Monthly Archives: July 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Dick Whittington’s Sedum Cat



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July 30, 2014 · 12:26 pm

Vintage Rot

Ambling across Tooting Graveney Common recently, I spotted this fabulous deadwood trunk.TGC standing deadwood

What is so great about it?  Two things.  It was a grafted tree and the graft union is still evident.  I’ve never seen this before in examples of deadwood, so I found it intriguing.  Secondly, and more importantly, standing deadwood is a precious habitat due to its scarcity.

Deadwood of any sort is crucial, as ‘vintage rot’¹ supports a huge variety of life. It is estimated that in the UK, 1700 insect species need this kind of wood at some point in their life cycle, and some of these number amongst the most endangered in Britain today. And different species require different types of deadwood. ‘The Vandal hand of tidiness’ as Oliver Rackham put it, combined with health & safety paranoia, means that standing deadwood is bound to be rarer than the prone sort.  Gardeners and park staff can try and compensate for their tendency to tidy up by creating log piles. While this is beneficial, it cannot substitute the vertical stuff, which is why it’s so pleasing to see something like this.

Of course, not all dead trunks behave in the same way.  I saw a TV programme the other day called ‘The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth’.  In it, Anita Rani visited the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, where the average annual rainfall is as low as 2mm, and temperatures can soar above 50C.  Rani  went to ‘Dead Valley’, home to dead trees that are thought to be nearly a century old.  As there is so little moisture, this means the wood cannot rot.  I wonder if there are any specialist creatures that make use of these hard, dry boles.  It’s certainly a striking image, these ancient dead trees silhouetted against the ochre tints of the desert sands.


¹  A phrase borrowed from Ken Thompson


Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (Penguin: 2008)

Ken Thompson, No Nettles Required: The Truth About Wildlife Gardening (eden project books: 2007)

The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth, BBC2, 20/07/2014

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Jostaberry Junction

There’s a curve of green up the road from me that I’ve come to think of a ‘Jostaberry Junction’.  It’s actually a community garden called Priory Common Orchard, set just off a cross-roads, and I could equally think of it as ‘Currant Crescent’ which is another of its alliteratively named features.


Wandering about this place takes just a few minutes, but its creators have incorporated many interesting aspects.  Each area has a chalkboard-style sign, informing the passer-by of activities and intentions.  The ‘Raspberry Ripple’ board, for instance, tells us that these are autumn fruiting varieties, whose canes can be snipped down in February and the fresh growth will produce berries later in the same year.  Over in the herb bed, visitors are encouraged to ‘enjoy a cup of local herbal tea’, be it bramble leaf, dandelion, evening primrose, hyssop, mint, or nettle, amongst quite a long list.  A separate sign enthuses further about nettle, that it’s ‘fabulous’ for several things including food, fibre, pest-control, dye, and even … flagellation!  I guess this is a reference to its rubefacient quality, useful for arthritis.  Beyond human use, we’re reminded that nettles are also good as a habitat and food plant for wildlife.


Evening primrose

Even failures and problems are communicated.  Unfortunately, the jostaberries have been found to be lacking, and so will probably be replaced with currants which do well here.  The lime tree (Tilia, not citrus) that spread its canopy over part of the garden had to be chopped down for fear it might flatten a nearby building.  True to the regenerative powers of many trees, this stump re-sprouted, and so ‘Unperturbed, it continues to provide plentiful edible delicately flavoured salad leaves.  They make great wraps too.’  Must try that, in the absence of vine leaves..

One of the things I really like about this garden is the experimentation that goes on here.  Grafting is a dwindling skill but there are some examples here: greengage has been spliced to a blackthorn; and there is an apple tree with multiple grafts – Jackson’s Late, Prince Edward, Alan Morton’s, Twyford Late, Parkland, and an English apple popular in Victorian times, Brownlees Russet, all tagged with strips from beer cans, the names etched into the metal.


An example of tree grafting

I’ve been visiting this place on and off for a year and a half. Last summer I harvested some purple-podded french beans, as there was a sign saying visitors could help themselves to what was ripe.  I took one serving’s worth, but it felt really weird to be taking the fruits (or in this case, pods) of someone else’s endeavours, as if I was stealing!  I haven’t harvested anything since!

The project is spreading.  A triangle of green across the footpath is now being gardened, starting with saffron crocuses.  I wonder what they’ll include in future.. amaranth, perhaps?  Or maybe Tasmanian mountain pepper?  Or even the odd-looking electric daisy? Who knows, but I’ll definitely be following its progress.


Spotted in the garden – gatekeeper butterflies (I think)

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