Horticulture and Wildlife in Holland Park 2008
Tree Updates Red Oaks

We are delighted to confirm that the row of red oaks, Quercus rubra, running beside the path to the Earl's Court Gate will be thinned this year by transplanting roughly alternate ones into a second row on the other side of the playing field fence. (See our summer issue.) This is both easier and cheaper than taking them to other parks and keeps them in Holland Park for which they were originally given. If this is not happening even as you read this, it will be in the next month or so.

Readers may remember that a year ago we wrote about a recently planted bush on the Peacock Lawn which in July was covered with white flowers with purple stamens. This year it was again magnificently floriferous. It is a lacewood or Hoheria and we suggested that it was H. lyalli. However, I saw this growing wild in New Zealand and it had quite different leaves and no purple stamens. A contact in Kew said they had only two types of Hoheria, but Wakehurst had many more. So there was an excuse to spend a warm summer's day at Wakehurst where I was able to match ours quite precisely. Only problem, no label and no one on a Sunday available to name it. A phone call the following day though, found a man who was instantly and impressively able to call up a list of everything planted in the relevant bed and was able to inform me it was Hoheria sexstylosa 'Stardust'. (Would that we had such a file for Holland Park!)

Ours is currently a three-stemmed rounded bush about six feet tall. Wakehurst's is also multi-stemmed, but at two to three times the height of ours looks more like a small tree. Ours appears flourishing, so hopefully will attain at least as much. The species in the wild grows to six metres.

Rhoddy Wood [Autumn 2008]

Moorhens and Mallards For several years there have been three resident pairs of moorhen in the Park, one pair on each of the ponds (Kyoto, Lord Holland's and Wildlife). Recently (at the end of July 2008) only one adult has been seen on Lord Holland's Pond, but that does not rule out the possibility of a mate skulking somewhere in the woodland. In ideal conditions each pair would have two or even three broods in a season, consisting of five or more chicks, and the juveniles of an earlier brood will help in bringing up the next one. This year the Kyoto pair has probably successfully reared only one chick from their first brood and three (in the photograph) from their second. No juveniles seem to have been reared on Lord Holland's Pond. On the Wildlife pond there was an early brood of three chicks of which at least one seems to have survived. [Autumn 2008]
Peacock chicks For the second year running one of the Park's peahens has brought off a clutch of five chicks from her secure nest site within the glass houses. You can catch a glimpse of them and proud Mum in their temporary aviary just inside the entrance to the nursery beside the car park. [Autumn 2008]

Readers will remember that in the autumn issue we wrote of a shrub we found with striking velvety lumpy fruit that Chelsea Physic Garden identified for us as Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox. "Praecox" means spring and this year the bush was covered in flower in early January. The blossoms are a translucent cream colour with purple centres, lying along the branches and with a sweet, spicy perfume. Do see whether they are still there in February. The bush is two to three metres high and can be seen on the left when looking up the West Lawn from the path opposite the Adventure Playground. [Spring 2008]

Variety is Good for You

We have always been proud of Holland Park's tradition of exotic plantings and done our best to help with the identification and appreciation of the different species. Now we find (see Kew's autumn magazine) that there is an additional reason to be grateful. Researchers in Sheffield asked over 300 park users questions like "How much does coming to this park clear your head?" or "gives you time to think?" They then rated the fifteen parks according to the answers and also according to the number of plant species. Fascinatingly, the two lists corresponded closely with the lowest scoring park consisting mostly of short grass with a limited selection of trees and the highest being Sheffield Botanical Gardens. (Numbers of bird or butterfly species made no difference.)

So plant biodiversity – whether of native or exotic species – gives a sense of well being not only to those who can consciously tell one plant from another. One more reason to guard and improve our heritage. [Spring 2008]

Growing for Gold

It was great news when the Royal Borough was awarded the only gold in the finals of the London in Bloom competition in September 2007.

The Borough finished first in the city category doing even better than last year when it achieved a silver gilt award. These awards are not competitive but, as with RHS medals, represent an absolute standard; even so it is always pleasing to know we are the best! The London in Bloom judges were very impressed with the Borough's entry and commented that the displays were very clean, thoughtfully planned and well maintained. Staff were also praised for being enthusiastic, knowledgeable and motivated. Our congratulations to Park and Quadron staff for their success.

Holland Park is the major component in RBKC's entry but the whole borough is being judged. As well as the gold, we also picked up three Discretionary Awards: second place each in the Town & City Centre Award, the Floral Display Award and the Pub & Restaurant Award for the Churchill Arms in Kensington Church Street.

On a more basic, but still important level, Holland Park retained the Green Flag Award and Kensington Memorial Park was awarded a Green Flag on its first attempt which is unusual. The Borough hopes to bring all its parks up to Green Flag standard over the next few years.

Hitherto the Borough has awarded the horticultural contracts on a three year basis. The contract came up for renewal from January 2008 and this time the Borough decided to award a twelve year contract which was won by Quadron so they will have fifteen consecutive years to make their mark. We must hope that the security this gives them will encourage them to invest in long term projects and use the experience they gain as they go along.

One of the challenges for any horticultural contractor is finding and keeping high quality staff. The pool of trained workers is small and wages are not high. Quadron has already embarked on a programme to enlarge the pool by taking on two school leavers each autumn for two year apprenticeships. Also the "Train to Gain" programme started last September with ten existing Quadron staff working towards an NVQ level 2 in Horticulture. Time off is given for study and on the job training and assessments are undertaken within the Borough's parks working with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and Merton College. As well as the practical aspects of the training, plant identifications and plant profiles are carried out within the Holland Park Nursery where a small study has been created.

TraineesOur picture shows Tom Dalton, a second year apprentice and Anna Beliak, a Train to Gain student, in the study area. Anna has also had training in the Japanese style of gardening direct from the Japanese when they came over last spring to maintain the Kyoto Garden. You will have seen Anna during the summer working at keeping the Kyoto Garden tidy in the Japanese style. [Spring 2008]

Paul Richards, Senior Contract Manager for Quadron
Rhoddy Wood