Trees in winter

Posted: Friday 13 December 2013
by Kate Bradbury

Inspired by a friend, who has spent the last three years photographing and recording the insect life in her local park, I thought I’d get to know my park better.

Inspired by a friend, who has spent the last three years photographing and recording the insect life in her local park, I thought I’d get to know my park better. A stone’s throw from where I live, London Fields is a popular summer hangout for residents with no gardens, and isn’t the first place you’d expect to find much wildlife.

I thought I’d start in winter. There’s too much to distract me in spring and summer. In winter I can concentrate on the stalwarts of the park – the bones around which everything else grows.

To the casual observer there’s not much more to the park than the Lido, the cricket pitch, the basketball court and the recently planted ‘meadow’ of cosmos. There are very few shrubs and ornamental borders – it’s mainly grass with scorch marks from a thousand disposable barbecues – but there are some interesting trees.

It’s a mixed bag. As you would expect in London, there are many mature London plane trees, Platanus x hispanica. A hybrid of P. orientalis and P. occidentalisis, London plane was thought to have been introduced to Britain in the 17th century and was widely planted in cities due to its ability to shed its bark and therefore deal with pollution better than other trees. There are lots in London Fields (and lots of their saplings in my garden). I like them, their bark is beautiful and peels off in great plates of pink and olive green, but – as a non-native hybrid – there isn’t much living in them.

There’s a wonderful white poplar tree which, in the winter sun, shines like a lighthouse among a sea of brown-barked and evergreen trees. I love its brilliant white bark with diamond-shaped fissures running down its length.

There’s a couple of Turkey oaks, Quercus cerris, easily identifiable by their acorns, which have 'hairy' cups that look like they’re covered in a dense coating of moss. I was surprised to find these here, as Turkey oak is host to the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicis, whose larvae damage the acorns of native oaks. (Although I’ve yet to discover a ‘knopper gall’ in the park.)

There are several mature horse chestnut trees, Aesculus hippocastanum, under which I usually find my first conkers of autumn. The bark isn’t too distinct – a grey brown with scaly plates, but the twigs bear horse-shoe-shaped scars from leaf stalks.

My favourite trees are three hawthorns, Crataegus monogyna, which are grown as standards and sit in the park’s only ornamental border. I like them because they’re different – you don’t often see hawthorns growing as standards – and they have wonderful old gnarled bark and an incredibly messy canopy. From spring to winter these trees are full of birds. You can barely see them as the trees’ branches hide them so well, but chattering starlings and house sparrows easily give themselves away. Often I’ll sit on the bench beneath the trees and look up through the branches to see blue tits and long-tailed tits darting about looking for insects. These are my kind of trees. Busy. I love them.

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oldchippy 14/12/2013 at 16:07

There is a road in Ewell with a grove of London plane trees growing on the road side grass verge,they must have been there some time as they are very large,the next road has chestnut tree growing on the verge also known as Chestnut Avenue the trees may have been there before the houses they are also very large trees as well.

flowering rose 16/12/2013 at 14:07

we have in our suburb ,plane trees which have been here 100 years and so said to help the pollution problem on the local common.

Garden Maniac 17/12/2013 at 20:56

The starlings and house sparrows 'conceal' themselves daily in the shrubs in my garden - particularly the one over the waterfall to the pond where they drink and bathe all year round! There are shrubs developed in the last 15 years, however they are dense and evergreen, produce berries (eaten already) and I am guaranteed the lovely sound of chattering sparrows all year!