February 2 2019 | Spring Stirrings

February 2 2019 | Spring Stirrings

Winter dawn sky in the morning

Hello again and welcome back.  Imagine opening the curtains first thing in the morning and seeing the sky pictured above  – I was greeted by the surprise of this glorious dawn sky a couple of weeks ago and it was a great start to the day.  But shepherds were right to warn of morning red sky – gorgeous dawn it might have been but followed by an entire day of heavy rain with grey skies.

Our weather this winter, in my area, has been unsettled. I have often thought how intermittent it has seemed, a pattern of one or two days of good, bright weather with clear blue skies followed by one or more of rain and grey skies.  The lovely days have to be treated as a surprise. Even if irritatingly unpredictable much better than continuous rain, don’t you think?

Seen all over south east London in the last few weeks, a magnificent show of the seed heads of the London Plane (Platanus x hispanicus).  Is it me just paying more attention to my surroundings and making a point of looking upwards or is this, I wonder, another plant having an exceptional year as these seed heads seem to be thriving everywhere?

Seed heads of London Plane tree
Seed heads of London Plane tree

The tree that bears these seed heads (remind me of Christmas tree baubles) known as the London Plane, is one of several Platanus hybrids and may be a familiar old friend to us who live here but really has no horticultural connection with London except that it is planted here.  Planted all over London and other European cities as a street tree because it excels in tolerating air pollution.  I can remember seeing those large round seed heads (each seed is arranged in a seed ball) in the trees in the playground when I first went to school. Over time the seed balls will break up dispersing the seeds.

Another important and attractive feature of the London Plane is the flaking bark, the dark brown flakes lift off to reveal a mosaic of cream, light green and yellow patches.  That is exactly how most of the London Planes in my locality look at the moment and it is, as they say, a good look.  I believe it is the flaking bark feature that makes this tree able to cope with air pollution.


So many of the rivers (tributaries of the Thames) near me are culverted.  You catch only glimpses of sections in certain roads – usually under small bridges, unmarked so you don’t know which river it is, fairly attractive and surrounded by greenery; a reminder of nature pushed underground.  That sounds more critical than I mean it to be because where I live there are a large number of small streams and rivers and I know flooding in the area was a major problem in 19th century.  The streams and rivers are now all underground in concrete channels.  Even so, in my particular road when we have a cloudburst and heavy rain some of the lower-lying houses have water up to the front doors until the drains can cope with the extra flow – so far always in the nick of time.

A couple of years back I enjoyed going on courses giving conducted walks of London and remember being told that the site of London was originally marshland, some of which had to be drained before any building took place.  As a London gardener I knew from experience that most of us are gardening on heavy clay.  Our city is sited on a big river and all this, I guess, is to be expected.

Attitudes have changed and in recent years there have been “deculverting”, also known as “daylighting”, moves – reversing the enclosure process and releasing the rivers and streams from their concrete straightjackets.  Apparently culverts have not been a total success and have caused problems with fish migration plus various other serious environmental effects. Runoff is also a problem in my area and this has not been helped by culverting.  Daylighting involves the river/stream being redirected into an above ground channel to revert the water stream to a more natural state and to reinstate the important riparian environment (bits by the river banks) lost due to culverting.

There are so many tributaries near me and I think I know most of the names – I just don’t know which one is which.  For a little bit of river history see the blog below, readable and interesting.


More info at Wikipedia –


Gardens at Oxleas Wood
Gardens at Oxleas Wood

Oxleas Wood

A friend and reader of this blog reminded me of an aspect of winter trees, without leaves, that I had forgotten when writing about this country’s great winter trees recently http://rosannathegardener.co.uk/2018/12/31/january-2019-winter-words. In the absence of leaves you can, of course, take in landscapes that usually can’t be seen at all.  She had been walking recently alongside the Trent and found a remarkable difference view-wise from what she usually sees during her summer walks.

Talking of leafless views I am just waiting for the right day without rain to take a shot that I messed up a few months ago.  I knew what I wanted because I had seen the view previously and off I went to capture it but there was nothing to see except a lot of foliage where the view should be.  I have to go again before the leaves return to get my picture – watch this space for the result.

The shot above, of the delightful gardens at Oxleas Wood, proves the case well.  Imagine a few months from now how that view would be obscured by leaves on the trees.

Gardens at Oxleas Wood
Gardens at Oxleas Wood

That walk in Oxleas Wood was on one of our winter days with bright, sunny weather and a blue sky.  We were looking for fungi and we did find a number which was not a bad result for an off-season foray.

Candlesnuff fungus.
CANDLESNUFF. I am continually amazed by the range of shapes, colours and textures in the fungus world.

One of the fungus foray people was delighted recently to find that her 3-year old grandson had asked his mother when his grandmother would come again with her mushroom book.  (Our fungus forays have the aim of identifying the fungi as opposed to collecting them for eating.) It is a sad fact that subjects like mycology and botany are no longer widely taught and if that little boy does develop an interest in fungi it isn’t very clear how he would be able to follow it up in the future.

Oxleas Wood is close to Shooters Hill, the latter being a name thought to be associated with highwaymen.  The area was wild and remote as late as the 18th century when development took the usual starting path of a few fine houses for those wanting to live outside, but close to, London.

Jump forward to the 1920s and 30s and the London County Council bought large parts of woodland as open space for the community.

Sevendroog Castle


Sevendroog Castle
Sevendroog Castle

After we fungus foragers had been out for some hours Sevendroog Castle was a great find in the woods as there is a café there.  This is a folly built by Dame Anne James (1742-1798) as a monument to to her husband.  Local rumour has it that an old lady dressed in black – that the children insisted was a witch – always sat at the gate collecting entrance money. The “castle” is protected from development by a Trust formed in 2003.

Gardens at Oxleas Wood
Gardens at Oxleas Wood

Birds of south east London

Mandarin ducks and Egyptian geese | You Must See This


Mandrin duck
Mandarin duck

Apparently both of these are naturalized species meaning that even though not originating from the UK they have settled in well and have been thriving for a long period.  The duck, originally from eastern Asia, has been here since the 18th century and the Egyptian goose, originally from sub Saharan Africa, since the late 17th century.  The Mandarin duck has the most colourful and exotic plumage and the goose, while not as handsome as the former seemed to me to be a pleasant creature padding along slowly and close to people and seems to like being spoken to.  These two were on and around Kelsey Park lake, Beckenham.

Egyptian goose
Egyptian goose

Spring stirrings – first buds to show


First Camellia, Hellebore and Rhododendron buds above.

An early flowerer, Witch hazel with paintbrush flowers below left. Yellow paintrbush like flowers of Witch hazel

Have you seen your first Snowdrop of the year yet?  Saw this one on 7th February. (Below right.)  Snowdrop

Bye for now.  Keep enjoying your gardens until next time.

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