Our 5-acre site is within the Muswell Hill Conservation Area, with extensive ancient woodlands as our near neighbours, and we are custodians of the land, plants and trees here. We now know that people need green spaces for general well-being and our gardens will play an important part in thousands of people’s lives for generations. As the overburden of carbon in the atmosphere and air pollution changes our climate, this affects people, plants, trees, gardens and wildlife; so gardeners themselves are important agents of change that affect the wider environment and society.
Before redevelopment the grounds of St Lukes had been derelict for some years and were quite overgrown. A long loggia was a noted feature of the site, and the covered entrance walkway echoes this today. There were a large number of trees, ranging from impressive mature specimens to shrubs of no particular merit. The arboriculturist who surveyed the trees before the site was developed recorded 165 trees, ten of which were particularly splendid specimens. Few were retained as the site was built.
After redevelopment 45 mature trees remained once the building work was completed (survey by PJC April 2019). However, a number have died and are dying as a consequence of the construction phase, poor initial maintenance and disease.
Landscape plans: Farrer Huxley Associates’ landscape plans for the site were complimented by Haringey’s Planning Department for improving biodiversity. Their proposals included over 170 new trees, to replace those lost, to re-create the woodland nature of the site, as well as providing shade, screening and year-round interest. Four years after the first trees were planted, they are still small but as they mature they will improve our environment considerably.
In front of the houses along Olmstead Close and Marwood Square the multi-stemmed birches have established well, and on the corner of the Grand Avenue path the three Acer Freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ trees live up to their name.
In Spring, the cherry trees around the site are a joy: these are between Chatto and Jarman.
And for more autumn colour, the liquidambar trees in front of the Common House are spectacular.
In front of Norton Lees there is an avenue of limes, with their heady perfume in June; elsewhere there are hornbeams in front of the blocks.
In Autumn 2020, 25 replacement trees were planted. They include two catalpas, a pine and a blue cedar, together with three mountain ash. They are part of an ongoing programme of works by volunteers to increase resilience in a changing climate and to enhance biodiversity on the site. We need to ensure they are all kept well-watered for the first three years.
The herbaceous borders
The most impressive of these is in front of Avebury Mansions. In the central square, the borders of perovskia (Russian sage) and pink and white gaura are prolific in summer, while tall heads of golden oats glow behind them.
The rose gardens are a special delight, from June to October.
The swales – a fancy name for a ditch – are intended to hold excess rainwater, allowing it to drain away slowly; the swale in the central square is planted with yellow iris and other wildflowers; the other swales have different wildflowers. Residents are caring for these by sowing an increased variety of wildflowers to encourage more pollinators.
Farrer Huxley intended the planting along the roads to echo the modern architecture with blocks of plants at different heights: the low box-leafed honeysuckle (lonicera pileata) at the front, with variegated holly behind it, and, at the back, a yew hedge. The evergreen planting is attractive all year round.
Farrer Huxley’s specification for bulbs to naturalise and set seed beneath the mature trees are to be planted in autumn 2021, for Spring 2022.
The raised beds
Tucked away behind Levens Mansions are ten raised beds of various sizes and heights. Residents can apply to use a raised bed; the concierge keeps a waiting list and allocations are made in early Spring each year. More information about the raised beds can be found here.
These extensive grounds need considerable time and care if they are to be well-kept and in 2020 a garden maintenance contractor was employed who provides experienced workers to keep the grounds looking good.
Biodiversity and sustainability
The grounds include wildflower areas to sustain pollinators and we are keen to maintain and extend these areas, above the raised beds, along the swales, and around the boundaries. Increasing wildflower areas can reduce the lawn-mowing. Flowering trees also provide food for pollinators and some of them provide berries for birds in autumn.
The residents’ role
While the garden contractors do the bulk of the heavy jobs, residents are involved in other ways: some cultivate the plots alongside their patios, balconies overflow with pots and planters, and some residents have been involved in weeding swales and wildflower areas. We make compost on site and volunteers have specified replacement trees and watered them throughout the summer months. The garden committee keeps an oversight of the state of the grounds and reports concerns to management. If you would like to help, please do get in touch.
Maintaining the swales
Swales are a floral rich ditch full of native marginal and meadow plants that can tolerate a variety of conditions. This means they are a key part of the original requirements to increase biodiversity here at Woodside.
Swales are a way of holding back rainwater from the down pipes (all the ones on the historic buildings feed into them) and hard surfaces. There’s now evidence they have the added benefit of mitigating the urban heat island effect, as the semi-permanent damp zones cool surrounding areas similar to outdoor air conditioning.
They are all different, due to issues with installation, variations in soil and aspect. Volunteers enhance their biodiversity and range of species by weeding out the thugs and supplementing with seeds and plants to extend the range of interest for residents and pollinators alike.
We have two long swales – one in the central square, and one along the front of Roseneath – and three shorter ones, at either end of Avebury and at the end of Roseneath. In order for them to work well, they should slope gradually towards the grating. They have been sown with yellow iris and purple loosestrife at the bottom, and a variety of wildflowers along the sides. The iris were splendid in May 2020, but we found only one purple loosestrife in June. Some plants seem to thrive there and anyone is welcome to count the different kinds of wildflowers; we have a list of 14 varieties which should have been sown, but we’ve never found cowslips or yellow rattle.
In Spring 2021, I have been clearing out some of the weeds (mainly grass and plantain) in the swale in the central square to give more room for other wildflowers to spread. If any resident is a member of the Plantain Preservation Society, it’s trowels at dawn! Plantain is very vigorous, and there’s plenty of it in the grass at the sides of the swale. I am also trying to clear out the soil which has got washed down and to stabilise it better. Eventually, the roots of the wildflowers should hold the soil in the sides of the swale, but it takes time for them to get established.
As some residents are willing to sow wildflowers, scrape out soil and weed out dock and plantain, as volunteers we continue to care for our swales, leaving the main work for our gardeners.
Looking ahead: when the Sales Suite is removed, the front area along Woodside Avenue will be replanted; the plans approved by Haringey in 2014 stipulated wildflowers along the whole boundary frontage and a lawn where the car park has been.
Chair, WSRA Garden Committee