Beaumont Street – the location of Marylebone Library – contains several rather interesting and unusual planted street trees. Immediately outside the library is a Ginkgo Biloba, often referred to as a ‘living fossil’. The distinctive fan-shaped leaves have been found in fossils rocks dating back 270 million years.
On the opposite side of the road are planted five Amelanchier trees, another unusual example for urban planting. A bronze plaque states these were planted by the Westminster Tree Trust. Since 1982 the trust has planted hundreds of trees in the borough along streets, in public spaces and on housing estates.
The first thought for an urban tree lover would be to head north to Regents Park. However on this side of the great Marylebone Road divide there are several great examples set within the urban landscape. Check out St Marylebone Parish Church, situated on the corner of Marylebone Road and Marylebone High Street. The landscaped churchyard is shaded by several fine London Plane trees, a commonly planted species due to the tree’s tolerance of atmospheric pollution and root compaction. To my mind there is a much more interesting tree a few meters south of the churchyard, the Marylebone Elm. This is a rare surviving example of a Huntington Elm.
To date this tree has survived its hostile urban environment, growing a few feet away from the kerb and surrounded by paving slabs. Other potential hazards to its continuing existence included escaping the virulent Dutch elm disease which decimated British elms and also miraculously escaping German bombs which hit the adjacent old parish church. After the war the church ruins were demolished and the site now forms the Garden of Rest public open space.
In the midst of writing this post, I discovered another interesting local tree on one of my lunchtime rambles in the area. This was a Green Wattle – an acacia in full sulphur-yellow flowering. Hidden away behind Harley Street in Park Crescent Mews West, this tree has escaped winter frosts to become a mature specimen.
Park Crescent Mews West can be approached either from Marylebone Road at the north or from the west through an archway in Harley Street.
I hope I have whetted your appetite for searching out trees. In a future post I’ll be pointing will be indicating library and external resources to help you find gardens and public open spaces to visit, many of which of course include trees within the urban setting. Anyone wishing to search out individual trees within the London area should take a look at the Time Out guide The Great Trees of London, which includes the Marylebone Elm and several other trees within the borough. Having planned your search with the Time Out guide, you could borrow a tree identification book and head outside! Try What’s that tree? by the RSPB, or The Collins Tree guide by Owen Johnson.
Finally for anyone who is interested in trees in general, I recommend two further authors:
- Oliver Rackham is an academic who has written several books on the changing history of woodland ecology. This may sound very dry, but if you have any interest in the British landscape, find out how the original wild wood which re-colonized Britain after the last ice age has been modified and exploited by humans from early Prehistoric times in his book Woodlands.
- Roger Deakin is the author of Wildwood: a journey through trees, which describes his love for trees and a quest to discover the human relationship with woodland in Britain, Eastern Europe and Australia (I would also recommend his book about wild water swimming, Waterlog, although it’s nothing to do with trees!).