White poplar and its unilateral disregard for autumnal hype.
Waterlow is my nearest London park. Those not living in close proximity to this incredible yet tucked-away paradise of a landscape tend not to have heard of it. It isn’t very big, as London parks go.
I recently took a few rolls of 35mm film to be developed and found this photograph among the prints. I’d forgotten taking it, but instantly remembered its context upon seeing it – the unexpectedly high temperature that day, the quietness, walking up to Highgate with coffee and a banana, annoying my girlfriend by taking so long to retrieve my camera from the depths of a rucksack, and then to angle the photograph. While holding the coffee and banana.
On any other day just like this one, the same view could have been a much more crowded one; it isn’t as though the park is a secret. I just love that, perhaps even unbeknownst to them, one person had the entire scene to themselves.
A recent written commission took me across the water to the cities of Toronto and Detroit. Although the two occupy separate countries, they share their regional territory with an ancient woodland: the Carolinian forest. Much of this once sprawling and prolific disiduous wood has sadly been lost, 90% in fact. Originally spreading across America, climbing North-West from the Carolinas into southern Ontario, Canada, sadly now only pockets can be found: those baring the original broadleafed footprint of the true Carolinian forest.
Having undertaken the otherwise strictly-urban commission in prime-time, fully swung, brightly glowing autumn, making a few dashed escapades into the surrounding woods was something I couldn’t have resisted. More images on the AWAY page.
Lythrum salicaria: it’s invasive and destructive, pushes out uk-indigenous watercourse and riverbank plants and takes their place, but seeing the little islands at London’s wetlands in Barnes, each surrounded by a ring of the thick, waving purple stuff, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I want that, that looks good.’
So two years ago I bought a packet of seed and sowed a pinch-full (the seeds are minute like poppy) in the greenhouse. Pretty well all of the sowings germinated, and about 8 found their way to being potted on and growing to fill 1 litre pots the following year. The little plants were then dug, admittedly somewhat unwisely, into the already-dense pond periphery and left to fend for themselves. By their third summer therefore, given the much-hyped vigour attached to their infamous character, I hoped to find them not just surviving the winter, but displaying a majority-rule, unrivalled by any other water-fringe species circling the pond. To my dismay only one plant remained.
Following a long, warm summer, the Thames footpath in Richmond is now swamped in loosestrife seed heads. I stopped along my commute to collect some, and the pods are now drying in the greenhouse.
Rather than sow again in the greenhouse as I had done before, this year I’m going to follow the ‘natural route’ and sow the seed directly into the pond margin. In the wild, loosestrife grows as a biennial, and sets it’s seed now so that the new plants have time to establish before the winter. So I’ve trimmed and scraped back the undergrowth and once the seed has dried I’ll broadcast it and be hoping for better success next year.
After an incredible, exhausting and inspiring five months away, I’ve now returned to the garden. From spending time with the team at Great Dixter Gardens in Sussex to traipsing across prairie fields and mountain-height meadows in the Northern States of America, it’s been a hugely invigorating time spent outside of the garden.
It felt strange at first to leave the place under the care of another gardener, but the results that met me as I arrived back reveal how little I need have worried.
This year I have to admit to up-scaling the mechanics of my meadow cutting process in a bid to save a bit of time and labour. I stretched to a power scythe (courtesy of the ever-frustrating eBay) which has made all the difference this year.
A power scythe or, ‘sickle mower’, cuts grass low at the base, pushing the sword through two crossing blades along a wide bar. The cut is very clean and surprisingly much less destructive to meadow dwellers (frogs, toads, nice etc) than other commonly used machines like strimmers and ride on mowers.
Although I was only able to get both the meadows cut by the time Autumn was settling in, we were lucky enough to have a few days sunshine to give the impression of a late Summer afternoon as I finished off the stacks.