Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph reported that a row had erupted on a street near Brixton Hill after a resident accused neighbours of stealing flowers planted on the street by a community group. It began with a note pinned to a tree in the street, reading: “Please do not pick my flowers. Thanks”.
An aggrieved neighbour replied: “In an area massively affected by gentrification, it’s sad to see people claiming ownership of even the flowers.”
But other neighbours chipped in, and one wrote: “ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is not about ownership or gentrification, this is about someone trying to make the street a nicer place for EVERYONE by planting flowers and people stealing them and stamping on them!”
The original note poster responded, explaining that the lupins and geraniums had been planted as part of a local scheme called Our Streets, in which members of the local community “adopt” a tree to water and plant flowers under. They added that the flowers had now been dug up and “moved elsewhere”.
A local gardener who been planting brightly coloured blooms on roads near her house reported that they have been stolen, and commented sadly “Come on, people of Brixton Hill – you’re better than this. 12 plants taken overnight.”
We couldn’t imagine such things happening here on Fawnbrake Avenue, could we?
We might take them for granted. But our rich collection of trees, softening the long regularity of the brick facades, and punctuating the gentle curve and dip of the street, have been a much loved but sometimes neglected ornament of Fawnbrake Avenue for generations. They have helped to make our street an attractive part of Herne Hill to live in and visit.
Trees don’t live for ever, though. Recent years have brought changes. Some older and unsuitable trees have been removed and not replaced. Others have been replaced with specimens inappropriate to the location. One or two junior specimens, recently planted, have not survived. There are still unsightly gaps. And a street isn’t a forest, of course. Human care is needed.
Four years ago some neighbours decided to do something about this. They conducted a survey which established that some 24 trees were missing in Fawnbrake Avenue, including some empty tree pits, along with some quite unsuitable seaside-loving Tamarix shrubs (near numbers 90 – 100).
So David Williams and Laurence Marsh started a conversation with Lambeth Council’s tree officer. At that time – and probably more so, now – Lambeth’s budget pressures did not allow them a generous tree planting programme.
But they offered three trees to start with and, more significantly, said that if the residents could raise funds for more trees, Lambeth would match the same number.
The appeal for funds – generosity of Fawnbrake residents
David and Laurence put out a call for donations in 2015 and this resulted in a fabulous £8,550 gifted by neighbours, which was handed over to Lambeth Council in spring 2016. This was enough money to plant what, in the end, turned out to be a total of 40 trees. This was many more than was initially hoped for and allowed further gaps to be filled. Around half of all households in the road contributed with donations ranging from the modest to the exceedingly generous.
A variety of species was planted, all substantially smaller than the tall, older trees which had dominated our street and tended to damage pavements and adjoining properties. And all were chosen for their attractive blossom, flowers or foliage. The average cost of each tree was £450.
Most of the new and replacement trees were planted in 2016. Lambeth’s tree officer advised, and our tree guardians also warned, that once planted, and for the first year or two, young trees do need to be adopted by nearby residents to keep them thoroughly watered.
Two trees did die, but all the rest have done well, although very recently – and inexplicably – one of the new trees, planted outside Nos.98/100, simply vanished. (Does anyone know why or how?)
More new trees on the way
Cleverly, our tree champions spotted the opportunity – through the good offices of the Herne Hill Society – to claim Gift Aid relief for the residents’ original donation, generating a further £1,797 which can in turn fund around four more trees. On top of that, Lambeth have been persuaded to plant three new trees including a replacement for the one outside number 106 which didn’t survive. The other non-survivor (outside No.21) was replaced last year..
Protect our trees!
We will update neighbours when these new young trees are in place so that people can, we hope, keep a friendly eye on them and in particular see that they are given enough water over their first summer. And if the soil in the tree pit seems suitable, neighbours can of course plant some seeds and flowers, adding to the gaiety of the street.
Lambeth tree officers strongly advise that young trees should be thoroughly watered every few days from April – September – not just the newly planted ones but all young trees for the first 3 years, more if it’s particularly dry.
All our trees, old and new, suffer an additional risk from high sided or carelessly driven trucks and vans which can either push a tree away from its roots or break off branches. If anyone sees this happening, please advise the drivers to be careful when parking or delivering, since the trees are ours, not the councils and that we paid £450 for our tree!
London, the world’s largest urban forest
‘London Is A Forest’ is the title of a new book, to be published in the next week or so. It’s written by Paul Wood, author of ‘London’s Street Trees: a Field Guide to the Urban Forest’, the first book on the city’s frontline trees (published 2017).
As he states:
“Can a city be a forest? At first glance, this does not chime with our childhood idea of the ‘wild wood’ – a dark entanglement of trees, where humans fear to tread. But a forest does not need to be dense and impenetrable, and it’s not unheard of for people to live in them either.
In London, 8.6 million people are crammed into just 600 square miles alongside 8.3 million trees, and millions upon millions of other plants, insects and animals. According to one UN definition, this makes the city a forest. The Forestry Commission agree, describing London as the world’s largest urban forest. And it’s a very special, urban forest at that.”
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London