A haven in the middle of this busy city! You can wander quiet paths among mature trees watching the birds and insects busy about their lives. Or go down to the water’s edge and look across to the opera house and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For people-and-plant enthusiasts there’s plenty to see. Once the Cadigal aborigines lived here and took care of plants and animals for thousands of years. This picture is of a dead Forest Red Gum. It’s over 200 years old and knew the Cadigal people. The carvings are made by an aborigine from another tribe as a memorial to the lost Cadigal people. There were about 80 of them – an extended family group. Some were murdered by the first Europeans and others died from small pox brought by the settlers.
This Grass Tree has a tall upright flower spike. It was called gul-gad-yo by the Cadigal and was used to make a very strong glue. After a bush fire resin leaks from the trunks and forms lumps. The native Australians mixed these with warm water and hot ash from crushed and burnt mussel shells.
This is the Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris), one species in a genus containing 31 species – 30 in Australia, 1 in New Guinea and fossils in New Zealand. It has inconspicuous yellow flowers and grows in desert areas. It stores water in the massive trunk. Native Australians use it as a water source and eat the starchy roots and seeds.
Many other plants were carefully tended over centuries by the original inhabitants. Each family group covered a particular area and practised a moving agriculture in which they moved to a fresh site once they had used up the resources of the old one. They were careful to leave enough seeds and young animals so the area was never exploited to destruction. By carefully tending their resources they were able to live in harmony with their surroundings for thousands of years.
Very early long-lasting flower, 2 to 3 inches across, many shades of whites, greens, pale yellows, maroons. Friend of early pollinating insects. Clumps of attractively shaped bright leaves, the whole about 18 inches high.
What’s not to like?
The Christmas/Lenten Roses in my garden have been in flower since January, and still look good now, early April. I say Christmas/Lenten Rose, because I don’t know which mine is! Hellebore niger is the Christmas one, while Hellebore orientalis is Lenten. I suspect mine are hybrids like most garden varieties. And they aren’t related to roses at all – they’re in the Buttercup family.
Easy to grow where the soil drains well and is not too dry, they enjoy a good compost mulch. Many people remove the outer leaves just before flowering as they get tatty and can suffer from nasty black blotches.
Breeders have a wonderful time with these plants, bringing different coloured speckles to the flower centre and edges. Some flowers are cup-shaped, others open and flat, and today’s most popular are doubles. They tend to hang their heads, so if you want to enjoy their colourings you have to lift them up gently.
Or do as I have done here and display them on a plate of water. You can just see the central seeds forming. They are quite large and will seed around the garden a little. And every new plant will have a different coloured flower from the parent – though you have to be patient until it reaches flowering age – a couple of years.
I like them best left out in the garden to enjoy through the snowdrop season, the crocus time and now the daffodils. In the last picture they are among daffodils and sharp green euphorbia at the back.
I now have a Gnome in my garden. No, not plastic or terracotta with a fishing rod! My gnome is Ginkgo biloba ‘Gnome’, a dwarfed variety of the dinosaur’s tree which can grow up to 40 metres in height – so a full size one’s a no-no for my tiny suburban garden.
Yes, dinosaurs munched on them! Ginkgos are the only survivor of a group of trees that were around even before these great creatures. Fossil leaves date from 270 million years ago. Ginkgos don’t have flowers – they evolved before that amazing combination of flowering trees and pollinating insects. You need a male tree (cones) and a female tree (2 ovules) for seeds to form. And these stink of sick when they fall to the ground!
The maidenhair tree! I’ve loved ginkgos ever since I first saw one growing in an arboretum. Its unique leaves account for its common name as they are a bit like those of maidenhair fern (Adiantum). The leaves are fanshaped and two lobed, while the veins radiate from the base but never form a network as in other trees. They turn a beautiful butter yellow before they fall in autumn and next spring’s leaves are bright green.
Once they were widespread across the globe. Now they may be extinct in the wild, though some probably grow in remote parts of China. They’ve been popular in cities and gardens for many years and are very long lived as the wood is resistant to air pollution, pests and diseases. The ‘Old Lion’ in Kew Gardens, London, was planted in 1762 by King George III’s mother, Princess Alice. Some in the Far East are reputed to be 2,500 years old.
A medicine tree! Ginkgo extracts have been used for centuries in China, Japan and Korea. Now you find them everywhere for such conditions as dementia and vertigo, though research is unclear about the benefits. The seeds are poisonous unless well prepared.
All in all a fascinating plant – and one that I hope will give enjoyment to passers-by for years to come.
A small and beautiful tree! Mine has been stunning this spring, covered with white flowers with five petals. At the same time the young leaves unfurl, a mass of copper-pink among the white. Glorious!
Now the petals have fallen like spring snow and the leaves have turned light green. The fruits are already forming and will soon be ripe – the tree is also called June Berry. The berries are small, red or purple. They’re edible but I leave mine for the local wildlife, especially birds that busy themselves among the foliage, gorging on this bounty. The only downside is the mess from the droppings!
In autumn the leaves turn scarlet and crimson before they fall. The bare tree has a fine shrubby outline, still a joy to look at during the winter. It’s a delightful tree for a small garden, easy to grow, reaching up to 10 or 12 metres in 20 years. According to the pundits it prefers moist, welldrained, non- alkaline soils. Well, mine grows magnificently on my very dry neutral to alkaline soil, so there! Under it I grow spring bulbs, aconites, small-leafed periwinkles, little Euphorbias and lily of the valley, so the ground always looks green and cheerful.
Its common name, Snowy Mespilus comes from the Latin name for the medlar, once a very popular fruit tree. Its Latin name is Amelanchier, and it’s in the Rose family. It’s very hardy, and has coped well with the sudden late frosts and snow this spring. There are a number of species, some are trees and others shrubby. It hails from North America where it’s also called Service Berry, Wild Pear or Plum and Shadbush. Shads are wild herring found in New England rivers, and the tree flowers in spring when the fish run, so accounting for the name.
All in all, an asset to any garden.
A lonely ruined tower – all that remains of the deserted village of Pudding Norton. Its strange name is lost in the mists of time – it was called Nortuna in the Domesday Book, and no one knows where ‘Pudding’ comes from. In aerial photos the outline of old streets and cottages is clear, but on the ground all you can see is mysterious humps and lumps. These cover the grassy field surrounding St Margaret’s church tower.
I was on a farm walk – in the rain and mud – looking at the methods the current landowner uses to encourage wildlife. He provides areas of winter food and wetland for birds and the farm is well known for the large number of farmland bird species such as grey partridge, turtle dove, lapwing and linnet. He is also steward of this lost village, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Why and when did the inhabitants leave? No one really knows. Old records show that before the Black Death in the fourteenth century there were fifteen households and the village was still in existence in 1428. Peasant farming was hand to mouth – livestock feeding on open fields caught disease from one another and foot-and-mouth, cattle plague and liver rot were everywhere. Corn harvests were often poor as soil nutrients were taken up in the crop and little was returned for the following year. Bad weather and problems of farming heavy soils further tipped the balance against the peasant. Even worse it was a time of inflation, rising rents and declining wages.
The Fermour family of nearby East Barsham Hall had acquired the land by the sixteenth century. Sheep farming was profitable and the Fermours were taken to court for destroying houses, stopping up the common ways and taking over land for sheep. The villagers were unable to feed themselves and gradually left. By the end of the century Pudding Norton village was deserted.
This was the time when Robert Kett led a revolt against land enclosures and was hanged for rebellion at Norwich castle in 1549.
Wandering among the grassy mounds I thought about the sad plight of those poor folk. But I was also happy to see the care the current farmer takes to encourage wildlife. We all know about the threats to our wildlife as urbanization takes over the country side and our increasing population requires farmers to grow food ever more intensively. Farmers are greatly concerned about the loss of birds and wild plants, as they, more than any urban dweller, are in continual contact with the land.
Here I am at the Lord Mayor of Norwich’s celebration of the award of UNESCO City of Literature – we’re the first English city to gain this, and one of only six cities worldwide – the others are Edinburgh, Dublin, Melbourne, Reykjavik and Iowa City.
The reception was held at Blackfriars Hall, part of the St Andrew’s complex which consists of two ancient halls, crypt and cloister, and dates from 1270. Now fully refurbished! It was full of the local great and good in the literary world – a great opportunity for networking! I met many interesting people from members of the Writing Centre (it encourages new writers) to publishers and a re- acquaintance with a fellow teacher from my time in Lowestoft.
So why has Norwich gained this award? Many reasons. Our history – the first woman writer lived here in the 1300s – Lady Julian, a devout anchoress, much sought out for her good sense as well as her piety. We have a reputation for dissent and free thinking – in 1549 the local farmer Robert Kett led a revolt against the enclosure of common land and actually captured Norwich, then England’s second city. Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer grew up in Norwich, as did Harriet Martineau who risked her life protesting against slavery in the States. This reputation has led to our being designated the first UK City of Refuge and a sanctuary for persecuted writers round the world.
Our university – the University of East Anglia – pioneered Britain’s first Creative Writing MA. Graduates include Ian McEwan, Mohammed Hanif, Kazuo Ishiguro and Andrew Cohen. We’re a world class centre for new media and science writing with the most advanced archive centre in Europe and one of the most used public libraries in the UK.
I could go on! But basically you get the idea – Norwich is no alsoran, and Norfolk is not a complete backwater – remember Lord Nelson! We have our own Trafalgar memorial to him in Great Yarmouth.