Thinking about urban botany…
Stretford in Manchester, where I live, has just the right degree of scruffiness. You can go about your business safely but it’s not so well to do that the walls and gutters have been stripped of the thin layer of soil that accumulates after autumn, and the little green things that grow there.
Back in 2013 when I was gathering data for my dissertation I had cause to cycle through Hale Barns, one of Greater Manchester’s posher corners, on my way to my survey site. As I did I would sometimes stop peddling and glide past the mansions, having a gawp, a little disappointed in myself at the twang of envy I felt. Not that I didn’t like my red brick terrace rental in Rusholme, but look at the size of those gardens, those trees, you could fit my whole place in some of the garages. But then I’d notice the walls, pavements and roads. Not a single thing lived outside the gates of those houses. It was as though someone had fastidiously swept up every last crumb of detritus, and plucked out every green shoot like an embarrassing floral mono-brow spoiling the neat and tidy face of Hale Barns.
I’ve lived in Stretford for a year now and am pleased to report there is no shortage of crud here! I love it. I like seeing what different plants exploit what nooks and what crannies throughout the year. You get to know what’s in what garden or tree pit when you’re walking home. There’s a place on Taylor Street which I noticed early in the year had a blanket of either wild or barren strawberry growing in it. I’d glance in every time I walked past until one day, ‘there they are!’ A blanket of little strawberries. And the rosebay willowherb, and horsetail stems poking up here and there were like a calendar, growing taller each day like slow fireworks building up to the coming explosion of summer.
I’ve been working on my plant ID skills for a few years now and in that time I’ve wondered what my ‘interest’ would be? I like it when I meet people and they tell me they have an interest in lowland heaths or calcareous grassland or whatever. When people ask me what I like I’m never sure which habitat to say. I sometimes say woodland, but secretly think that while I like woodlands they aren’t ‘the one’. Truth is that people’s interests tend to relate to jobs they’ve had or places they live or have lived. It’s about exposure. I live in Manchester. Big, urban Manchester. If I’m honest I suppose my interest, the one I think about most often, is in the walls, gutters and random green places in urban areas. There I said it. Ah! It feels good to have that off my chest!
So an idea has been brewing in the back of my mind for a little while. Since graduating last year there’s been an absence of project in my life. I thought it’d be fun to have a mini project which encouraged me do botany with a key regularly throughout the spring and summer, submit biological records to my local records center, and indulged my interest in urban botany.
The area of Stretford I live in is called Gorse Hill. As it happens Gorse Hill has a bit of a buzz about it. There’s a project called Gorgeous Gorse Hill whose mission is to make the area gorgeous for its residents through public art and gardening among other things. It’s a great idea. Stretford is not in its self a thing of natural beauty. Stacey and I have a running joke of singing the Dallas theme tune as we drive along Chester Road past Harry Ramsden’s, Tesco Extra, White City Retail Park etc. But what the area has in spades is a good sense of community (as anyone on the Stretford M32 Facebook group knows). People like it here and they’re interested in helping each other out and making it a nice place to live. So the murals, fruit trees in big pots, and mosaic tiles on concrete bollards give it a quirky, friendly feel.
I thought I could satisfy my own project needs and add a little to suburb’s quirkiness by having a go at producing a complete flora of the walls, gutters and random green places of Gorse Hill.
Gorse Hill (more or less)
It’s less than a couple of square kilometers. Mostly residential streets but with a sprinkling of other curiosities from parks to allotments to industrial estates, and my personal favorite, the Bridgewater Canal no less! Enough to make it ambitious but not so much that it’s implausible. I imagine it’ll be fun, and that it’ll be useful in ways that are yet to occur to me. And without a deadline there’s no pressure on time, it can take as long as it takes.
As of right now that’s all I’ve got. Next step is to think about logistics. What will I need? How should I go about it? Is this kind of thing already happening anywhere else? These aren’t rhetorical questions by the way I’d genuinely like your opinion! All comments and suggestions welcome. Planning blog to follow…
Thanks for reading.