In the middle of the coronavirus lockdown I find myself stranded in London, in a very beautiful part of South-West London. Following government advice my Englishman and I only leave the house once a day, for a walk.
With the weather gloriously sunny, our outings have become the daily highlight – particularly because of the trees. Along the streets and in the front gardens they keep unfurling flowers and leaves. What a contrast between our forced inactivity and the awakening life outside!
About four weeks ago I developed an enthusiasm for amelanchier. Their beauty is subtle. From a distance, their tiny white petals and the reddish-brown of their branches melt into elegant copper that glistens with restraint in the sun. I had overlooked amelanchier until now. What a mistake.
Double cherry blossoms are hard to miss. To me, their numerous petals have always had something over the top about them, something unnecessary. But the recent walks have softened my judgment. The carefree abundance of too many petals in the spring sun is extremely attractive, even after they have fallen onto the pavement.
It is only in the last ten years that I have learned to appreciate flowers. Before that my plant love was mostly focused on leaves. I think the leaf-obsession arose from indoor plants that I had to content myself with until I had a garden. Said obsession eventually took me as far as the Amazon. Now I understand the appeal of flowers. However, sometimes, especially in spring, fresh green leaves still beat them.
When it comes to attention seeking, red leaves are somewhere between flowers and ordinary leaves. When the sun is in the right position, they can even outperform flowers, like the spherical Japanese acer (Acer palmatum) we saw shining in a driveway.
On our walks we sometimes come along a street with large, red-leafed trees. I had always assumed they were copper beeches (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea). Then I suddenly noticed a different leaf shapes in one of my photographs, but couldn’t quite identify it. On our next walk we looked more closely and, no, they are not all copper beeches, there is also a Norway maple (Acer platanoides). Yet from a distance the trees look identical.
I wish I had a botanical education. Maybe it will happen one day; until then I continue to learn slowly, often from my Englishman. Yet frequently on our walks both our knowledge fails and we can’t identify a particular plant. So we speculate: ‘If flowers and petals come out at the same time, it is a plum and not a cherry, but are there stuffed plum flowers? But the bark has the horizontal pattern, so it must be a cherry. And the deep red flowers there, do you know which tree that is? Maybe an apple tree? But aren’t apple blossoms always white? I think it’s a quince.’ And sometimes one of our hunches is correct.
With all my deficits in botanical knowledge there are lots of plants I have learned to identify with confidence. When I see a wisteria or a red hawthorn it seems strange to me, that one would not know their name, like not knowing that a chair is a chair.
I used to think going for walks around the same few streets each day was boring. But I was wrong. I have rarely experienced spring as intensely as this year!