I was going to ignore the weather in this Grass Clippings but, yet again, we have broken another historical record, such as this being the wettest May to be recorded. Our routine, being busy people, may hold this information for a moment and then it gets filed away in the subconscious: Weather – Data – Irrelevant Facts. Yet it will affect us all and the greater environment around us. If you play golf, then you may comment to your fellow players ‘the greens feel a bit slow today’. Well, it’s likely that this is a consequence of all the rain now accelerating growth beyond our normal frequency (daily) of cutting the greens before play. The tennis players would love to play on the grass lawns during May yet sadly, they are all too wet to open safely due to shower after shower. The list is endless of how weather patterns, created thousands of miles away affect us all here in SW15. The only real prediction I have is that the stability in the seasons will not be as certain as we would wish for and the differences will be more pronounced from winter to spring and summer. Having lived on a Mediterranean island for over a decade, the similarities are beginning to come closer, in that spring and autumn did not really exist as a period you could pin down as the transition point between summer and winter. It merged very quickly from hot to cold and visa-versa at the other end of summer. As we live through the time when global warming reverts from scientific theory to a sober realism, change will be something we need to adapt to more quickly than any generation before us.
Running Richmond Park
London’s Richmond Park, often taken for granted, is cherished by many as a part of the local landscape on our doorstep. It is shared by tourists, the Lycra-clad peloton and dog walkers of all ages. By 1625, King Charles I had turned a collection of medieval farms into the Royal Park we have today. It is largely thanks to the long-held obsession of royals and the aristocracy creating medieval parks to hunt deer and is the reason why the UK has some of the largest tracts of land in Europe still in existence as wildlife refuges, with more veteran trees than many other countries. It is the range and life span of the tree population of the park which make this a unique place to enjoy and behold, as some of these assets are over 700 to 800 years in age.
The park management team must balance the responsibility of being a national nature reserve and site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and a popular urban park, which had great demands made on it as a place of sanctuary for many during the pandemic lockdowns.
The ethos of how the park is managed has evolved over time. Several decades ago, older trees would have been grubbed out and tided up if limbs dropped to ground level through storm damage or the fulfilment of time on old bows. The relationship with saproxylic invertebrates – insects that require dead wood for part of their lifecycle – had been lost in the drive to keep the place neat and tidy. Fortunately, the realisation that to not only allow nature to survive but to thrive would mean a change in tack as the dead wood itself is full of life.
There can be 280 invertebrates in one large handful of rotten tree wood. Richmond Park has more than 1,000 species of beetle, many of which rely on dead wood, including the nationally rare cardinal click beetle and stag beetle. This insect life is part of the food chain which supports a spectrum of life from mammals and birds which live in or around the park catchment area. Conversely, the bird and bat life will use the park as a home base and the supporting areas such as the Club as a drop-in feeding station.
Anyone who uses the park regularly will have noticed that more veteran trees have their own exclusion zone around them, where chestnut fencing has been used to surround a fragile tree. This is primarily for the safety of the visitors as ‘limb drop’ can occur suddenly without warning. No one would wish to be lazing under a tree when several tons of timber falls to earth. These areas also allow the insect life to thrive without human interference. When approaching one of these elders the experience is like seeing an exhibit in a museum and we should remember that we are in the presence of a life form which may have been around since the end of medieval England.
Tips for your garden
Mr Vass has been beavering away in the Club gardens this week and is currently taking care of a special new arrival. By the time that this Recorder is published, we shall have had the Gingko tree delivered, which is the replacement for the one which had to be removed as part of the Padel Tennis court development. The Club invested in a large specimen replacement, so the difference in years between the current one standing, close to the bandstand and the incumbent is not so noticeable. More on this project in the next Grass Clippings.
June is usually the change month, the adage, never cast a cloud ‘til May is out, is based on the fact that May can still offer nights when frost can strike and be the downfall for overzealous planters. June usually, I say with no assurance that that the weather will ever be the same again, brings stable warm days and nights. According to our own Sage, its best to consider planting out pumpkins and squashes. Sown in April under glass and transferred out about now, all need lots of goodness in the soil, copious watering and generally a good sunny position. But be mindful of the gardeners’ adversaries, slugs and snails who can damage young stems and growth points. While out and about, it is also the time to sow French Beans out in the garden.
Mr Vass suggests staggering sowing over the range of the summer so that you are cropping throughout the season and not all at once. Timing is everything in the garden and if you are waiting for one crop to finish before planting out beans you can also plant the seeds into plugs which gives you breathing space. If you have fruit bushes, it is also time to start to net them to prevent hungry birds from enjoying al fresco dining at your expense.