Horticulture and Wildlife in Holland Park 2006

Happy Gardening

This year, summer was a long, hard struggle against the effects of drought. As a commercial site, Holland Park was free from hosepipe restrictions, a fact I found myself explaining on numerous occasions to irate and indignant visitors whose home gardens were suffering global warming at its worst. Where possible, we are now using water from the new borehole as the ring-main of pipes has been laid in the North of the park. Pipes will be laid in the South when the finance becomes available.

In August, I went on holiday and wondered what kind of desert-like scene I would come back to. I returned to celebrate my 40th birthday and to a wonderful site of green lawns and at last, the bedding had really come to life. It had rained, and with some proper rain the Dutch Garden had blossomed into a fantastic display of bulging begonias and bushy dahlias. Soon we had to start stripping out these beautiful beds. Some of you have questioned why take out the bedding when it is finally looking its best? We work to an annual timetable with two six-week periods of bedding scheduled during the spring and early autumn. In Holland Park alone, we plant over 77,000 plants annually which are supplied by a commercial grower who is planning his sowing and growing a year in advance. In your own gardens, it is easy to respond to the weather and delay your visit to the garden centre but on a huge park-size scale this is simply impossible. However, what I have done this year is to strip out the beds a few each week so that we have been able to enjoy some of the summer beds for as long as possible.

On September 4th, local lads Jed McMillan and Thomas Dalton started their two-year apprenticeship at Holland Park They are quickly proving to be a welcome addition to my team as their youthful enthusiasm and energy is infectious. I had forgotten how exhausting it is to teach people from scratch and how assuming previous knowledge is highly dangerous! There is so much to learn in becoming a good gardener – it is quick and easy to use the unskilled, "slash and burn" approach but very time-consuming to provide proper instruction and supervision. However, the rewards are great as both Jed and Tom are proving with their genuine desire to learn and become valued members of the team. They started a 2-year NVQ in Amenity Horticulture at Capel Manor College in Crystal Palace on 31st October.

The chrysanthemum displays have proved immensely popular again this year. Many people have asked me "what are they in aid of" and "what is the special occasion?" The answer is that there is no special occasion – they are simply to provide some welcome colour and spectacle at a time when most of the summer flowering plants are past their best. We hope they brighten up your day as you walk through the park.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a long trench being dug along the eastern perimeter fence around the playing field. This has been done in readiness for the planting of a 200m long hedge. A classic mixture of native species (including hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel) will be planted in November and provide prime real estate for birds, small mammals and bugs. It will increase the bio-diversity of species in this area, provide an attractive screening to the field and improve the avenue effect as one walks up into the park from Earl's Court Gate. A new bonded-gravel driveway is soon to replace the black tarmac and further soften the view from High Street Ken.

Once the spring bedding has gone in, my team will be very busy with autumnal tasks; leaf clearance, winter pruning, cutting back herbaceous plants and mulching beds. Since September, Quadron supervisors Steve Redman, Rob Scott and I will be filmed once a month carrying out seasonal gardening tasks for a new website video encyclopaedia! Check out www.videojug.com in the Gardening section.

Happy Gardening!

Stella Fear
Head Gardener

[Winter 2006]

To eat or not to eat Let's agree much of the fun of mushrooms is about what to eat, or not, of them. Portobello mushroom soup is a warming wintertime treat for 'fungi foodies', the mushrooms sourced from the local Farmers' Market rather than on a forage in Holland Park.

Further firing the seasonal spirit, courtesy of fungi gourmet, Peter Jordan, the writer takes the liberty of part quoting his recipe for Chanterelle Vodka. Obviously, this sharing of knowledge is purely for educational and medicinal purposes. Teetotallers can opt for buttered chanterelles on toast.

'Put the chanterelles in a glass bottle, suitably scalded. Top up with vodka, add caraway seeds, and a zest of lemon if wished. When the specimens have all fallen down to the bottom, then the Chanterelle Vodka is ready.'

With its distinctive apricot tint and flavour, this ray of sunshine - moonshine even! - should certainly be envigorating with the traditional crumpet and Earl Grey tea after a wintry afternoon's fungi foraging.

You need to plan this drink well in advance, at the season of 'mellow fruitfulness', of sloe gin and crab apple jelly, as the season for chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarious, is early autumn. 'The Winter Chanterelle', Cantharellus tubiformis, a winter variety, with its distinctive dark stalk and more fragile character, - often for sale at greengroceries loosely labelled as 'chanterelle' or 'girolle' -, is delicately flavoursome with a distinctive aroma. Neither are to be found in Holland Park. Both have ridges rather than true gills. The latter, like The Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes, also survives winter frosts.

The Chanterelle 'lookalike', the inedible False Chanterelle, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, is to be found in Holland Park. It has true gills and a suede-textured cap, yet is easily mistaken for the real thing, but is not recommended for eating.

As ever, take heed always to be careful eating wild fungi. Mushroom poisoning might just be a mild gastric upset; or lethal in the worst possible meaning of that word. Remember, in the realm of fungi eating, bravado is a dirty word. Check any specimen with a knowledgeable source and "If in doubt, throw it out".

In these islands, traditionally, Christmas decorations are taken down by midnight on January sixth, 'Twelth Night. Our woodlands and parks display their own celebratory customs of natural cycles. 'The Christmas fungus', Coriolus versicolor, prettily decks the boughs throughout the wintry months. Popular on the Continent for decorations, it looks like wavy crepe paper with silvered edges.

More prosaically named Varicoloured Bracket, this member of the Poroid bracket family must be differentiated from one 'lookalike': The Tripe Fungus, Auricularia mesenterica, of the same Auricularia family as Jew's Ears, (a corruption of the word Judas who, legend tells us, hung on an elder tree upon which this variety is often found growing), or Wood Ears as known in the Far East. Tripe Fungus is found in Holland Park on decaying stumps of elm trees, its wavy conformation of tightly packed creamy tiers reminiscent of tripe on a butcher's window tray. Both are decorative but seriously inedible.

By mid March appear the pearly buttons of the edible St. George's Mushroom, Tricholoma gambosum, with its distinctive mealy perfume. The 'fairy ring' formation reaches its apogee around St. George's Day on 23rd April, heralding Spring. What a mysterious delight under the flittering shade of fresh green leaves of a heavenly grove of young birches!

A comforting reminder that these wonderful ecological cycles of life, still not fully understood by inquisitive mankind, will continue their earthly paradise faithfully, through wintry weeks or under the greenwood tree, long after we have 'sloughed off this mortal coil'.

Ref: The Ultimate Mushroom Book by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler ISBN 1-85967-092
Caroline Renshaw
[Autumn 2006]
Wolf walk

I could not believe I was really doing this: rubbing the tummy of a real life wolf. As I rubbed, the beautiful creature put her nose up to my face and sniffed me. I half closed my eyes so as not to appear menacing (I knew this was the way to endear cats) and spoke soothingly to her. As I had been instructed, I breathed onto the wolf's face so that she could smell me properly. At that she was satisfied, and concentrated on enjoying her tummy rub. This was what the UK Wolf Conservation Trust call "meet and greet".

The Trust is located at Beenham outside Reading. As a guest of a friend of mine who is a member I was treated to a "wolf walk" in February of this year. This was a two-hour walk through lovely woods in the company of two female Timber Wolves, each controlled with leads by two handlers. The latter quite often fondled the wolves around their heads and scratched their ears: how I envied them. Wild wolves are so afraid of humans that they will run away from them even if their cubs are threatened. The wolf is the only carnivore not to defend its young. But these wolves are used to humans, having been born in captivity; however, they still have an instinctive nervousness and therefore need to be introduced to all the people in the group before the walk can start. We all stood in a long line and had to hold out a clenched fist for the wolves to sniff as they were led past us. Sometimes they stopped to have a longer sniff at someone, but mostly they took little notice of us. We had had strict instructions not to wear perfume or aftershave, bright colours, loose or dangling clothing (including long laces), fleeces or anything made of leather or suede. All those sorts of things wolves enjoy grabbing hold of, and once they do that you do not get it back: their jaws are three times stronger than those of an Alsatian. Anyone with long shoe laces had to have them sprayed with a chemical which wolves do not like.

During the walk we would sometimes stop, and there would be a chance for "meeting and greeting", or we would be given a little talk about the animals. As soon as the wolves looked as though they wanted to move on, we all had to follow: despite the fact that the wolves consider humans to be above them in their hierarchy, due to our greater height, one does not trifle with their emotions or inclinations. Watching them on the walk was very interesting. Both were females, but one was an alpha female, i.e. at the top of the hierarchy, the other a beta or omega female. When they were close together the alpha female would just remind the other who was top dog by placing her head above the other's with a little growl—wolves have very exact social ranking systems within their family groups. Every few yards they would mark the ground with their scent, either by scraping the ground with their back paws, which have scent glands, or by urinating. The latter is performed by most wolves in a squatting position, whether male or female; only alpha males and alpha females lift a leg.

The Trust is mainly an educational concern. It was started in 1995 with the aim of using wolves to try to dispel the many myths and misconceptions that surround these wonderful creatures. Thus they visit schools, shows and seminars to try and educate the public. Their wolves are also often used in films and advertisements. The Trust has four North American wolves, also known as Grey or Timber Wolves, and three European wolves. Mostly they get their wolves from wild life parks in the UK where breeding takes place and which often have some to spare. After our walk we visited the large enclosures of the Trust's centre and saw all the other wolves. I liked our Timber Wolves best: they were slim, long-legged and a pretty beige colour with some darker markings; the Europeans had shorter legs and were stockier and darker. For the first few weeks of life a wolf cub has very dark fur; so also do hybrids—wolf and dog mixtures. If a puppy dog starts off dark and turns lighter you know there is wolf in it. It is against the law in this country even to have hybrids as pets let alone wolves; but then wolves would not make good pets since, even if they have been "socialised" as at the Trust, they have not been domesticated by breeding as dogs have.

It is practically unknown for wolves to attack humans, unless they have rabies, yet people are still terrified of them, in part because of the eerie sound of their howling. Yet they do not howl to intimidate their prey but, for instance, to gather the pack before a hunt, to announce their territory to other wolves, to keep in touch with each other or simply to cement the social bond within the pack. Packs are usually only family groups consisting of two to eight animals, although packs of about twenty sometimes exist, especially in very hard winters. There are many differences between wolves and dogs: wolves are much smarter, more territorial, only breed once a year (compared to twice for dogs), and they make much deeper bonds of friendship than dogs; this is partly why Alsatians are used in police work where a close link with their handlers is so important.

There are so many more fascinating facts to learn about wolves, not least about how their numbers in Europe and America are growing. Believe it or not, plans possibly to reintroduce the wolf into Scotland have not been suggested by the wolf fraternity but by people trying to regenerate the traditional forests in Scotland.