument with someone who, when told that the plant they’d photographed was herb Robert, said ‘Oh, I thought it was a wild geranium’. It is, of course, a wild geranium, and not only is it very pretty in its place, but it is also often visited by pollinators, like this green-veined white (Pieris napi).

And finally, here is a last burst of germander speedwell blue, to power us through the week. Who knows what will have taken over from it by next week?

A Walk with a Good Friend at Walthamstow Wetlands

Dear Readers, as a society I think we often undervalue friendship in favour of familial or romantic partnerships, and yet the people who are often there for us through all of life’s uncertainties are our friends. On Thursday I visited Walthamstow Wetlands with my friend S. This year we will be celebrating our fortieth ‘friendiversary’ – we met in Scotland when we were 21 and both working as Community Service Volunteers. We haven’t seen one another since before this latest lockdown, and yet one sign of friendship for me is that we instantly drop into conversation as if we’ve never been apart. With so much shared history, there is much that we don’t have to explain to one another, and sometimes a whole incident can be retrieved from memory with a few words or a gesture that would be inexplicable to anyone else. True friendship is a very particular kind of love: my friends are often very different from me and from one another, and yet what we share is a deep concern for nature, a desire for justice and a need for real connection.

So, we grabbed a coffee at Walthamstow Wetlands café and sat down to catch up. There was much to distract us: there was a spotted flycatcher hawking from a nearby tree, and the cries of swifts from the nest boxes in the chimney of the old engine room.

However, all was not as it seemed – I got talking to a chap from the London Wildlife Trust who told me that, ahem, there weren’t yet any swifts in the nest boxes – the cheery sound of swifts nesting was a recording meant to encourage any passing swifts to take up residence. I shall have to see if it’s worked when I visit next – there were plenty of swifts over the garden in East Finchley this morning, so let’s see if it works.

S and I were just settling down with the flat whites when I noticed a Canada goose leaving the reservoir behind us and heading up the bank with a few goslings. Adorable! And then there was another gosling. And another one. And another one.

In the end we counted 17 goslings. Good grief! I wondered if they all belonged to this set of parents, or if they’d just picked up a few along the way – geese often adopt stray goslings, so strong are their parental instincts. What was lovely about these was that they paid us no attention at all, but simply grazed away naturally.

It wasn’t just the Canada geese either. We’d already seen several Greylag goose families by the entrance to the other part of the Wetlands.

At first I took this plant for viper’s bugloss, but it could also be phacelia. It was absolutely covered in bees. What do you think?

There’s a family of shelducks with tiny spotted ducklings too, but way off in the distance.

And, as we loop around and head back to the entrance, we spot this heron, no doubt keeping an eye open for tasty frogs and sticklebacks.

What is great about Walthamstow Wetlands is that although it’s still a working reservoir, it has, in the past three years, become one of London’s most important sites for biodiversity. Last year it even attracted a pair of passing spoonbills, a most unlikely visitor to East London! But even with the Canada geese, a common bird by anyone’s standards, there can be moments of magic, which are all the lovelier for being shared with a good friend. It’s so easy to take established relationships for granted, but if this last eighteen months has taught us anything, it’s that we should treasure those that we share our history with.

A Mid May Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery




Dear Readers, this tumbled headstone, complete with its own pond and fine growth of algae, just about sums up this week. It is heading towards being the wettest May on record. What people generally don’t appreciate is that climate change creates weather chaos, not just a gradual rise in temperatures. For the birds who have started breeding the lack of insects will probably increase the rate of nest failure, and for insects trying to complete their reproductive cycles it will lessen the amount of time that they have available. At least we haven’t had snow in London, though it has fallen further north this month.

It’s also been very windy, so the dandelion clocks, so abundant last week, have more or less disappeared, to be replaced by a carpet of daisies and buttercups.

Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

There are several species of buttercup in the cemetery: there’s the typical creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), with its three-lobed leaves, the poor old Goldilocks buttercup, (Ranunculus auricomus) where the flowers are always missing their petals and it looks as if it’s been nibbled even when it’s pristine, and the delicate meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), with its finely-cut leaves. Once you’ve got your eye in for identifying these plants, you notice that the flowers on the meadow buttercup seem to have more separated petals, and the whole plant is a bit taller than the creeping buttercup. My Dad taught me that where there are buttercups of any kind it’s an indicator that the soil is wet, so it’s best to avoid standing near them if you don’t have your Wellington boots on.

Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

I am pleased to report that ‘my’ swamp cypress is finally getting a coat of green, rather later than I expected. Look at it standing ankle-deep in cow parsley!

I noticed how the flowers on the horse chestnut turn pink when they’re pollinated – you can see the mixture of yellow and pink blossom on this flowerhead. I have seen bumblebees about in the midst of the storms this week, determinedly heading for the dusky cranesbill which is in full flower in the garden. I am a recent convert to species geraniums – some varieties are shade-tolerant, and the bees love them. I imagine that a tree like a horse chestnut must be a powerful bee magnet. So many flowers! So much nectar and pollen!

There is some sorrel just starting to appear too – I horrified my husband by eating a leaf just to make sure. It looks rather like a grass, but it’s actually a member of the knotweed family. The leaves have a delicious lemony tang to them, and if you look at the stem you can see how similar it is to plants like bistort and redshank.

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

When we reach the main path that leads to the North Circular Road entrance, what should we see but a blooming little egret flying past! I apologise for not getting a better photo for you, readers. I promise that the white blob just right of centre towards the top of the photo is actually an egret, not a stray handkerchief whooshing past in the high wind. I wonder where s/he was going?

On we go. I am delighted with the way that the sycamore flowers are already turning into the little ‘helicopters’ as we used to call them.

A rather magnificent crow surveyed the scene from the top of a tree. We’d just watched a crow pick up half a sandwich that someone had dropped, dunk it in a puddle to moisten it and then fly off, presumably back to a nestful of little dinosaurs waiting for their lunch.

And there’s an area completely covered in shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum). Even allowing for the damp weather, just look how shiny the foliage is! And look at all those fallen horse-chestnut flowers, probably ripped untimely from the tree in this week’s wind, rain and hail.

Shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum)

Storm damage



More branches down

My friend A told me that there were some whole trees down in other parts of the cemetery. It’s such a large area that they can lay around for quite some time if they haven’t fallen onto a recent grave, and if they aren’t blocking a well-used road.

And, as usual in the cemetery, I notice something that I’ve walked past a hundred times without really seeing it.

The broken column symbolises a life cut short, and was often used to signify the death of a child, as indeed is the case with this memorial. Little John Arthur Winter died at the age of 18 months, and is buried here with who I imagine are his grandparents, judging by the ages.

John Arthur was born in Shoreditch,  to Charles Richard and Amy Jane Winter, and was baptised in St John the Baptist church in Shoreditch. In 1881, 5 years after John Arthur had died, Charles Richard and Amy were living at 164 Southgate Road in Hackney. They had two children, Charles aged 12 and George aged 4, and their 4 year-old niece Alice was visiting them on the day of the census. Charles Richard lists his occupation as ‘clerk/surveyor’, but the section for Amy’s employment is blank. By 1891 the family have moved to Hever in Kent, and it seems as if Charles Richard has gone up in the world, with his occupation now listed as ‘Architect/Surveyor’. The older boy, Charles, is now 22 years old and a stonemason, and the younger, George, is a draughtsman and architect, so it looks as if both children followed in their father’s footsteps. Their niece, Alice, seems to be living with them, and they now have a general servant. In the 1901 census Charles Richard and Amy are still living in Hever, but all the young people have left and they no longer have a servant. The couple are only 55 years old  but by 11th November 1901, Charles Richard is dead, and is buried in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, though not in the same grave as his infant son. Amy Jane follows him in 1920, and it seems from the burial records that she might have spent her last days in Brighton. Maybe one of her sons lived there?

It is extraordinary what you can find out on the internet these days, but the bare bones of a life give no idea of the really important things – was a person kind? Did they have a sense of humour? What infuriated them, and what got their pulses racing? Did they love their job, or hate it? Did the sons get on with their father? How come the niece was living with them? All these things vanish when the last person who remembers someone, or has heard about them, dies themselves. Nonetheless, I think we often don’t realise what a huge difference we can make to the people around us, for good and for ill, and how those things ripple out into the wider world. My grandmother remembered her two dead sons until her own dying day: one died at eighteen months of scarlet fever, and the other at two years old from diptheria. But the stories that she told me about them live on in me, and so in a way they still live on, though their lives were so short, and so long ago. Let’s never forget to pass on those stories.

A Damp Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, we didn’t walk in the cemetery last week because there the rain was blowing horizontally across the garden, but I couldn’t wait to get there this week. A fortnight is a long time when it’s spring, and already most of the dandelions are shedding their seeds. Those ‘dandelion clocks’ really are entrancing, especially if you look closely. I love the way that the seeds detach one at a time and head off to find somewhere to put down their roots…

When all the seeds are gone, I love the spirals of little holes where they were once attached. And I’d never noticed how the ‘parachutes’ of the seeds are angled backwards, maybe so that the plant can produce more seeds per seedhead?

But it was to be a day of floral and avian wonders. A magpie decided to have a bath in a muddy puddle, as one does.

There were germander speedwells….

An ocean of cow parsley…..

Lots of red campion….


English bluebells…

And the buttercups have taken over from the lesser celandine in the yellow flower competition.

The flowers on the horse chestnut are pretty much full grown now and how enticing they look!

Even the grasses have gone berserk. That combination of lots of rain and longer day length has really kicked everything off.

We walk along the narrow path that connects two parts of the cemetery, and the cow parsley has sprung up to waist high.

But then there’s one of those moments that make the cemetery so special. I hear a familiar yaffling call, and there, posing on a headstone, is a green woodpecker.

These birds always remind me a bit of tiny dragons. There is a close-mown area nearby where they often search for ants, pounding away into the earth with their beaks. Unlike the great-spotted woodpecker, they don’t drum on dead trees to establish territory. This one was exceptionally obliging. This one is a female – the ‘moustache’ at the side of the face is all black in females, but has a red stripe in males. I found this description a bit confusing as I associate a moustache as being in the middle of the face, but for ornithologists it’s more of the ‘muttonchop’ variety.



Anyhow, this was a real delight, and well worth getting damp for. I normally hear the green woodpeckers, but they rarely stand still long enough for a photo. The wet weather has kept most of the visitors away, which makes the birds bolder.

Next, it was a wander along the road which is right next to the North Circular. The traffic noise is so loud here that it’s hard to make yourself heard, but the flowers are worth it. The ragwort is in full flower…

Last year’s salsify is in flower again….

And how about this lovely tangle of vetch? Some of my favourite plants are in the pea family.

One of the pleasures of a walk like this is seeing familiar plants, but noticing something new about them. Last year I was crunching through acorns as I passed these trees, but today I saw that they were in flower. I’d never even thought about oak trees having flowers (doh). The catkins are the male flowers, and there are tiny female flowers that look like buds amongst the leaves.

The comfrey is in flower, and the bumblebees are delighted. Along by the stream there is creeping comfrey and the larger common comfrey.

Common comfrey


And for some reason, in the middle of all this wildness there is a Japanese acer, just about holding its own.

There is bugle and great stitchwort….


Greater stitchwort

Cuckoo flower and shining cranesbill…

Cuckoo flower

And a great big patch of three-cornered garlic, with its triangular stem. I can’t resist having a little nibble as we march on through the woody bits of the cemetery. Overhead a buzzard is mewing and suddenly appears above us, pursued by a huge flock of crows – I count at least thirty, and more are joining from all directions. A sparrowhawk flies over, fast and low, and goes unmolested. The crows take such glee in the mobbing that you’d almost think they enjoyed it. I wonder if it’s one of those visceral reactions to anything that looks like a bird of prey? I always wonder this, and I still have no answers. And neither does the lovely Scotsman statue, standing in the spring woods with the bluebells dying back and the greenery rising all around him.




A May Walk in Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood

Sunlight through hornbeam leaves

Dear Readers, sometimes when I walk through one of North London’s ancient woodlands, I am reminded of how much I have learned through writing the blog over this last 7 years. Although there is still so much to find out, it makes me happy that I can look at the muscular trunk of a hornbeam and identify it, and that I can imagine it as a younger sapling, a mass of twigs that were probably cut back once or twice when the tree was a baby, before coppicing was abandoned and the tree was left to grow.

The tree above has five distinct trunks growing from the same ‘stool’ – they interweave with one another in a kind of slow-motion dance as they reach towards the light. I love the silvery bark of hornbeam, and the way that it is covered in a web of ‘veins’ and ‘sinews’ like a weight-lifter’s arms.

There is so much to notice, and yet so often we don’t, absorbed in our thoughts or in our phones.

And here’s a horse-chestnut seedling, optimistically growing in a patch of sunlight.

Last time we walked in these woods it was Boxing Day, we were ankle-deep in mud, and there were hundreds if not thousands of people on the paths. But today it’s a weekday, the children are back at school, most folk are at work and it feels as if the woods are breathing again.

There is a new dead-hedge around the little pond, though whether this will keep an enthusiastic golden retriever out of the water remains to be seen.

A pair of great tits have made their nest in this dead tree stump, a great advert for leaving dead wood where it is.

The coppiced areas in the middle of the wood really show off the oaks as they reach for the sky.

But hang on, who is that on the path? My keen-eyed husband spots a creature just past the ‘cross walk’ in the picture.

There are rats in all of the woodlands that I’ve visited this year. There are always a few around, but with more people also in the woods they’ve been noticed a bit more. In Cherry Tree the council have put down poison, so there are now dead rats. Let’s hope that they don’t become food for foxes, dogs, cats, crows, buzzards, magpies, owls etc etc.

Rat populations (like pigeon populations) are almost entirely governed by availability of food. There has been a huge increase in littering in wild places and parks all over the country, with people seeming incapable of taking their rubbish home. Lots of creatures have taken advantage. Plus there is a kind of hysteria about rats. We have become so detached from wildlife that some people seem to feel that if their toddler sees a rat they will keel over with Weil’s disease. I understand that you wouldn’t necessarily want to share your house with wild rats, but in a woodland?

Someone recently posted a short film on our local community Facebook page of an elderly rat being harassed by crows, so let’s not forget that in the natural world these rodents are way down the food chain. However, this crow was rather more interested in something in the stream.

I wonder if the crow is looking for invertebrates in the mud at the bottom of the rivulet? They are such intelligent animals generally, but all members of the crow family seem to be super-attuned to possible food. You can almost see them working out what’s what.

There is a little drift of wood anemones here too, an indicator of ancient woodland because they don’t travel very far over the generations. They are partially protected by the fence, which is probably why they’ve survived the huge growth in footfall in the woods during the lockdown.

And then, there is a patch of hybrid bluebells in the sun, close to where the boundary of the wood meets the local housing. Sometimes people throw their garden rubbish over the fence in these situations, which is why there is often such diverse non-native flora in these places. The evidence seems to show that in a ‘real’ bluebell wood, hybrids can’t outcompete the native bluebells, though they may still make incursions at the edge where there is normally more light. At any rate, these are pretty and have some value to pollinators clearly. In an urban wood such as this I suspect any increase in biodiversity isn’t to be sniffed at.

A May Walk in Coldfall Wood and Muswell Hill Playing Fields

Coldfall Wood

Dear Readers, after many months of trudging through the mud during the winter, it’s astonishing how the wood has now dried out. It’s true that we haven’t had any serious rain for several months (though some is forecast overnight), but even so the clay soil has turned into a miniature relief-map of ruts and runnels. Still, the place is alive with bird song – robins, song thrushes, blue tits and nuthatches to name but a few.

Someone has moved some branches to protect this multi-coloured group of hybrid bluebells from trampling, and very pretty they are too. There’s not a sign of the wood anemones that I remember from back in 2011 when I first arrived in East Finchley, though – maybe they’re hiding out in some of the less-trodden corners.

The hornbeam is flowering – it’s monoecious, which means that it has male and female flowers on the same tree. In the photo below, the prominent catkin right in the middle is the male one, but on the lower right-hand side you can see a collection of green slender outward-pointing ‘seeds’ which are the female flowers. As in many trees which have both male and female flowers, all the trees in the area are likely to set seed at the same time, so that there will be at least some cross-pollination. There might also be a slight time-lapse between the different sexes on the same tree, to prevent self-pollination. The sex-lives of plants are extremely confusing, and don’t even get me started on fungi.



Male and Female hornbeam catkins/flowers

In fact, there are flowers and catkins everywhere today. The crack willow has ridiculously long catkins (these are the female ones)

And here are some completely different catkins – this is black poplar (Populus nigra), though I’m not sure whether it’s the vanishingly rare native subspecies (ssp betulifolia) or the more commonly seen hybrid black poplar. It would be great if it was the first, as this is our rarest native tree, but let’s see – I’ll keep you all posted.

And what a fabulous year it’s been for the blackthorn. I have never seen so many flowers.


And I rather like the catkins on the sycamore too.

I had to have a quick look at what I’m beginning to think of as ‘my’ wildflower bed in the far corner of the fields, although I am a bit nervous about the encroachment of the Japanese Knotweed, which seems to increase year on year. It looks to me as if children have been thrashing their way through it, which will only help to spread the stuff. Still, there are plenty of plants in flower already:

White Deadnettle

Green alkanet


Red campion

More green alkanet

However, it was on the walk home that I noticed that the whole path was full of flies. What a twit I am! I’ve been hoping to see St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marcii) – these jet-black, slightly hairy flies are so-called because they normally emerge around about St Mark’s day, which is 25th April. The males have enormous eyes, largely because they fly around at head height looking for females to mate with. The females have much smaller eyes because presumably all they have to do is avoid predators. Look at the beautiful iridescence on the wings of this chap – like pastel-coloured stained glass.

St Mark’s Fly (Bibio marci)

I soon realised that the flies were all over the path, which led to some very delicate ‘tiptoe through the tulips’ type manoeuvres.

I think the fly on the grass is just sorting out his wings preparatory to his maiden flight….

And here is some wobbly film of one of the St Mark’s Flies having a little wash and brush-up. You’re welcome 🙂

And now I realise that the ‘little hoverfly’ that I mentioned in my Saturday post was actually a St Mark’s Fly, and furthermore, the reason that the starlings have been behaving in a most peculiar manner (hawking and diving around very energetically) is because they’re catching these little chaps by the beakful. Doh.

A blooming St Mark’s Fly.

A Blossom-Filled Walk in East Finchley Cemetery

Goodness Readers, although East Finchley Cemetery is a much posher, more manicured cemetery than my favourite, St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, it certainly has some very trees. Today, the rose-garden was looking a bit bare, but the trees more than made up for it.

One of the disadvantages of roses is that, although they look and smell wonderful when they’re in flower, they are very uninteresting for the rest of the year (and many varieties need a fair bit of looking after as well, what with the pruning and the feeding and the keeping an eye open for black spot). Furthermore, this part of the cemetery, which has an ornamental pond and then a small stream running down the middle, has been a bit of a problem for the landscape gardeners – the bit at the bottom was a quagmire earlier this year, though the weeping willows loved it.

However, there are some very pretty trees here. There is the usual Kanzan cherry tree, not my favourite but very ebullient.

Kanzan cherry. Look at all those petals!

There are some magenta-coloured crab apples too – I think this is purple crab (Malus x purpurea) but am happy to be corrected, as always.

But I think my favourite is this tree, which I think could be Siberian crab (Malus baccata), possibly the Lady Northcliffe variety? I think that it might be the prettiest blossom tree I’ve ever seen, what with those cherry-pink buds. Let me know what you think, you clever people!

Elsewhere, I find an Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica) – it has much narrower, more dainty leaves than ‘our’ horse chestnut, and is smaller and more delicate. I love the way that this cemetery makes a feature of its specimen trees – some of those in St Pancras and Islington are rather swallowed up with undergrowth, though this is much better for wildlife. I’m lucky to have both types of cemetery within a twenty-minute walk.

Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica)

And the pollen from this fir tree is absolutely everywhere. No wonder my husband’s nose is twitching. I’m thinking it looks most like a Nordmann Fir (i.e. the one that’s used as a Christmas tree), and if so these are the male flowers.

The ‘willow garden’ is coming on nicely, with lots of spring flowers, including this rather nice white Dicentra.

And the tree below rather caught me out – it’s a bay tree. I’d never seen one in flower before. What a twit.

I always stop to pay homage to the Cedar of Lebanons as well. What magnificent trees they are, planted when the cemetery first opened in 1854. I love the barrel-shaped cones, which gradually disintegrate, allowing the seeds to fall.

And the monkey-puzzle tree is putting on lots of new growth too – look at those cones! Apparently they will break up on the tree, rather than falling on someone’s head.

While I was admiring the monkey puzzle, my husband spotted that I had a hitchhiker – this bee. I’m thinking that it’s an orange-tailed mining bee (Andrena haemorrhoa) but these are tricky critters to ID to species level. As it likes south-facing grassy slopes to nest in, there will be plenty of opportunities for it in the cemetery – in some places the turf is kept very short, but there are also areas that are more overgrown.

The cemetery is a hot-spot for bats, too. What a shame that it closes at 4.30 p.m! But then there are signs outside prohibiting alcohol and barbecues, so I imagine that it has been the site of what I loosely describe as ‘urban vibrance’. Maybe it’s just as well that the bats, birds and bees have the whole place to themselves as dusk falls.

A fine array of bat boxes


An Insect-Filled Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it was the most beautiful spring today, and while the cherry plums in the cemetery have mostly lost their blossom, the heavy candy-floss pink flowers of the cherry trees are just starting to emerge. It’s a shame that many of the prettiest are behind fencing at the moment, while the cemetery tries to turn yet another area of rough scrub into a site for graves, but nonetheless the tree is still exuberant. The blossom on these trees can sometimes seem almost too much: I suspect that these trees are of the Kanzan variety, with each blossom having up to 28 petals. There is a road close to where I used to live in Islington which was lined with these trees on each side: when the blossom started to fall, it could be like scuffling through a thin layer of pink snow.

The cherry plums have lost every last flower now, and are instead glorying in their copper foliage.

The cow parsley is just starting to flower in the woodland grave area, and is already attracting pollinators, like this little hoverfly. The photo is not good enough to identify the species, but it does give an indication of how varied this group of insects can be – at first glance you’d think this was a flying ant.

I had to pause for a quick look at the swamp cypress, which appears to have been in suspended animation for weeks. Not for much longer, though! I can’t wait until it’s decked out in fluorescent green.

I had to pause for a quick look at the cherry laurel by the main path – it is covered in strange, spidery flowers, and has a most nose-tingling smell, somehow dusty and honey-ish at the same time.

Another hoverfly was sunning itself on the leaves. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that this is probably a female Eristalsis pertinax. The males of this fly defend territories around flowering plants, and I imagine that the cherry laurel must be a very appealing site. The young go by the appealing name of ‘rat-tailed maggots’, and live in drainage ditches and other stagnant water: the ‘tail’ is actually a breathing tube.