Forest Gate Community Garden
Friday, 12 May 2023
On Bank Holiday Monday, a group of volunteers, organised by the garden, planted out Earlham Bridge. After the planting, it rained overnight, giving the plants a good start. And they will need it, as these beds have proved difficult for us. Last year, we had a similar plant out, and 80% of the plants didn’t survive. The reasons are twofold: trampling of the beds, and drought.
The trampling was illustrated at the Earlham Bridge street party the day before. I was at the party for two and a half hours as the beds were carelessly trampled on, by children, then parents going after them, by kids with footballs and oblivious adults.
So will we fare better this time? We must water the beds in dry periods, and hope the plants survive the trampling. If they fail once more, I suggest a shrubbery of woody, low shrubs.
In the Garden, the pink cherry blossom has fallen like snow, and, with the rain, finished off. It never lasts long, a plethora of blossom but it is weakly adhered. Rain and wind, and the petals are sent flying. The white cherry tree, its blossom gone, has cherries developing, green at the moment. The birds will get them once they ripen, before we do. The pink cherry, though, is purely ornamental, a sterile hybrid; it never has cherries.
The garden is beautifully green: the grass, kept long this no-mow month, the uncurling ferns and new leaf on the trees. There’s luxurious foliage on the giant scabious and the acanthus. The wildflower bed is filling and greening, signs of a brilliant display of blooms to come.
All this rich greening is from chlorophyll, in the chloroplasts on the leaves, which utilise water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the sugars the plant needs for growth. And boy, are they growing. A summer drought, though, could halt it, as without water the chloroplasts die. The stems of the plants wilt and die. Water pressure is the plant’s skeleton, and must be constantly renewed or the plant fails.
The garden is still awaiting a water meter to be fitted by Thames Water, so we can have a tap. Let’s hope it comes before we get a drought. We send Thames reminders, but they are in no hurry.
The Fothergill bed has been planted up with: geums, a couple already in flower with red and orange blooms, cranesbills, evening primroses, salvias, curry plant, Festuca glauca (a bluish grass), hibiscus and alstroemerias. Some of these are illustrated in the large display above the long Fothergill bed.
I think of the hundreds of botanical illustrations Fothergill commissioned. They were bought by Catherine the Great when he died in 1780. Now in a Russian archive, with no chance of us getting access while the war goes on. A minor casualty in the ongoing destruction.
I look in the pond for any tadpoles with legs: the back ones always come first. And they are due, as we had the first tadpoles in early March. I go round the edge of the pond, peering into the green, maybe there’s one with back stumps. But it has gone so quickly, I can’t check. I see quite a few water boatmen, lots of tiny daphnia, and the bees from next door’s hive. The water is greenish but clear, a sign that our aerators (hornwort and elodea) are doing their job, and oxygenating the water. Only the underwater plants do this. Others, like the pond irises, create oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis too, but it floats off in the air.
We have a brilliant show from our hawthorn, near the pink cherry, taking over now the cherry blossom is gone. It bears a mass of small, white five-petalled flowers. ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May.’ Not actually nuts, there are none in May, but ‘knots’ of the May tree, which were brought into houses and churches this time of year to celebrate spring.