Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published May 22nd 2013
A Little Garden Tucked Away in Town
While in Carshalton, I was walking down the rather cheerfully named Festival Walk, admiring the apple blossom trees, I came across the Sutton Ecology Centre. Part of the burough's biodiversity project, it is a local nature reserve where members of the community can take a stroll, grow their own food, and attend educational programmes.
At first, I was not sure if it was open because there did not appear to be anyone there, but the sign on the gate said it was free to visitors between 9am-5pm Monday to Fridays, so I picked up a leaflet and went inside. The first thing you see when you go in is the Old Rectory, which is a late sixteenth century building, built during the time of Queen Anne. It is currently used as offices by the staff and volunteers.
Looking at the leaflet, it showed that the ecology centre was made up of miniature habitats, and gives you a trail to follow so that you do not miss out on anything. First on the map is a wildlife garden behind the rectory; it has an attractive entrance, but the only signs of wildlife I saw was a pigeon, which I managed with spook off as I approached the artificial pond inside (an algae infested tub of water).
I then followed the trail to the butterfly garden, where it described what types of plants they use to attract butterflies. For example, they grow lots of nettles for the tortoiseshell butterflies, which lay their eggs on the leaves; the caterpillars then eat the leaves once they hatch. There were plenty of nettles, but sadly no butterflies. This is hardly surprising considering the weather we've had; it probably won't be until summer until they start to appear.
The Ecology Centre used to be part of the Stone Court Estate, which is now called Grove Park; it's earliest known use is as an orchard in 1590, which probably explains the blossom tree I saw. The grounds continued to be used as a tree nursery in the nineteenth century and was known as the Lodgelands because of the lodge that was built in 1866. In 1987, the future of the Lodgelands was debated, and the council finally decided to turn it into a public area.
At this point, I found myself wandering off the trail and ended up in the community allotments. The land was also used for the same purpose during the Second World War when rationing came into place. They also had a lavender plot to commemorate the area's long heritage. Lavender used to be cultivated in Mitcham in the 1700s, and expanded into Carshalton in the nineteenth century. It was used for oil, cosmetics, perfumes, and flavouring.
Kids on a school trip.
When I reached the marsh, a volunteer was talking to a group of school children by the pond. The Ecology Centre offers year round visits for schools, and community groups, as well as running family events and workshops. These kids were handed out small fishing nets, which I'm guessing they were going to use to catch and study the wildlife in the pond. One of the nature trail boards, it explained the food web of the pond. Plants such as white waterlilies, marestail, and rigid wart are eaten by ramshorn snails, fleas, and water beetles, which are in turn, eaten by shrimp.
In the Sensory Garden, you are encouraged to look, touch, smell, and listen to plants to learn more about their properties. A bit further on was the Wildlife Exhibit Gardens. I was going to have a look, but the gate was stuck, and when I pulled, the fence wobbled quite badly. Not wanting to bring it all falling down, I decided to give this habitat a miss.
Mini Beast Area
Instead, I took a lovely stroll through the buttercup-filled meadows, which then led into the woodlands. The woodlands are the remnants of the tree nursery; what were once small plantings in the 1950s have now grown into magnificent Corisican pines. As I walked through the trees, I noticed lots of carpets laid down on the soil. Wondering what these were for, my question was then answered by a sign saying that the damp environment it creates, encourages the insects.
Finding such a nice ecosystem in the centre of town was a nice escape; you forget that on just the other side of the wall, cars are driving past on a busy road.