Here we are again. It is Day One of Lockdown 2.0. This second lockdown is in response to the rise of Covid 19 infections across England. And, what better time to take a walk in the local park.
For the next four weeks, and maybe or maybe not for longer, non-essential journeys to the beach or drives out to the countryside are not permitted and so, for town and city dwellers, the local parks will be the places to go for wide open spaces and greenery.
And Holywells Park in Ipswich has plenty of trees and a beautiful cascade of spring water ponds. It is a lovely park to stroll through.
The leaves are most certainly turning and some have already dropped, but there’s enough greenery to make the final stretch of my walk a dark and dramatic tunnel with light at the end, perhaps a metaphor for our times.
We’ve had some strange ol’ weather adding to our already strange times. As if we weren’t all living in an upside down world, the weather is all over the place. According to the Met Office we have, in England, just experienced the driest May on record.
And, now it’s June and we have these monsoon-like downpours. My roses bloomed so early that the first flush had near enough finished before the arrival of June and despite the rain, there’s no sign of ‘balling’ of the next flush as they are still tight buds. For once, I feel the roses have outwitted the capricious English weather.
However, it has been another story in the local park as by the end of May the lawns were turning brown,
and the ornamental grass display looked so parched it could have been mid-August in a heatwave.
It was also a shame to see some of the frilly poppies (papaver somniferum) failing as they are normally so resilient. Their heavy heads drooped and their leaves withered. Following the past month without rain even a good watering would probably not save them now. I think perhaps it’s more the fact that the soil is baked so dry that the roots have become entombed.
Hopefully, there will be other poppies germinating from a later sowing that will fare better now June has brought us plenty of rain.
Of course, there are other features of Holywells Park where the heavy rain has been most welcome. It has topped up the ponds, re-greened the grass and provided moisture to the sheltered areas beneath the trees. This amazing palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) grows well in its sheltered position. It stands tall as the monsoon-like deluge penetrates the overhead canopy and gives this little corner of an urban park in Ipswich a tropical atmosphere.
But, there is no doubt about it – the plant that has benefitted the most from all those hours of Maytime sunshine is the banana plant in the park’s Victorian Conservatory – it’s been growing like Jack’s beanstalk.
What a difference a few weeks has made? Only four weeks ago it was Friday, 13th March and it was Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival. It strikes me now as mind-boggling to think that 60,000 people attended the famous National Hunt race meeting, but attend they did, visiting from far and wide. It already seems a long time ago as everybody comes to terms with living in a lockdown.
Today is Maundy Thursday and the weather is beautiful and sunny, but there will be no holiday stays at the seaside this Easter.
However, on a positive note it is always amazing at this time of year what a difference a couple of days of sunshine and warmer temperatures makes to the gardens. Overnight the aubretia is blooming . . .
I particularly value the pear blossom as, like many of us, I am looking for any signs of hopeful renewal during this Covid lockdown.
Compared to my old Norfolk garden I only have a small patch of outside space and it is mostly concrete slabs thanks to previous owners with their ‘low maintenance’ mindset. However, I really must not complain as I do have fresh spring greenery and some flowers too. I deeply appreciate my little backyard during these difficult Covid times when many families live in flats and don’t even have access to a balcony.
Fortunately, we are lucky in Ipswich as, so far, the beautiful parks are still open for exercise and dog-walking.
And, you can even bicycle, run or maybe simply stroll along the Waterfront for your daily exercise.
At the end of last month it didn’t feel very wintry and now, already halfway through January, it is still surprisingly mild with no sign of a true cold snap in the forecasts for East Anglia.
My local park, Holywells Park, even has a hint of spring about it. Between the dead and drying ornamental grasses I spied long, green blades of recent growth.
There was also the colourful mix of reliable evergreens; ivy, box, holly, euonymous and even the dramatic black ophiopogon planiscapus all looking ‘super’ vibrant and healthy (no signs or blemishes from frost damage as so far no heavy frosts).
Of course, even in this rather mild English winter there are still plants that need to be given full protection from the merest suggestion of frost or even a hint of a chilly breeze. One such specimen is the banana tree. There’s plenty of protected space and a pitched ceiling in the beautifully restored Victorian conservatory to allow this banana tree to thrive.
As I continued through the park, there was a surprise. I walked through this distinctly autumnal scene. There had been a late drop of fronds from an ornamental tree and the amber tones seemed to proclaim, “No winter here, move on, move on, it’s still autumn”.
It occurred to me if there’s a planting of winter evergreens, a flourishing summer banana tree, albeit in a conservatory, a springtime clump of green shoots and an autumnal carpet of brittle orange leaves, then at this moment Holywells Park was a park of all seasons!
We recognise the green shoots of spring or rich autumnal colour as seasonal, as normal for our part of the world, but by the end of this new Climate Crisis decade . . . . what will we witness, what will we be experiencing as seasonal?
It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.
I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.
But what if you live in the middle of a town?
Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.
The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.
Although I have finally moved into my permanent house and I do have a small backyard it will be some time before I can start to think about making a garden. Priorities have been sorting out my work and studio space, the main reason for moving, and trying to create a little order from the overwhelming chaos.
Without a garden visiting the local parks has been very important to my sanity
and they are also a great resource.
Drooping catkins, bursting buds and the early blackthorn flowers are all potential motifs to be worked into a silk scarf design.
It’s not just in the parks there’s plenty of new activity, but down on the Ipswich Waterfront building work on the skeletal ‘Winerack’ has begun after standing unfinished for over a decade.
It will be interesting to watch the framework finally become a fully, functioning building. Perhaps it will be a stunning, remarkable piece of architecture, but however it turns out I suspect the good folk of Ipswich will probably always refer to it as The Winerack.
Recently, just before the first full, proper frost I took some photos in the local park of the classic warm golds of autumn. Drifts of rudbeckia capped with their rich, dark brown top-knots looked fabulous in Holywells Park and they’re also very useful in a domestic garden.
Personally, I am not a fan of grasses in my own garden spaces but, I think that in larger grounds, when they are planted in graceful drifts, they work very well. And,
then there are the autumn berries. Another plant that I don’t have in my garden due to its inch long spines is pyracantha. I can understand its value in some situations as a ‘deterrent’ plant whether that is to deter persistent, destructive wildlife or feared burglars. If you need the long spines you also get the bonus of clusters of vibrant, orange or red berries. These berries of pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ fairly zing. Quite inspirational.
Last weekend I took my camera with me on a walk round the local park to photograph the seasonal changes.
Surprisingly, autumn has been slow to arrive. I am used to living further inland, but here in Ipswich, on a clear day from the ninth floor, you can see Felixstowe down on the coast 11 miles away.
I have concluded that being closer to the sea has kept temperatures slightly warmer in the local park and hence without a run of adequately cool nights the leaves are still to significantly change colour.
So far the most noticeable change is seen in the horse chestnuts. The leaves have turned crispy and brown, and many have dropped already. Sadly, I suspect the trees are suffering from bleeding canker disease caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi.
On a more positive note there’s still plenty of colour in the wildflower meadow drifts.
And, self-seeded here and there, the umbels of wild angelica brighten up the shady areas edging the bottom lake.
I wasn’t the only industrious individual stalking the park, the squirrels and jays were busy collecting autumn berries and acorns.
Think of a traditional civic park in the UK and regularly mown grass criss-crossed with paths and dotted with formal bedding schemes springs to mind. A vision surviving from our community minded forebears, the Victorians.
But in the 21st century planted civic spaces in many towns have moved away from this formal interpretation. Perhaps this is partly due to the labour intensive nature of seasonal bedding schemes and therefore the greater expense.
Torilis japonica – upright hedge-parsley
Chichorium intybus – chicory
Dipsacus fullonum – wild teasel
Nowadays we find hole areas of parks have become very informal with a move to include the introduction of more natural, conservation areas. Plants are being chosen to support the indigenous wildlife and there’s even a hint of re-wilding some areas and a hands off approach to weeding.
Of course, look closely and there is a fine balance between allowing nature to flourish yet not become entirely overrun with the more thuggish weeds. Weed or not, the bees are only too pleased for the odd flowering thistle and the butterflies such as Painted Ladies, Commas, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals all love a healthy patch of nettles. (Sadly, when I was in the park I only spotted a couple of Commas, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good year for butterflies, possibly due to the recent heavy downpours.)
It isn’t just the annual and biennial wild flowers that are important for bees, as in the autumn, when there are fewer blooms around, ivy flowers provide a very important source of nectar. And, this is where the large, venerable park trees supporting their heavy old cloaks of ivy are so important as only established, mature (arborescent) ivy flowers.
So far it’s four months since I packed up my home and said good-bye to the flower garden and I am most definitely missing some summer floral interaction! These photos were taken in the local park, Holywells Park, a five minute walk from my temporary home.It isn’t a huge park, but it is a most welcome sanctuary of green only five minutes from the very busy Ipswich Waterfront and less than a 20 minute walk from the city centre.
The park is spread across 67 acres and features a variety of wildlife habitats including ponds, woodland and meadow areas as well as more than enough space for humans to walk their dogs.
Plenty of lavender to attract the bees.
Terraced area between the clock tower and conservatory where the old house would have been.
For a gardenless person like me, there are also more formal plantings. Borders full of flowers, mostly lavender and alchemilla mollis, that soften the edges of the terraces between the old buildings. We have had some hot weather during the last month and only a couple days of any rain, and I think that the phlox has bolted and is running to seed, but it is still providing plenty of food for the bees.
Nettles invaluable to wildlife, especially butterflies, left amongst the flowers.
From the walled garden and terraces out to the park.
It was a very pleasant space to spend a quiet half hour during the early morning and I couldn’t believe the noise and pollution that hit me as soon as I ventured back out into the morning rush hour! At least these beautiful lilies bring the scent of a summer garden into the flat.