Looking through the parched eyes of a city dweller, the patterning of little green acres is indeed a wondrous sight. With an imaginary finger I like to trace the ribboned yardage of hedgerows that mark enclosures or point much further back in time, to parish boundaries and ancient landmarks.
We urbanites talk of living roofs and green walls as a novelty but a walk down any country road or lane reveals miles of parallel, permeable verticals in a wild admixture of tree, shrub and plant. How they all mange to reside side by side in such a tangled competition for space is one of nature’s marvels.
The sights, sounds and smells of a mixed, native hedgerow leave little to the imagination as to the diversity of wildlife that thrives here. Insects in all their metamorphic stages feed from flower and foliage, with birds and bats in their wake, just as hunters follow the herds. Aside from keeping livestock in or out of fields, the boundaries are literally an all-round food supply and in turn grazing keeps the hedges trimmed and species-balanced, so that even the most superficial of glances reveals a richness of flora.
By the time hedges reached suburbia and town they had become lacklustre monocultures of Privet, Beech, Buxus or Yew. Equally, grasslands and meadows were represented by swards of green lawns, all requiring the regularity of herbicide and trim for a neatness of purpose that leached from house to garden. Privet never had time to bloom nor wildflowers the chance to penetrate the grass and as this time-consuming tidy-up took its toll on industrious, car-driven lives, the solution was to grub it up and hard surface the whole area. 2
Severing the arterial connection of conurbation with its environs has resulted in habitat fragmentation and a significant loss of wildlife. In order to reverse such decline, Londoners are being encouraged to pledge their gardens as green space, with mixed native hedging and wild grassland being just two of the restorative criteria, as this urban patch of meadow demonstrates.
Had I plucked the daisy oracle, it would have been a ‘Love Me Not’ response to this startling, but apparently stark, luminous monotony of Leucanthemum vulgare. I’ve since learned that the Ox-eye daisy tends to dominate initially and as numbers of this short-lived perennial drop off, other flowers that tolerate the same mowing regime, start to mingle in. Closer inspection did reveal many more species than at first were obvious, as well as the composite beauty of Marguerite’s tiny golden flowers and white ray florets.
As I look out of the window or over the garden wall, I am transported back to the city’s prehistoric roots and future forward into a green, metropolitan vision for London. The boundaries of development and environment are perhaps becoming blurred enough for the rural to arrive back on my doorstep.
1. extract from Philip Henry Savage’s poem of the birth of The Hedgerow
2. an area two and a half times the size of Hyde Park of vegetated garden land is being lost every year & the amount of hard surfacing in the capital’s gardens has grown significantly. See London: Garden City?
Daily Telegraph ” How to grow an Ox-Eye daisy meadow”
London Wildlife Trust: Garden for a Living London
Sculpture habitat installations: Urban hedgerows
Native hedgerows conservation and management: Hedgelink
©Copyright 2012 Laura Thomas.
All rights reserved. Content created by Laura Thomas @PatioPatch