Saturday, 26 May 2012

London Plane Tree (26 MAY 2012)

Most plane trees in London suburbs are castrated.

I returned to this pollarded tree last weekend but there was hardly any new growth worth photographing. 

Below is one of the lucky ones, a favourite tree in my local park. Done with flowering already, starting to leaf out as spring draws to a close. The dappled shade provided by the pale green, young leaves is magical. I was quite envious as I saw a small child fling his arms out and spin in the shards of light because that's exactly what I felt like doing myself.

22MAY2012 - "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." - Greek proverb

In my last post about this plane tree at the end of winter, I mentioned that even though I'd passed by regularly since I can remember being alive, I had never seen any flowers, but then I hadn't paid it my full attention in the way I am now as its follower. Therefore, an extra visit was scheduled in April, being determined to capture the wind-pollinated "insignificant flowers" noted in wikipedia. I was upset to find that small seedheads had already set so I took photos of them instead. However, this article explains that the red fluff surrounding some of the immature seedheads is in fact female inflorescense.

21APR12 - two generations of seedheads

There were a greater quantity of larger, mature seedheads from last year still hanging off the tree.  It's impossible to snap the fibres of the seedhead stem; easy to detach the seeds, presumably because the seeds are supposed to be dispersed a distance away by the wind or birds rather than by the seedhead falling to the ground. Honouring the Greek proverb, some of them have been planted along with the mixture of annuals in my "last resort" seedtray.

Previously, a commenter asked if I knew how old this tree is. Even though the park accommodates several old trees, I can't find them documented on the internet. However during my research, I discovered that Berkeley Square in central London is home to 31 plane trees, all of which are at least 200 years old. Of course I had to go and check for comparison, and as the rain finally stopped this week making way for a heatwave, I decided to go on an expedition after work.

The closest underground train station is opposite Green Park. As I alighted I was confronted by some magnificent plane trees trying to burst through the park fence - surely there couldn't be trees more impressive ?  Fuelled by this thought, I almost ran to Berkeley Square, dodging taxis and bumping into commuters who were rushing to get home.

London plane trees in Green Park                              ... & Berkeley Square                     23MAY2012

Approaching, half-filled with anticipation and half-prepared for an anti-climax .... I was not disappointed.

Two of the 31 London Plane trees in Berkeley Square

The articles on the internet focus on one tree in particular which was planted in 1789 and has a circumference of over 6 foot. The London Tree Officers Association valued it at £750,000, the price of a flat in its locality or two small houses in the suburbs, using an equation which takes into account its size, age and the population in the surrounding area. The Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees system was developed to encourage people to view trees in a more positive way, as possibly adding value to their properties, and to stop trees being unfairly blamed for damage to buildings leading to unecessarily cullings. In London boroughs where the CAVAT system is implemented, insurers need to prove that trees have caused subsidence etc. before destroying them.

Britain's most valuable tree ?   It has a circumference of over 6 foot and is 223 years old   - Berkeley Square

If trunk circumference is a reliable gauge of age, with the help of the small dog, squirrel and birds to scale the photos below, it might be estimated that the tree I'm following is much less than two hundred years old. Since identifying this plane tree, I keep spotting them : another tree in the park, away from the path where I'd never ventured before, seems older than the incumbent of Berkeley Square.

my favourite tree up till now  ...                    and another in the local park                              most valuable tree in Berkeley Square

You may think that I've changed my mind about my favourite tree, but I'm certainly not as fickle as that !

I plan to continue observing this tree through the seasons and joining in with Donna Abel's Seasonal Celebrations meme and the tree followers at Lucy@looseandleafy.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Saturday, 19 May 2012

African Daisies (19 MAY 2012)

If I had to choose twelve plants to start a garden from scratch, daisies would certainly feature.

Making daisy chains was probably my first interaction with plants as a child as they were the only flowers that I was allowed to pick. My scrawled drawings stuck on the kitchen wall were their abstract portraits.

common daisies in my lawn

If Diana is gracious enough to let me include daisies in the lawn for free, giving me the option to pick a more exotic variety, the choice would be endless : the daisy family Asteraceae is one of the largest flowering plant groups. I have grown its cousins asters, marigolds and sunflowers; they germinate easily (marigolds a bit too easily) and are trouble-free.

According to top ten lists, the gerbera daisy is one of the most popular cut flowers. I've peeped into bouquets in local flower shops and supermarkets carrying out my own survey. This spot-check confirmed that gerbera is indeed a florists' favourite. I don't have it in my garden currently - but would I if I was starting all over again ?

gerbera in my local flower shop

A firm, straight stem looks fine in a vase; layers upon layers of soft, ribbed petals; the inner ruffle of miniature petals circling the centre. Very sophisticated, possibly a bit of a diva, but not quite my style - I prefer the simpler things in life.

A single gerbera stem actually holds an inflorescence consisting of three types of florets with five petals each , effectively transitioning from male at the centre through to female at the edge of the ruffle. The central disc florets have insignificant petals, the outer ray florets have a single enlarged petal which altogether give the impression that they were formed to reflect the sun's image.

I first stumbled over gerbera when googling "african daisies" with my osteospermum in mind. The latter has just two layers of alternating petals; a ruffle is absent. It might be thought of as a poorer relative of gerbera.

osteospermum in my garden - opens when the sun shines

Trouble-free plants are difficult to blog about. In this case, I can't recount my problems with propogation and then finally post a photo of its precious offspring or demonstrate how I saved it from pests. This plant has been disease-free so far; something I don't take for granted any more. It's easily multiplied by pulling off the spreading side shoots and inserting them in an empty space in a flower bed, equally comfortable exposed to full sunshine or dappled shade; evergreen, flowering from spring through to autumn.

Its my first choice to break the line of an edge of a wall, foliage draping over and flowers reaching up, casting daisy shadows on the bricks, or to round-off the corner of a square patio slab. The flowers are closer to the foliage compared to gerbera, the stems more in proportion for garden viewing. It's proved itself and I want nothing more from it so I wouldn't swap it. However, if I'm forced to choose between african daisies and common daisies in the lawn that would be a more difficult decision (hopefully I wont have to).

Today I'm linking up to Elephant's Eye in South Africa : Dozen for Diana
She also selected african daisy osteospermum in her first dozen.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Edibles (08 MAY 2012)

So far my main mission in this garden has been to propogate and nuture flowering plants. I trialled some edibles last year, sufficient to taste how delicious home-grown is compared to supermarket-bought, not enough for a satisfying meal.

I don't spend much on plants generally, this year especially because of the hose-pipe ban, seeking out quite a few in £1 shops and sales and planting them, fully prepared to lose them. Asparagus was a lucky find considering that I was eyeing up my hyacinth shoots which look similar. I've heard that it grows quickly, emerging out of the soil while you wait. Drought-tolerant cape gooseberry would not be my fruit of choice, though they might be useful as a substitute if the cherry tomatoes dry up.

The roots were planted a few weeks ago; there are no signs of life above ground yet.

cape gooseberry roots
asparagus roots

Chillies, tomatoes and various brassica seeds have also been sown with varying levels of success.
Chillies haven't germinated after several weeks - I remain hopeful as late seedlings have surprised me before.
Tomatoes are growing their first set of true leaves, they never need much attention. I'll transplant them to the garden in stages so that fruit is yielded gradually during the summer, in portion-sized quantities.

As reported last week, most of the brassicas started eagerly then wilted, just as they did last year.
I feel it is about time to justify the title of this blog ...

There are 3 factors and 2 levels in this design of experiment :

Factor 1 : Exposure to sunshine
(because it looks like the seedlings are drying out even though the soil is moist)
Level  1  : Seed tray placed on the kitchen worktop
Level  2  : Seed tray placed on the kitchen floor

Factor 2 : Drainage
(because the compost packet says that it only contains nutrients for 6 weeks)
Level 1 : Deep seed tray with drainage holes
Level 2 : Shallow seed tray without drainage holes

Factor 3 : Seed variety 
(because the purple sprouting seem more robust than the romanesco broccoli seedlings)
Level 1 : Romanesco broccoli seeds
Level 2 : Purple sprouting broccoli seeds

All the seeds will be planted in fresh peat-free compost.
All the seedlings will be watered with a few drops of water every day.
No fertiliser will be added.

This gives an experiment with 8 possible combinations of factors and levels.
6 repetitions of each combination will ensure statistically significant results  ie. 48 seeds.
Watch this space for the results in a few weeks time.

My goal this year is to grow at least one proper crop of edible produce that I can eat freely and share with family and friends. At this point in time the outlook is not promising, but there's a plentiful supply of a low-carb option ...

Helix aspersa

British garden snails eat rat faeces (possibly infected with parasites which eventually affect the human brain) and can contain pesticides. Therefore if they are going to be eaten, they need to be collected with gloves, detoxified by purging them, and cooked thoroughly to kill parasites.
Here's a recipe from Gordon Ramsay.

Today I'm linking up with Christine and Barbie's May Harvest meme.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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