The Royal Parks' team in Richmond Park produces a monthly diary (May issue below) which is displayed on the Park's public noticeboards. If you are a member of the Friends and would like to receive these monthly diaries by email, please send your name and email address to [email protected]
May in the Park
Middle road The central cycle route from Ham Cross to Pen Ponds has in recent years suffered from flooding and mud and ice on the tarmac. Transport for London has funded improvements to this route which is very busy with commuting cyclists. The bridleway has been shifted away from the road to allow for a shallow ditch to be placed adjacent to the road. Gullies and drains have also been installed and 3 passing bays have been installed to allow service vehicles to pull over to allow cyclists to pass. The work has caused some inevitable disruption but we trust that cyclists and horse riders appreciate the need to improve this route ready for next winter.
New tern raft Common Terns are a slender white and grey bird whose long tails and graceful wings have earned them the nick name ‘Sea Swallows’. They migrate to the UK from April onwards and nest on small islands at coastal areas, where they also fish by plunging into the water from high. Island lakes will also support the occasional pair if conditions are right. Pen Ponds saw occasional Terns visiting in recent years since the fish stocks were improved. A small home-made island was placed in the upper Pen Ponds which created some interest by a pair last year. This year the Friends of Richmond Park have sponsored a large purpose built raft complete with perspex sides to protect the terns from other birds and to prevent chicks from falling off the raft.
Gorse Also known as Furze or Whin, this evergreen thorny shrub can be seen in small enclosures in the north of the Park and at the bottom of Broomfield Hill. Although prickly it is also very nutritious- so Gorse was crushed to provide fodder for livestock on a ‘whin stone’. It is also the food source of the Green Hairstreak butterfly and offers essential cover for nesting songbirds that feed in the surrounding grassland. An infusion of gorse is said to cure horses of worms and it ignites easily and burns at high temperature making it useful for starting bonfires. During May it is drenched with yellow flowers that smell of coconut but the flowers will remain in small numbers for the entire year. This unusual all-year flowering gives rise to the old country sayings ‘When Furze is in bloom, my love is in tune’ or ‘When Gorse is out of bloom, then kissing's out of fashion’ !
The poor man's nightingale Nightingales may be known for their beautiful fluid song, but listen to the Blackcap as it tries to impress a mate and you’ll be pushed to choose which is the better songster. It is one of the ‘Warblers’, a group of birds that can be difficult to identify by sight. But the Blackcap’s distinctive toupee (the female has a brown cap) means that this little bird is the exception the rule. A few pairs nest in the Park and some over winter here too, but most migrate for the winter.
To listen to a recording of the Blackcap, or any other British bird, look at the RSPB’s web site – www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife
The Isabella Plantation in May
The peak flowering season for rhododendrons and azaleas
Rhododendrons On the lawn above Thomson’s Pond are two beds planted with the Japanese species, Rhododendron yakushimanum, amongst a group of its hybrids named after the Seven Dwarfs: Sneezy, Grumpy etc. These plants are compact and very floriferous. (12.) Also, seek out the tall ‘Loderi’ hybrid ‘King George’, with its large soft pink flowers which are sweetly fragrant. It grows in a number places in the Garden but most notably set back above the Still Pond. Follow the Small Stream down from the Still Pond to discover Rhododendron williamsiananum, a compact species with attractive bronze young shoots, distinctive heart shaped leaves and bell-shaped, shell-pink flowers. Look out for Rhododendron ‘Bibiani’ growing in a number of areas in the garden, this shrub produces compact trusses of rich crimson funnel shaped flowers with maroon spots.
Evergreen azaleas Easy to identify are:‘Orange Beauty’, the most orange of all ‘Amoena’, small bright magenta flowers
‘Rosebud’, opening buds resemble tiny roses ‘Palestrina’ , white with a faint ray of green
‘Vuyk’s Scarlet’, large flowers of a deep silky red ‘Hinode Giri’, bright crimson, around the Still Pond
‘Kirin’ a pale pink “hose in hose” (flower within an flower)
Deciduous azaleas These flower slightly later and often have a rich spicy smell, particularly Azalea pontica, (Rhododendron luteum), which is yellow and to be found by the gate to Broomfield Hill. (1)
The bog garden Look out for Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’, growing in the bed by the middle pond it bares orange-red flowers and has a reddish tinge to the emerging young shoots.The clusters of white or pale pink flowers borne on white–haired stems spreading throughout this bed are those of the “Umbrella Plant” Darmera peltata. Also present are the young fronds of the “Shuttlecock Fern”, Matteuccia struthiopteris which show an attractive fresh green.
The native tree the “Whitebeam”, Sorbus aria grows near the Broomfield Hill gate and looks particularly attractive at this time of the year with its silvery-white young leaves. Skimmia japonica can also be found growing near this gate along the path that leads onto Camellia Walk and the Still Pond
The “Foxglove Tree”, Paulownia tomentosa (22) stands in the glade between the Still Pond and Old Nursery Glade. This large leaved tree bares sprays of fragrant foxglove-like pinkish-lilac flowers in Spring.
The “Pocket Handkerchief Tree”, Davidia involucrata, set back from the Camellia Walk, (18) has intriguing white hanging bracts. Another specimen may be found in a secluded lawn to the southeast of Thomson’s Pond.
The “Snowdrop Tree”, Halesia carolina, with dangling white bell flowers, stands by the path above Thomson’s Pond.
Cornus nuttallii, whose white bracts appear like flowers, can be found set back in the newly planted Magnolia Glade near the Ham Gate entrance. Also look out for the pale lemon yellow fragrant flowers of Magnolia wilsonii ‘Yellow Fever’ and the wonderful deep purple flowers of Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’.
Bluebells carpet the wilder fringes of the Garden. PLEASE KEEP TO THE PATHS TO AVOID TRAMPLING THEM.
(Numbers in brackets) relate to the self guided walk in the colourful leaflet, Guide to the Isabella Plantation, priced 50 pence, which is available from Holly Lodge, and from the Park Warden within the Garden.
The Royal Parks' News and Isabella News are copyright The Royal Parks.