I will be leading a photography walk as part of London Tree Week on 29 May, to see the extraordinary Hardy Ash in St Pancras Old Church yard. 150 years ago, the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was working as an architect’s technician, supervising the removal of gravestones to allow the London and Midlands Railway to come into the new St Pancras station. The gravestones were stacked up around the trunk of the then young tree, and have since become part of its structure.
The walk is being organised by the Museum of Walking (started by Andrew Stuck), with support from the Mayor of London.
Hardy Ash, London (Infrared)
The gradual death of a beech tree in West Heath woods, near to where I live, taken over a span of about 20 years. The trunks were each felled by storms and high winds.
My first sight and taste of sweet chestnuts was in a hot bag handed over by a street seller in London. I was with my parents, probably visiting my Auntie Jess in Clapham Common. The skin, slightly split by the heat, needed to be opened to extract the pale white-yellow hot nut. Sucking in air as it burned the sides of my mouth, hoping that would cool it. I don’t remember seeing a sweet chestnut tree, though, until I left England to live in France. There, in Ardèche, their twisted trunks are common. Just as common as autumn forays to collect the fallen fruit and separate them from their spiky shells and bring them home to roast in the oven or on an open fire.
Sweet chestnuts were brought to the British Isles by the Romans and cultivated, mostly in the south. There’s a stunning ancient wood of coppiced chestnuts in Eltham, on the Dover Road in South East London – Oxleas Wood. They’re rare north of the Thames.
Today’s tiny, pinched, specimen, lay in the rain next to its thorny womb, on the tarmac path in Golders Green Park. It’s one of the punier fruit of a magnificent ancient chestnut tree, at least 200 years old, that forms part of the parish boundary. Most of its mates are veteran oaks, stretching down the hill, past the bandstand, the deer enclosure and the menagerie .
First day of teaching /tutorial work for me on this year’s International Photography Summer School. Thoroughly enjoying the students and colleagues again.
Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)
This magnificent chap hitched a ride, as a seed, in a tub of bluebells kindly given to me by friends Martin and Katy, from their garden in Oxford. A few weeks after the last bluebells had shrivelled to straw, I saw some nettle-like, hairy leaves and a handsome weed growing taller and taller. Finally its bottle-brush tip of purple flowers, with a pink and white whorl on the lower petal emerged. Two bright yellow stamens stand up like matchsticks. Apparently it is called Woundwort because it has antiseptic properties and was used to make poultices to treat cuts and other wounds. Although fairly common on roadside verges, I’ve never seen this plant around here in London. On Sunday, at a barbecue at Katy and Martin’s, I was able to meet the plant’s cousins and see exactly where it had come from, hiding in the soil around the bluebells. A double gift.