About this Blog

This blog reflects our twin interests in walking and natural history, especially botany.

"Ich wandle unter Blumen

Und blühe selber mit ..."

Heinrich Heine

Walking is important to us as a way of being in direct touch with the environment, experiencing species and habitats in their ecological and historical context. By walking between different flower sites we experience the character of the general countryside, getting to know as much where flowers are not as where they are. Walking allows for the serendipitous - chance encounters with animals, meetings with local people, unexpected species - which enrich the experience.

We set up this blog to share a variety of mainly day-long walks centred on "iconic" flower sites and locations of rare plants, where these are publicly accessible. The accounts include descriptions of the routes taken, key plants seen, other wildlife encountered, and anything of general environmental or historical interest. All the walks allow time for looking around (some flowers need searching for), photography etc, and usually include a half-way stop for refreshment at some suitable establishment. The walks are seasonal, depending on the flowering/fruiting times of different species, although one cannot hit the peak time for all species seen on one walk, and the best timings will vary from year to year. Lengths vary but the walks may be anything up to 12 miles or more, so an early start is recommended.

A certain knowledge of our flora is assumed, but those less familiar should be able to identify most of the plants mentioned with the help of one of the good field guides - Blamey, Fitter and Fitter Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland (A&C Black) or Francis Rose The Wild Flower Key (Warne) - although occasionally recourse may be needed to more technical tomes such as Clive Stace New Flora of the British Isles (Cambridge) or the specialist volumes published by BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) on grasses, sedges, umbellifers etc.

While examining plants it is interesting to note the galls, leaf-mines and fungi (rusts etc) that are often specific to particular taxa. For galls we use Redfern and Shirley British Plant Galls, for leaf-mines http://www.ukflymines.co.uk/ (which also includes lepidopteran and other mines), and for fungi Ellis and Ellis Microfungi on Land Plants, although this is a technical tome rather than a field guide.

Our completed walk around the coast and borders of England is described on http://www.coastwalking.blogspot.co.uk/ and our current walk around the coast of Wales is on http://www.coastwalkwales.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 29 August 2016

London: Barnes to Hammersmith

16 August 2016
All day

From Ravenscourt Park tube-station we walked north up Ravenscourt Road, under the railway bridge, immediately turning left along an alley leading to the Park itself.  On the way we started registering the usual London "weeds" including Annual mercury Mercurialis annua and Guernsey fleabane Conyza floribunda.  In the park a plane Platanus x hispanica, isolated from the neighbouring avenues of trees, stood out for its very broad trunk and low height.  We measured the bole at 8.8m, which is a remarkable size, especially as the tree is said to be only 120 years old.  The story is that it was hit by a bomb in the London blitz in World War II.  It would seem that the blast removed the upper part and branches, so that the tree responded by putting on extra girth as well as sprouting new branches after being effectively pollarded.  It is certainly a notable and unique tree. 

The Ravenscourt Park Plane

More casuals were added to the list, such as Black nightshade Solanum nigrum and Wall barley Hordeum murinum.  The southern part of the park is plain grass, but the northern section has some gardens and lakes (with Canada geese), while there is a good range of planted tree species of different ages. 

Ravenscourt Park lake

A recent addition is a carving made from a dead tree stump in 2012 by Shane Green representing basketball in celebration of the London Olympics, topical on this day as the Rio 2016 Olympics were in progress.


Just outside the park at its NE corner stands The Oak pub, named after the tree that gave rise to the district name "Acton".

The Oak (not Quercus robur)

Unfortunately we could not find any surviving native oaks Quercus robur in the Park - there were plenty of oaks but all aliens - Turkey oak Quercus cerris, Evergreen oak Q. ilex, Turkish hazel Corylus colurna, and Red oak Q. rubra.  The last comprised a group in the SW corner, reached by passing an example of Turkish hazel Corylus colurna, which has remarkable large nuts surrounded by laciniate sepals and bracts (unfortunately the nuts are not very good to eat).

Turkish hazel

We left the park southwards via side streets towards the Thames, but first had to surmount the massive barrier of the dual-carriageway Great West Road.  Fortunately there was a subway a hundred yards to our left.  The verge along here was interesting with abundant Dwarf mallow Malva neglecta, plus Vervain Verbena officinalis and Pellitory-of-the-wall Parietaria judaica.

Dwarf mallow, Great West Road

Having crossed the GWR and put the deafening drone of traffic behind us, we found ourselves on the Thames embankment, here called Upper Mall.  This is a popular weekend and summer walk (at least when the sun shines), as evidenced by such facilities as the Caribbean-tinged Rum Shack.

Unfortunately, there were no coconut palms, flamboyant trees or frangipani along here, although there was an exotic display of passion-flower Passiflora caerulea clambering over one garden wall.

The bankside vegetation was the usual Thames community of Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicara, Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus, Marsh yellow-cress Rorippa palustris, Red valerian Valeriana dioica, Buddleia Buddleja davidii, Hemlock water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Alder Alnus glutinosa, Hairy Michaelmas-daisy Aster novae-angliae, Yellow corydalis Pseudofumaria lutea, Water mint Mentha aquatica, Wild angelica Angelica sylvestris (with leaf-mines of the fly Euleia heraclei), Shaggy soldier Galinsoga quadriradiata, and Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus.  Walls and pavements also yielded Mind-your-own-business Soleirolia soleirolii, Snow-in-summer Cerastium tomentoides, and Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus.

Thames-side vegetation of purple loosestrife, water mint and wild angelica

Pied wagtail and mallard enjoyed the water, which is part of a classic Thames rowing stretch and we were often passed by singles skulls and fours of young people, training no doubt with the next Olympics of Tokyo 2020 in mind.  The island of Chiswick Eyot divided the river into two channels along this reach.

A training four along the Thames, with Hammersmith Bridge obscured by modern buildings in the background.

We left the embankment at Church Street for a brief diversion to Hogarth Lane, which meant passing the GWR again, although this time it was a flyover and we had to negotiate a large roundabout beneath it.  The road verges were again interesting because of the presence of the coastal Lesser sea-spurrey Spergularia marina, well-established presumably because of the application of road-salt.  A few steps along Hogarth Lane led to Hogarth's House, where William Hogarth once lived.  Being just after noon, this property was open (entry is free), and we were able to visit the walled garden (invisible from outside) where there grows an old Black mulberry Morus nigra, somewhat reduced from its heyday represented in an old photo and propped up on crutches, but still bearing fruit abundantly.

Black mulberry, Hogarth's House

We returned to the Thames embankment, where the path led us through "Dukes Meadows", an area run by a local community group since 1998.  It used to belong to the Duke of Devonshire, who in 1926 constructed a long tiered promenade and bandstand overlooking the Thames, in imitation of Edwardian seaside resorts.  It presumably had a great view over the river but now this is obscured by tall trees that have grown up at the water's edge.  It is now a rather desolate public park.

Dukes Meadow

There is a row of young planted European white elms Ulmus laevis, whose leaves in some cases had the tall club-shaped fig galls of the aphid Tetraneura ulmi.  Otherwise the only botanical interest was along the riverbank, with Drooping sedge Carex pendula, the gross alien Himalayan blackberry Rubus armeniacus, Hop Humulus lupulus, Midland hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, and Black horehound Ballota nigra.  Leaves of a sycamore were attractively patterned white by the powdery mildew Erysiphe platani

Midland hawthorn

Hop in flower

Mildew patterns on sycamore leaves

We reached Barnes Bridge, which has a walkway beside the railway line, so that we could cross the river to Barnes Bridge station, observing a cormorant in the Thames below.

Thames north from Barnes Bridge

We continued south then along the other side (south bank) of the Thames, adding Ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis and Trailing bellflower Campanula poscharskyana on the walls and, beside the river, Pale persicaria Persicaria lapathifolia, Indian balsam Impatiens glandulifera and Hybrid black poplar Populus x canadensis.  We walked as far as Mortlake Green, where we made a slight detour to the "Green" itself, a small park with only minor trees, including an odd cherry that was presumably the result of grafting.

We continued to Chiswick Bridge, where we re-crossed the river and returned to Barnes Bridge on the other side.

Mortlake Green from Chiswick Bridge

Back at Barnes Bridge station we went north and left the river east along the High Street, at the end of which is green space beside Station Road leading to Barnes Common.  On this section we recorded Wild clary Salvia verbenaca, Hedgerow cranesbill Geranium pyrenaicum, Black mustard Brassica nigra, Bristly oxtongue Picris echioides, Horse-radish Armoracia rusticana, and Green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens.  Crossing a stream we entered Barnes Common at its NW corner and immediately came across the flattened, keeled spikelets of California brome Ceratochloa carinata, which is now common along the Thames in London and as far as Oxford after escaping from Kew.

California brome

The common is very acid grassland, now much scrubbed over, still with plenty of broom Cytisus scoparius, but not otherwise of great interest at this time of year.  After some exploration we left the common at its northernmost point and walked up Rocks Lane to Queen Elizabeth Walk, which took us to the London Wetland Centre.  This is a man-made park from old gravel diggings and so the flora is mostly planted (e.g. Butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus and Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata), but some might also have invaded - Marsh woundwort Stachys palustris, Water dock Rumex hydrolapathum, Common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica and Hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum are all possibly native.

Marsh woundwort, bogbean leaves (and a moorhen)

Some inhabitants of bare ground, however, were almost certainly natural invaders, taking advantage of the disturbance: Stone parsley Sison amomum, Common cudweed Filago vulgaris and Small nettle Urtica urens.  The centre is, however, focused on its bird life and visiting parties, with overtones of a small zoo or wildlife park and all the facilities that go with that.  There are bird-watching hides beside the large lakes, but there was little beyond the common native water-birds to be seen at this time of the year - herons, coots, moorhens, and mallards. 

London Wetland Centre


Apart from Emperor dragonflies and raucous Ring-necked parakeets, without which no visit to a London park is complete these days, we found most interest in displays of captive birds and Asian short-clawed otters, with lots of photographic opportunities.

Short-clawed otters

White-naped cranes

Juvenile mandarim duck


Emperor geese

As closing time approached we made our way back to the entrance and continued east on Queen Elizabeth Walk to the embankment of the Thames once more.  We walked north towards Hammersmith Bridge, seeing more California brome and adding further records of aliens and garden escapes: Tomato Lycopersicon esculentum, Least yellow sorrel Oxalis exilis, the introduced hairy variety of Black nightshade Solanum nigrum schultzii (now common in London), Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Common Michaelmas-daisy Aster x salignus and Pelargonium x hortorum variety 'Nano Apple-blossom'. 
Pelargonium x hortorum

To these could be added a row of fine planted Grey poplars Populus x canescens, which have distinct blackish lenticels dotting their grey bark. 

Grey poplar

Above us loomed the vast former warehouse that used to be Harrods Furniture Depository, now turned into flats, as we came into sight of Hammersmith Bridge and the shell of Riverside Studios under reconstruction, overtopped by a huge crane. 

Former Harrods furniture store

Hammersmith Bridge

Riverside Studios

Crossing the bridge, we ascended Queen Caroline Street for a meal at The Gate restaurant before catching the tube at Hammersmith.

Garden at The Gate (and the ironwork gate)

Berkshire: Blackwater River: Shepherd's Meadow to Eversley

25 July 2016                                 OS Landranger 175 Reading & Windsor
All day

This walk is part of the Blackwater River Trail.  We started at Shepherd's Meadow, a local authority nature reserve to the east of Sandhurst (walkable from Sandhurst railway station).  This is unimproved river meadow on the north bank of the River Blackwater.  We then crossed the river and followed the trail west along the river.  It eventually leaves the river and uses roads through Sandhurst in order to get round the commercial Tri Lakes Country Park, which prevents access to a section of the river.  The riverside trail is picked up again from Mill Lane at Horseshoe Lake and then passes several lakes that are the remains of gravel workings, part of which is Moor Green Lakes Nature Reserve, run by a community group for the importance of its nesting birds.  After the reserve the trail passes more recent gravel workings and leads to a lane from Eversley Cross.  We left the trail there to walk a couple of hundred yards into Eversley to take a lunch break at the Chequers pub (good drinks and food, friendly service).  We then walked back to Shepherd's Meadow.  It is a pleasant and easy walk (apart from the section through Sandhurst), but not botanically inspiring.
          Shepherd's Meadow appears to be relatively unmanaged, apart from mowing a few paths.  The sward is dominated by meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, jointed rush Juncus articulatus, and greater birdsfoot trefoil Lotus pedunculatus.  Also frequent were marsh bedstraw Galium palustre, musk mallow Malva moschata, tufted vetch Vicia cracca and marsh foxtail Alopecurus geniculatus.  There is no great diversity of plants as indicated by old records from this site.  The interesting plants we did find were limited to small areas and few in number.  They included sneezewort Achillea ptarmica, water purslane Lythrum portula, great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, betony Stachys officinalis, and smooth tare Vicia tetrasperma


Water purslane

It was a predominantly sunny and very warm day, so the meadow attracted a good range of butterflies - we saw Comma, Green-veined white, Hedge brown, Large skipper, Large white, Meadow brown, Red admiral, Ringlet, Small skipper, Small tortoiseshell and Speckled wood.  The apparent loss of the site's floral diversity may be from one or more of: lack of management (presumably withdrawal of grazing); drying out as the climate becomes more challenging; people pressure (the meadow is well used by local people, although they keep almost entirely to the paths and should not affect the diversity); and large amounts of dog faeces (although we did see a few exceptional dog-walkers picking theirs up, and again they are concentrated on and near the paths).  We felt that the reasons for the decline of the site are largely down to the first two on this list.

Blackwater River with unbranched bur-reed

Blackwater River itself has rather bare banks for the most part and few aquatic plants, best seen in the section by Shepherd's Meadow.  Anglers have removed riverside vegetation in places.  In the river itself we found Water plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica, Nuttall's waterweed Elodea nuttallii, broad-leaved pondweed Potamogeton natans, fennel pondweed P. pectinatus, and unbranched bur-reed Sparganium emersum

Branched bur-reed

There was also a water starwort Callitriche agg., which we could not determine as we could not find any with seeds.  Riverside trees included alder Alnus glutinosa, grey alder Alnus incana, white willow Salix alba, and crack willow S. fragilis

Grey alder

Riverbank plants included Branched bur-reed Sparganium erectum, Great water dock Rumex hydrolapathum, Hemlock water dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus, Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, Water figwort Scrophularia aquatica, Wild angelica Angelica sylvestris, Indian balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Orange balsam Impatiens capensis, Pendulous sedge Carex pendula, Water chickweed Myosoton aquatica, Water forgetmenot Myosotis scorpioides, Great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum and Hartstongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium

Water chickweed

Birds on the river were Mallard, Moorhen and Mute swan.  Dragonflies included Aeshna cyanea, Agrion splendens, Enallagma cyathigerum, Pyrrhosoma nymphula and Sympetrum striolatum.  The banded agrions were particularly beautiful as the sunlight flashed metallic greens, blues and brassy gold from their bodies. 

Male banded agrion

The horse-flies were also noticeable although mostly not too troublesome - they were the pretty banded-wing wetland species with striking bright green or red eyes Chrysops relictus.  Among waterweeds we found the tiny gastropod Potamopyrgus antipodarum.  Other insects showed themselves only by the feeding activity of their larvae - the bean-galls of the sawfly Pontania proxima on Salix fragilis, and the leaf-mines of the flies Eneleia heraclei on angelica and Trypeta artemisiae on mugwort.

Blackwater River Trail

          The sides of the trail itself included Ballota nigra Black horehound, Epipactis helleborine Broad-leaved helleborine, Humulus lupulus Hop, Papaver rhoeas Common poppy, Picris echioides Bristly ox-tongue, Elymus caninus, Cytisus scoparius Broom, and Lepidium heterophyllum Smith's pepperwort; plus the common garden escapes - Chelidonium majus Greater celandine, Lunaria annua Honesty, Oenothera glazioviana Large-flowered evening-primrose and Pentaglottis sempervirens Green alkanet.  Being predominantly wooded, we also saw a number of common birds - Blackbird, Green woodpecker, Jay, Robin and Wren.
          The borders of the lakes were largely inaccessible from the trail, but we did see Common skullcap Scutellaria galericulata, Water mint Mentha aquatica and Yellow loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris

Yellow loosestrife

There was also Meadow cranesbill Geranium pratense in one lakeside grassland and White melilot Melilotus albus on a stretch of wasteland near the current gravel workings.  Birds on and by the lake constituted their main interest, however: Black-headed gull, Canada goose, Common tern, Coot, Cormorant, Great crested grebe, Heron, Herring gull, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Pied wagtail, Pochard, Tufted duck and Wigeon.

Canada geese on Horseshoe Lake

Friday, 26 August 2016

London: Chelsea to Westminster

20 July 2016
All day

We started from Sloane Square, walking south to Royal Hospital Road, which we followed south-west as far as Swan Walk.  Although we looked for weeds, they were very infrequent - the roads and pavements of central London are kept squeaky clean these days.  We only saw in shrubberies pellitory-by-the-wall Parietaria judaica and bittersweet Solanum dulcamara.  In Swan Walk is the entrance to Chelsea Physic Garden which was just opening at 11am as we approached.  Although we had to pay an entrance fee of £10.50 each, it is a fascinating place for the botanist, concentrating on medicinal and other plants of human interest.  It is quite small, only 3.5 acres, and has a warm microclimate within its walls (quite apart from the fact that London has a temperature getting on for 5°C higher than the surrounding country).  While the formal plantings are of great interest, we also hoped to see what adventive species had managed to find a home here.  In the event they had to be able to survive fairly intensive weeding by an army of volunteers!  We did, however, find a few, the more interesting being spreading yellow-sorrel Oxalis corniculata, red-veined dock Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus, annual pearlwort Sagina apetala ssp erecta, chickweed Stellaria media, cock's-eggs Salpichroa origanifolia and a broomrape. 

Spreading yellow-sorrel

Red-veined dock & annual pearlwort

Ivy broomrape

The last was a mystery at first, because all the spikes were coming up in an empty cleared bed, and there were none of the usual clover family around on which common broomrape is usually found.  Close examination revealed it to be ivy broomrape Orobanche hederae, a surprise because it is usually seen as a western and coastal species.  A look at the BSBI Atlas, however, showed that it is regularly recorded in London gardens as a presumed (accidental) introduction, although long-distance seeding cannot be ruled out. 
          There were plenty of interesting planted species, of course, but those we particularly noted, as they can appear in the wild, were crimson clover Trifolium incarnatum (grown in a  meadow plot as a bee attractant), chamomile Chamaemelum nobile, and coriander Coriandrum sativum



There were many displays of plants notable for their scents (good or bad), which would make it an amenable place for visually impaired visitors.  We also noticed a gall on the leaves of grape vines Vitis vinifera, caused by the mite Colomerus vitis, a recent immigrant to this country, and mines in the leaves of sugar beet Beta vulgaris where a fly Pegomya sp. was feeding. 

Galls of Colomerus vitis on grape vine

Leaf-mines of Pegomya sp. on sugar-beet

More exotic species, including a good display of pitcher plants, were grown under glass, including the endangered Notacactus woollii.  Although we did not hear any, the frequent presence of ring-necked parakeet was indicated by the finding of a narrow vibrant-blue tail feather.

Parakeet feather against cork oak Quercus suber bark

Leaving the Physic Garden we walked to the end of Swan Lane and the embankment of the Thames, which we were to follow much of the day.  Across the other side was our next destination, Battersea Park, with the Peace Pagoda highly visible.  This is tended by a Buddhist monk from Japan, who lives in a nearby temple, and was built by volunteers in 1984 for the Peace Year. 

Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park

To get to the park we had to walk upstream a short way to Albert Bridge, which is a hybrid structure - part cable-stayed (1873), part suspension (1884-87) and part simple beam structure with two piers (1973), reflecting structural weaknesses of the original design.  It vibrates markedly when large numbers of people cross: there are still signs for troops to break step.  On the far side of the bridge was a fenced off area of wasteland dominated by giant plants of docks, hemlock water dropwort Oenanthe crocata and garden angelica Angelica archangelica

Garden angelica, docks, etc at end of Albert Bridge

Among them were also Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus, black horehound Ballota nigra, buddleia Buddleja davidii, and black nightshade Solanum nigrum subspecies schultzii.  Entering the park at its NW corner we proceeded SE to the lakes area, passing through groves where the introduced ivy Hedera helix 'Green Ripple' carpeted the ground with its jagged leaves and prominent veins, as well as native enchanter's nightshade Circeaea lutetiana

'Green Ripple' ivy

Around the lakes are scattered a few old trees that have achieved "Champion" status and we found most of these.  There was a narrow-leaved ash Fraxinus angustifolia, an evergreen oak Quercus ilex, a hybrid strawberry-tree with red bark Arbutus x arachnoides, and a few London planes Platanus hispanica

Narrow-leaved ash

Hybrid strawberry-tree
Evergreen oak

London plane

We also saw a specimen of an unusual form of sweet chestnut Castanea sativa 'Variegata'. 

Sweet chestnut 'Variegata'

Perfoliate alexanders Smyrnium perfoliatum, presumably planted originally, was spreading vigorously, as it does at Kew.  Other natural invaders were black mustard Brassica nigra, water bent Polypogon viridis, and small nettle Urtica urens (with the mines of the fly Agromyza pseudoreptans, being apparently the first report in Britain for this particular plant, although the fly is British and it feeds on small nettle in Europe). 

Leaf-mines of Agromyza pseudoreptans on small nettle

The ponds, which had a bad irruption of algal scum, contained Canadian pondweed Elodea canadensis and supported the usual birds, including heron, moorhen, coot, mallard, mute swan (one pair with nine cygnets) and Egyptian goose. 

Heron and moorhen and algal scum
Egyptian geese

La Gondola café at the far end of the lakes was our intended stop for a lunch snack, but it was closed, perhaps for some time, as the online reviews it had received were abysmal!  So we soldiered on to the park's SE corner and left for Battersea Park Road, walking along it in the direction of Battersea Power Station, which prevented access along the Thames after the park for some while.  Most food outlets here were uninviting, but we eventually came across a traditional old pub, The Duchess, which was modernised in 2014, still offers "homemade minced beef and onion pie, mash and liquor", as well as real ales and craft ciders.  It was a lucky chance find. 

Across the road is the power station, which is being restored - most of the chimneys had been removed, as they were in poor condition, but they are to be rebuilt.  The whole site is being developed with apartments blocks and other facilities. 

Battersea Power Station reconstruction

We went past it along Nine Elms Road, along with other building sites and new apartment blocks, but, despite all the disruption, "weeds" were still difficult to find - just a single plant of eastern rocket Sisymbrium orientale.  (London rocket is difficult to find these days.)  Eventually we could get back on the restored Thames embankment, walking by the river in front of all these shiny new developments. 

New apartments, St George Wharf. Café is StEaX ("steaks" - GeT iT? yawn, yawn)

Occasionally plants cropped up in the cracks of pavements or on the embankment itself, including thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana, annual mercury Mercurialis annua, black nightshade, Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus, stone parsley Sison amomum, and common liverwort Marchantia polymorpha.  There were birds on the river - cormorant as well as Canada and greylag geese.  We passed Vauxhall Bridge (which had sculptures made in 1907 by Frederick Pomeroy, representing agriculture, architecture, engineering and ... pottery!), the monstrous gaunt MI5 fortress at Millbank, and regular black "dolphin" lamp standards designed in the 1870s by George John Vulliamy. 

Vauxhall Bridge - the right hand statue is "Pottery"!

MI5 fortress
Standard dolphin lamp-standard

Soon we were opposite the Houses of Parliament, while on our right we passed a little park in front of St Thomas's Hospital, with a fountain designed by Naum Gabo "Revolving Torsion" (1972). 

St Thomas's Hospital and Naum Gabo fountain "Revolving Torsion"

We were fast approaching the London Eye as we reached Westminster Bridge and turned left over the Thames, joining throngs of tourists. 

Westminster Bridge crocodile with large eye

The road continuing from the bridge passes the north side of the House of Commons, now surrounded by more security fences than ever before.  (Despite the fact that it has been a terrorist target from at least 1605 when Guy Fawkes led a foiled attempt to blow it up.)  Through the railings, however, we could still see the row of six Indian bean trees Catalpa bignonioides thought to have been planted in 1857 and now looking impressively old with their gnarled black trunks and boughs.  At this time they were in flower -  pyramidal clusters of large white flowers with purple stamens and orange styles - a splendid sight below the geometric rigidity of Big Ben. 

Catalpa in flower
Row of Indian bean-trees below Big Ben

Continuing west we soon came to the SE corner of St James's Park.  Keeping to the east side and going a hundred metres north we came to a rough area with a low fence, behind which stood two trees of interest.  One was a Tibetan cherry Prunus serrula, not as large as the Catalpas, but with a distinctive shiny red bark. 

Trunk of Tibetan cherry

The other is reputed to be perhaps the largest fig tree Ficus carica in Britain.  The one tree has, in fact, become many, its roots producing shoots to form a complete ring of angled boughs, all producing fruit enough to sow a forest. 

Fig grove, St James's Park

Moving west the park is full of old London planes dating back as far as the beginning of the 19thC.  The café by the lake enabled us to have a second drinks break on a very hot day, after passing the white pelicans. 

The lake in St James's Park with white pelicans

We walked on westwards past more crowds of people offering snacks to the grey squirrels and an ecologically-unsound gallimaufry of birds - herons, carrion crows, moorhens, coots, black-headed gulls, red-crested pochards, Canada and red-breasted geese, and of course feral pigeons - sufficient at least to keep us entertained with little of botanical interest on show. 

Red-crested pochard

St James's area used to be called "Thorney Island" from the wealth of hawthorns Crataegus monogyna, but we did not pass any survivors, only a few recently planted saplings.  We only saw one reasonably mature specimen in Green Park, which joins St James's Park at the latter's NW corner, just where the gilded gates of Buckingham Palace shield a large statue of Queen Victoria.  The ornate gates were the product of a group of artists known as the "Bromsgrove Guild" in 1911. 

Buckingham Palace gates

Through more London planes and more parties of visitors we wended northwards to the boundary with Piccadilly, marked by an unusual mono-specific holly Ilex aquifolium  hedge. 

Green Park - more people and pigeons than trees

Green Park - London plane & London bus, with the holly hedge bordering Piccadilly

Tired now by the unexpected sudden heat-wave and dust of central London, we still managed to walk east on Piccadilly past Fortnum and Masons, Burlington House and the Ritz, to the little churchyard of St James's, with a busy market in front of the church, but a more peaceful green area to the side, where a small strip of "meadow" presumably sown, yielded betony Stachys officinalis, sweet cicely Myrrhis odorata. hairy St John's-wort Hypericum hirsutum and nettle-leaved bellflower Campanula trachelium.  The last hosted the rust Coleosporium tussilaginis.  We were now ready for a meal at one of the many fine restaurants in Mayfair and there was time still for a film before catching a train home.  Botany in central London has its limitations, but compensations too!

Nettle-laved bellflower