The Redlands estate was built in the 1970s. It’s a red brick estate comprising detached and semi-detached houses and bungalows. The retro buildings are set back from the road and in front of them a selection of small and medium sized trees are planted in the lawns. Directly outside my house is a field maple with a 1m+ girth, which ages it at around 60 years – probably planted when the estate was built back in the 1970s.
Actis Road, the main road through the estate, is branched by many cul-de-sacs, each with their own odd houses, unique meander and collection of trees in front of tidy gardens. Rowan features heavily, hawthorn, elder, whitebeam, pear, large-leaved and common limes, oregon crab apple, and laburnum, to name just a few.
Compared to most modern estates there’s a lot of space around these houses, to live here feels like living in Glastonbury’s suburbs. This is the point where the town is forced to end quite abruptly due to the surrounding wet lands and we occupy one of the properties in the last row of houses before lawn turns to field. It’s a quiet, cosy neighbourhood occupied by families, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents, and apart from the noise of traffic from Butleigh road, all remains peaceful, for the most part.
The gardens in our row of detached houses look out over the levels towards the South of Glastonbury. Nature encroaches quite noticeably upon our patch, especially that of the avian kind. From the garden I can enjoy the hoot of pigeons, the drum of woodpeckers, the strange call of the herons on the rhynes, and when I’m very lucky, the distant chatter of skylarks hovering up above the levels. We are regularly visited by great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits, gold finches, corvids, and robins. I like to sit with my morning coffee and watch the blackbirds and wrens pop out of the hedgerows, darting glances each way as they leave and return again and again.
The rows of fenced gardens provide clear flight paths to convenient perches, and offer numerous hiding places for a host of our native songbirds. On many occasions flying creatures have whistled past my ears as they chase from one safe spot to another. The large sculpted privet, cotoneaster, and holly bushes in our garden are impenetrable to predators and have recently hosted robin, wren and blackbird nests.
Despite the apparent protection provided by the gardens, the birds are still wary, and for good reason, the sparrow hawks also make effective use of the clear lines of sight, to hunt.
The first time I encountered a sparrow hawk it zipped past my ear in the alleyway at the side of the house and twisted through the branches of the cherry, apparently oblivious, or simply uninterested in my slow presence.
Recently, while I was stood in the garden pondering this article, a blackbird sat in the top branches of the apple tree serenading me for many minutes before making an unexpected and untidy exit while sounding its warning call, a high pitched siren communicating an imminent threat that remained a mystery to me until the predator was upon us.
As quick as the blackbird dashed, a flash of brown stripes arrowed past me, a sparrow hawk on the chase. Their focus is as ferocious as that of a crossbow arrow set loose on its target, their speed and mid-air agility sparks a gasp, and their feathered flicker in one’s peripheral is like a daytime ghost.
A brief saga ensued, one that seemed to take forever to play out, but in real life probably only lasted ten seconds, if that. After numerous chases, and some clever avoidance tactics, the blackbird prevailed. It managed to escape, aided by the shrubbery, into the dense foliage of the maple trees opposite.
The privet is entangled with brambles and grows blackberries later in the year, while the lawson cypress in the height of Summer sports a decoration of passion flower and becomes like a giant disco ball for bees. The holly is the most impressive, in Spring it shows the wonderful deep pink flowers of japonica, followed by the bright green pinnate leaves of ash, I call it the “Japonicasholly”. The trees in our garden must not be identified at first glance.
In stylistic terms the garden sits somewhere between a rough cut 16th century topiary garden and a miniature field, with a hint of unkempt backyard. The beds and borders harbour the very same native species I see on my walks and their presence is contrasted by the well kept lawn sprinkled with ever changing constellations of daisies. It is strangely beautiful, enclosing, practical as a garden, while also inviting nature in, providing safe(ish) places for birds and seasonal flowers for pollinators.
I often pace the lawn observing the wild borders of the garden which change with the seasons and are currently bursting with new growth of ash, norway maple, and field maple, grown from seeds blown in from surrounding trees. These young trees sit on a bed cleavers, wood avens (yellow flower), rose bay willow herb, and herb robert. The buttercups are especially large and the dandelions notably prolific.
To some, most of the plants may be considered weeds, but in our garden all the plants of the countryside are welcome. We even have some bindweed, which is not necessarily a very friendly plant, but I recently learned something quite fascinating that helped me to see bindweed in a better light. Inspired by John Feehan of the Offaly Heritage youtube channel.
To whom their beautiful white Summer flowers (visible in June-July) are trumpeting is somewhat of a mystery. Their shape would suggest pollination by a large moth, and although the plant closes its flowers at night, they are caused to open by the light of the full moon. This means only by a moth on a full moon can bindweed be pollinated.
To add to the mystery, no moth visits the plant. Its flowers are the genetic echo of a long lost moth companion and because the flower’s elements evolved in such an exact size and form to suit its particular pollinator, bees and other visitors prove to be ineffective at the task. For this reason, bindweed flowers cannot be pollinated and the plant rarely creates a seed.
This is magical, it’s like the plant made itself for a moth, or the moth made the flower for itself, or the moon married the moth and the flower. It’s not quite clear where the moon, moth, and flower begin and end, and although I still will not be encouraging bindweed, to consider that it lost the moth it was made for, has sparked a little bit of love for the plant.
To live surrounded by nature is such a great pleasure for me. Spending time in the garden surrounded by greenery is grounding, inspiring, and educational. I have learned a great deal from pacing around this small patch on the edge of Avalon. I get to watch the seasons pass from my own back garden, and watch the sunset towards Wearyall hill. In the mornings, before we are interrupted by the hiss of traffic on Butleigh Road, the dawn chorus leads me between dreams and I am gently awakened by the blackbird singing in the apple tree just below my window.
As I sit and write to you at dusk, I am accompanied by the sunset chatter of all the songbirds of Avalon, most prominently, the blackbird and the robin who, although they may not be in communication, such is the synchrony of their song’s delivery that they appear to be involved in some very long and detailed conversation. Probably discussing what a joy it is to live in this garden, or else asking each other to leave!
I am so grateful for such beautiful gifts of nature so close to home.
– MW 16/05/2022
Tree Talk – Walking To The Trees
My first indoor Tree Talk at the recent Glastonbury Pilgrimage conference is available to watch on the Glastonbury Pilgrim Youtube channel. There were a number of interesting talks on the history of pilgrimage. Click the player below to see my talk.
A Visual Diary – May 2022
Upcoming Tree Walks
Public Tree Walks – By donation (unless stated)
Meet at St John’s Church, High St, Glastonbury, unless stated.
Abbey Tree Walk & Talk
Note: Abbey Entry fee is not included
Meet the Abbey trees and learn tree identification.
Sat 11th June – 11am – 12.30pm – £10pp
Book: 07548 936 081
Public Tree Walks, Glastonbury – By Donation
Sat 21st May – Spring Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
Sat 18th June – Spring Tree Walk, Glastonbury – 11am – 1pm
Book: 07548 936 081
Bishops Palace Walk, Wells
Sat 4th June – Wells Tree Walk – £14pp – 11am – 12.30pm
Tickets available soon.
Tree Identification Workshops
Sat 28th May – Spring Tree ID Workshop – 11am – 12.30pm – £10pp (children free)
Book: 07548 936 081
Walks for individuals, groups, and retreats at a date and time to suit you.
Call Matt to book: 07548 936 081
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