It’s been a long Winter in Wales – not rainy and mild like last year but a proper cold Winter with proper snow.
The trees and bees have been delayed, and, like us – particularly with Easter being so early at the beginning of April – have been desperate to move forward into more warmth and sunshine.
The daffodils struggled to appear for Saint David’s day this year. Last year I took a photo of them on Feb 26. This year it was over a month later nearer the beginning of April.
The park’s tulip display was at its’ best on May 6th.
Equally magnificent before Spring’s arrival was this highly ornamental shrub called Stachyurus praexox which was laden with blossom in March.
But then May’s first bank holiday brought hot weather records, flowers and pollen. Everyone and everything burst into bud with renewed energy and now we are enjoying a Spring where everything is playing catch up. This was last week’s beautiful horsechestnut bouquets
and here is a white rhododendron called the ‘Loderi King George’ which Terry Davies planted in Roath Botanic Gardens.
Terry led the 2018 spring Walk in the Botanic Gardens along with Malcom who planted these two Callery Pear trees guarding the entrance to Cathays Library in Cardiff.
The Callery Pear tree in the Botanic Gardens is one of hundreds of Welsh champion trees in Cardiff. It usually blossoms in early spring but is running late. It is more of an ornamental tree as the fruit isn’t edible. Due to its’ beautiful vertical tallness it is perfect for street planting (although In N.E America is considered invasive)
The Botanic Gardens have an interesting history and reading this website – Cardiff Parks – maintained and updated in great detail by Anne and Andy Bell, gives you a great insight into the parks of Cardiff..
One of the original trees planted by William Nelmes in the thirties is the Indian Bean tree on the bridge next to the conservatory in the Botanic Gardens.
It has a beautiful canopy of foliage and in Summer there are tall white pannicles of flowers. This particular tree doesn’t flower as well now so the Friends of Roath Park who charge a mere £5 membership fee , have planted a young replacement on the river bank opposite. More info here –
Our bees in the garden noisily made up for lost time and are now busy foraging and building up their honey stores.we have had to speedily add two honey supers on top of their brood box so they have room to expand and store their nectar. The hot sun directly on the hive means that we have had to increase the ventilation by placing four match sticks between the Queen excluder and first honey box. It will save the bees having to fan quite as much to keep the hive cool.
Not far out from Cardiff is Cosmeston Park.. in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Head space is something to be treasured and retirement offers you the chance to find it. It gives you permission to find pleasure in simple everyday life and absorb the natural living landscapes on your doorstep. .
My real appreciation of the relevance of Nature as an everyday art form was in my visit to Tokyo a few years ago. Nature is considered vital to the wellbeing of the population crammed into every square inch of this high rise clean cut sophisticated city. The revered Tea ceremony, the neat gravel swept zen gardens and the beautiful cherished blossoms surrounding the many temples are honoured by the fast paced work-driven city dwellers.
‘Hanami’ – literally translated as ‘looking at flowers’ is the art of picnicing beneath the cherry blossoms or ‘sakura’in Spring.
The outstretched flower-laden cherry trees in Roath Mill and Waterloo gardens invite passers-by towards the grassy patch beneath them.
The most common cherry in Japan is the ‘yoshino’ variety, known as the Japanese flowering cherry or Tokyo cherry. When at least five flowers have opened on this tree the official cherry blossom season is declared open n Japan.
Cardiff has an abundance of beautiful cherry trees – I was blown away by the stunning show in Cathays park in the civic centre this year – the cleverly planted red tulips vibrant against the pale pink background.
It is a place to sit and contemplate the words of the Japanese haiku poet named Basho
The group to which cherry trees belong is called the ‘prunus’ group and this belongs to the rose family. Almond, plum, peach and nectarines also belong to this group and are a favourite for bees – especially the pollen and nectar of the large cherry plum ( prunus cerasifera) – one of the first cherry trees to flower.
Prunus padus in Bute park -is also good for pollen and nectar. The Cardiff parks website lists all the champion cherry trees in the various parks – http://www.cardiffparks.org.uk
Were it not for our Victorian ancestors and their belief in the importance of providing green open spaces for leisure we would probably have covered every inch with concrete. In these times of climate change and the realisation that our planet is changing we are perhaps prepared to now appreciate the importance of nature, the animals and insects – and the need to protect our wildlife such as bees.
As well as bees and trees, another addition to my newly found freedom since leaving work is airbnb –
There is a lot in common with renting out space whether in frames (for bees ) or rooms (for people.) Organisation and communication is key. I suppose the difference is that people can be guided and manipulated far more easily than bees can..
Being given enough ‘space’ is an absolute must in all cases. When left to their own devices bees will build horizontal combs in their nest site and the space between the combs is just enough for two bees to pass each other back to back in order to go about their day to day tasks – ‘the bee space’.Beekeepers provide manmade hives with ready made combs in the form of wax frames that slot into the hive in a way that honours the dimensions of the ‘bee space’
So in our terraced human hive in Cardiff my son wasn’t too perturbed when I rang him at university to let him know my planned use for his room space. ” Hi James, how are you?” I asked. “Fine” he said with his usual enthusiasm. I felt I had to launch in immediately – ” dad and I are going to decorate your room” I said with gusto followed by a suitable pause.. . “cool” he replied. “And” , I said, hurriedly, ” then we’re going to let it… You know, with Airbnb ” I felt a bit guilty. There was a pause and I held my breath before he replied “Go for it mum!” “It’s a good idea – and easy” . and I almost felt disappointed as his response underlined the fact that home to him is no longer permanent.
With the bees, permanency is not something they are used to either. They like to swarm…but for now they are tucked down in their hives in my garden. However with the mild winter they are already flying. This is not good as they are using their energy to fly – for nothing – as there is no pollen or nectar – they should be reserving for their emergence in Spring…
What immediately comes to mind when you attempt to distinguish Cardiff as a city? Maybe its’ Victorian shopping arcades, bay and barrage, resplendent castle (currently adorned with a hideous Christmas tree) hallowed rugby ground or renowned civic centre? The fact that it has the largest collection of trees – or Arboretum – in a municipal park in the UK is not at the forefront – yet it should be . Cardiff is a true tree mecca for trees and Bute park’s tree collection – although not comparable to the enormity of Westonbirt arboretum in England is certainly worth visiting for its superb variety. Why aren’t Cardiff Council tweeting it from the treetops?
The tower blocks of Nature that are our trees in Cardiff parks are in part thanks to the building work (or rather planting work) of two men who led the recent walk in Bute Park as part of National Tree Week founded in 1975 by the Tree Council – http://www.treecouncil.org.uk. Malcolm Frazer and Terry Davies are welcoming and inspirational and keen to share their deep knowledge of trees and shrubs with anyone who is prepared to listen – often indulging in a bit of playful banter that would make Laurel and Hardy proud.
As a complete tree novice I am embarrassed to admit that I often won’t recognise the most common British trees which surround our daily travels on foot through our parks or by car along our city streets. (By the way – Terry informs us – Did you know that Cardiff has quite a reputation for experimenting with roadside tree planting? )
Terry And Malcolm hope that by explaining the importance of our trees they will lay new foundations to them being treasured and replenished so their lifelong work will continue for the next generations. In these times of council budget cuts, traffic congestion, air pollution and fast-paced city life it is vital that we preserve our green spaces. The trees and parks offer us true mindfulness and deserve nurture and respect. I have recently come across this Greek proverb – A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’ which makes you think. We all need to take responsibility and contribute to the continuation of planting for the future by supporting local ‘ friends’ groups such as the Friends of Bute Park – https://friendsofbutepark.com and Roath Park – http://friendsofroathpark.weebly.com. to name just a couple. The knowledge is there if you look for it and no more so than amongst the pages of the fantastic web resource continually enhanced and developed by Anne and Andy Bell – Cardiffparks.org.uk
Terry and Malcolm’s genuine enthusiasm is catching and once you have been on one of their walks you will want to join them every time.This Spring and Autumn their walks focused on Roath Park and the bright sunny Autumn brought a huge crowd. Narional Tree Week is a bit more wintry but the Autumn colours still remain and some of the UK and Welsh champions they have planted still look magnificent.
They explain that a tree earns the title of ‘champion’ if it is taller or if the girth of its’ trunk is bigger than any other tree of its kind. We learn that in Bute park there are more than 2000 trees, 43 UK champions and 176 Welsh champions.
The journey begins as we cross the Millenium Bridge into the park. Either side, like two sentries is the the Swamp Cypress(Taxodium Distichum) on the right and the Caucasian Wingnut (Pterocarya) on the left. The Wingnut is from the Walnut family but Terry explains that unlike the walnut, the wood of the Wingnut is too light for joinery. Tended by Terry, this particular one, although a good size, is less than 60 years old. He explains that its’ girth will continue to increase year on year but it has reached its’ maximum height.
We stop to look at the champion birch tree ‘Betula fetisowii’ planted in 1967 by Terry – Malcolm explains that this area is known as the ‘Birch collection.’
The self renewing white, copper and silvery bark of these almost unassuming ghostly birch trees glisten in the winter sunshine and offer good contrasting winter colour. We learn that the ‘River Birch’ bark has been used used in the past for making parchment and the papier mache-like waterproof lining of canoes.
The grouped plantings of trees are impressive in the park – there are apple trees with tiny red crab apples still in fruit, a line of curvy-trunked magnolias and an array beautifully coloured rowans.
Trees have much history and myths attached to them and we look up in awe at the shimmering golden Gingko with its perfect fan like leaves clinging on proudly. Famed for their wellbeing properties, Terry explains that the Gingko tree’s make-up is a complicated chemical one – so much so even insects tend to give its’ leaves a wide berth!
Trees are grouped into classes and we learn that the Gingko trees are in a class of their own – they are ‘monotypic’. Their remains have been found in fossils 270 million years ago at the time of the dinosaurs and they were the only survivors of nature following the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
Originating in China, Gingko is revered in Asia and is planted around the temples of Japan. In Cardiff both male and female Gingkos thrive. They attract foragers who scoop up their leaves to infuse and drink as tea or gather their fallen berries to use in stir fries or soups. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. A Chinese lady I met in Roathmill gardens explained how this year has been particularly good for the Gingko nuts ( the berries) . She believed in their health enhancing properties but warned me to check on the internet before I consider adding them to my diet as consuming too many can poison you!
There is a fantastic range of trees from all around the world in Cardiff – and here in Bute Park we are shown the Chinese ‘handkerchief’ tree (latin – Davidia involucrata) I love its’ name which aptly describes the hanging papery leaves in Spring. It has yellow balls of fruit on it now. We are told that there are four of these trees in Bute Park and two in Roath Park. There is a memorial stone in front of this one and it reads – ‘given by American born Chinese to British born Chinese’ which reflects the diversity of Cardiff.
There are many varieties of beautiful Japanese Acers in the park and the Autumn bright orange of this Acer palmatum shishigara stands out –
We head on past a great Yew tree and Malcolm explains that in the past churches grew around Yews ( not the other way around!)as religious buildings often took over pagan sites. There are hundreds of ancient yew trees dating back at least 600 years across Britain, but the 60-foot-wide giant at St Cynog’s in Wales is believed to be the most ancient at 3000 years old. Terry remembers the hard work he undertook as an apprentice gardener in Insole Court trimming the Yew hedges. They used to have to load up Yew trimmings as they would be collected by a local pharmaceutical company for ‘taxol’ a chemical founf in the Yew tree and used today in chemotherapy cancer treatment.
As we pass a variegated Holly – an ilex aquifolium – Malcolm points out two holly tree ‘champions’ and explains that in pagan times holly (together with yew and ivy) represented Life in the darkness of Winter. Holly wreaths would ward off evil spirits.
I am getting to recognise some of the Latin names – at least the first word of a tree’s name as it is the name of the group to which it belongs. A holly’s name always starts with the word ‘ilex’ There are so many varieties and Malcolm points out lovely variegated leaves.
Terry and Malcolm are experts in tree family history and, as a learner, one of the most surprising families to me – is the the ‘legumes’ family. (why French? ) The question is – how can trees be vegetables??!
More on that next time……
Observations on trees and bees in Wales, Ireland and beyond