Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer in the City: Where the Wild Things Are....

Botanically, there are two sides to a city. There's the carefully manicured, redeveloped part that has been purged of any plants that are out of place - and that doesn't get much more sterile than the one above, which is Northumbria University's campus. The only living greenery in this canyon of glass, stainless steel and concrete is the row of lollipop hornbeam trees on the right, with their foliage clipped into a neat cube. The green circles are astroturf (although I did notice that a plucky real fern was just beginning to grow around the edge of one - it won't last long).

For the other botanical face of a city, you need to venture just a few streets away from the centre, where the wild things are.

There you'll find the Buddleia davidii in full flower in late July, adding beauty to old walls.

The flower heads are magnificent this year, perhaps because the shortage of water that usually kicks in in late spring in cities just didn't materialise. All that rain kept the wild flowers growing and flowering ....

 ......but there are no butterflies to enjoy the Buddleia flowers yet.

This is lady's bedstraw, blooming alongside ripening brambles in one  of the less manicured parts of Newcastle. Who knows how this plant, that's usually associated with dry haymeadows, came to be here. Brought in with fodder with horses maybe, before the age of the automobile, and hanging on ever since? Maybe a relict of the distant days when all this was open fields? We'll never know, but it's a welcome reminder of the countryside in the heart of a city.

Pure white trumpets of bindweed clambering through an old, broken down fence. Its brittle underground rhizomes are moved from place to place when soil and rubble is shifted.

Drifts of hawkweed, rose bay willowherb and wild parsnip in an old flower bed that's no longer maintained - maybe one of the less unpleasant consequences of public spending cuts?

Scentless mayweed, a cornfield weed, growing alongside a security fence around a construction site.

Drifts of melilot, growing on a rubble-strewn ex-industrial site. The plant has a powerful aroma of new-mown hay and you can smell it from some distance on a warm day.

A double-flowered opium poppy, a refugee from a long-vanished garden, growing on rubble.

By next year this bank of rubble will be bulldozed away, when this site is redeveloped, but for now it's home to corn poppies, oriental poppies and dyer's rocket .... and a host of other wild plants.

A lot of wild oats are sown in the centre of Newcastle on Friday nights, these were thriving in a neglected flower bed.

Rose bay willow herb on the edge of the Shieldfield industrial estate, five minutes walk from the university campus in the picture at the top of this post.

Ragwort amongst the broken bricks.

Tansy, which has a powerful aroma when it's crushed......

....... with tall stems threaded through a wire fence.

Yellow toadflax growing between a link fence and the pavement.

Wild parsnip puts down roots wherever derelict land provides a temporary opportunity ....

.... to display its tall flower stems .....

... that brighten up even the most brutal urban architecture.


  1. Thank you
    I do enjoy your idea of relic plants seeded in by gone days.
    I had notconsidered this posibility befor.


  2. Hi Alison, I've noticed one or two unusual non-native grasses near Stepney Bank stables that may have come in with imported hay for horses...

  3. Great pictures - I used in that part of Newcastle, it's an interesting area.

  4. I'm fascinated by the plants that come up on some of the derelict sites snippa, and by the wildlife along the Ouseburn ... and the Cluny is an added attraction....

  5. Lovely account of flora in urban places Phil. I'm sure there are similar examples in all towns and cities. I regularly find my attention drawn to the rooftops of Leeds city centre buildings to marvel at buddleia peeping out from cracks in the brick and stonework. Linda

  6. Hi Linda, I find the urban flora a constant source of fascination - It's amazing what appears in unexpected places, isn't it? Best wishes,