A quiz question for you: How many trees do you reckon there are in our grounds, tucked in as we are between the West Hill and Putney Bridge Road? (I know because I’ve checked out every tree on the tree surgeon’s map). What do you think, (not including those in private gardens, Milton Court, or Francis Snary Lodge) maybe 50, possibly 70? No, a whopping 125 at last count made up of 21 different tree families with trees originating from most of the seven continents. The three that make up the largest numbers are the London plane tree, with its wonderful peeling bark and seed balls that look like Christmas tree decorations, loved by goldfinches, the false acacia (from North America) which is part of the pea family and with its mass of white flowers is a magnet to bees, and the sycamore too. At the other end of the scale with one specimen, is the exotic Indian bean tree (from north America too), with its huge beautiful flowers, that bees love and long seed pods that look like green beans.
We have the nuns, who ran the convent, to thank for planting many of these trees, the lime trees that formed an avenue through the grounds and are still ‘marching’ through to the primary school grounds next door. Sadly, one their trees, the only silver birch, has just died in the last couple of weeks. A shame, as it’s a native tree and therefore one of the best species for providing food for birds such as blue tits and woodpeckers. I think it was David Attenborough who said a tree is a multi-storey home for wildlife so we are doing well with our high-rise habitats!
Look out for some other birds at the moment. The jay is wonderfully coloured pink, black, white, and blue with a terrible screech for a call. It has been busy burying seeds and acorns for the winter and is no ‘birdbrain’ as it remembers exactly where to find them months later! Blackbirds are busy feeding off anything with berries on.
In the summer, I have seen and heard blackcaps that migrate here from Europe. They are attracted by dense bushes and feeding off ivy berries. Swifts migrate to East Putney all the way from south Africa in May and can be heard screeching overhead feeding off clouds of tiny midges that hatch on the lime and sycamore trees.
A cleaner air zone
London’s air quality and vehicle pollution are in the news. The good news is that tree leaves and bark, (especially the plane tree) absorb these and other leafy shrubs, like ivy, are fantastic at attracting the pollutants. With trees, present, researchers have found that particulates, the small particles emitted in smoke from burning diesel, are reduced by up to 60% at street level.
All the grassy areas in our estate are key too in absorbing hundreds of pounds of Sulphur dioxide during a year. The grass is great at absorbing noise, much like a fitted carpet in a house, and acts like a sponge which just soaks up all the run off created by the increasingly heavy storms we are having. Grass is also a crucial feeding area for birds with the grass seeds, worms, and other insects. What’s not to like!
The most exciting insect I have seen here, albeit a few years ago, on the wall of our block, is the stag beetle. They are fearsome looking large beetles with antler like jaws – in fact most little boys dream! They need old trees and a rotting pile of wood to breed in. Most insects, including bumble bees, need some longer grass to burrow in and a few uncut stems and seed heads to overwinter in. This in turn provides food for the birds… and bats. Pipistrelle bats live in our trees and can be seen flying around on summer evenings.
Bird numbers are sadly on a steep decline. If you have a garden, you can help provide natural roosting, feeding and nesting sites by just growing some ivy over your fence for example or leaving one corner of your garden a bit untidy. The once common house sparrow is now a rarity so if you see you some you are very lucky!
The nuns created these gardens but we have West London Gardeners to thank for maintaining them so well. Our green space is what attracted me here and really is an oasis for us to treasure in this rapidly developing area of the metropolis.