- Miles Hedley
WILDFLOWER WALKS at Creekside Discovery Centre
May sees an explosion of colour as spring is properly sprung – and that’s as true in the concrete canyons of our streets as in our parks and gardens.
Think that’s a nondescript weed in a patch of waste ground beside the pavement? Look more closely and you’re likely to find a tiny spot of blue, white, yellow or pink gorgeousness to match any colour you might see at the Chelsea flower show.
It helps, of course, if you’re shown where to look by a pro - and fortunately Creekside Discovery Centre is running a series of free Thursday walks through Deptford all this month led by street botany expert Nick Bertrand.
I joined Nick, his colleague Brenna Boyle and a dozen like-minded locals on the inaugural tour and in the course of a two-hour evening stroll from Creekside to the Thames via the Millennium Quay development we learnt that the wild is still very much alive even in such a heavily urbanised area of concrete, brick and tarmac.
Wildness is not something humans care for, according to Nick. In fact, we try so hard to impose our own order on the world that we routinely dig up wildflowers to replace them with other wildflowers because they are more showy than local species which are often tiny, hard to see and apparently unprepossessing.
This is where organisations like the Creekside Centre are so important. With the help of small magnifying glasses, Nick showed us the wonders of wayside plants such as pellitory of the wall, rue-leaved saxifrage, wall speedwell, petty spurge and spotted medick whose minute flowers covered the spectrum from red to blue.
Nick reckons a patch of grass only a few metres square can support more than three dozen species, including carpets of tiny pink-flowered field madder, speedwells of sapphire blue and whitlowgrass with its star-like white petals.
Elsewhere on the walk, he pointed out small yellow biting stonecrop growing among pebbles set in concrete, lovely emerald green mats of swinecress and parsley piert colonising pavement verges, delicate mauve ivy-leaved toadflax (above) and – on a much larger scale – the shining yellow flowers of smooth sow-thistle, beaked hawksbeard and that most scorned yet beautiful of street weeds, the dandelion.
On our way back to Creekside, Nick suddenly stopped and pointed to a frail, almost invisible green stem in the shadow of a large concrete tub which he described as one of the world’s most important plants. For a moment I thought he was joking. But then Nick told us it was thale cress, whose reproductive cycle is so rapid it was the first plant to have its genome decoded. That puts it at the forefront of genetic research, arguably the fastest-growing area of science today.
It’s facts like this that helped make the outing so fascinating, educative and important. I urge you to try it too. Go to https://www.creeksidecentre.org.uk/events/spring-news-east/
Pictures © Brenna Boyle/Creekside Education Trust