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Tales from the Kings Chelsea Garden

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In this edition we have received a two part contribution from Bill Hawkes of Benham House talking about our wonderful wildlife within Kings Chelsea. Part 1 is below. Part 2 to follow in the next edition.

Ahhhhhh…. we all breathe a sigh of relief as the unholy din of the Fulham and Kings roads subsides when we turn into the oasis of peace and quiet that is…. Kings Chelsea. Some 8 to 10 hours earlier, we all started the day by heading out to work, and many of us looked forward to the day ahead, walking briskly to catch our buses and taxis. Some of us front up to the traffic that is the hustle and bustle of London. We walk through and around the gardens at both times of day, and yet we look but we don’t see! We all have myriad neighbours that we generally know nothing about…. And I don’t mean in the 270 other flats… I mean in the garden. This time of year heralds some amazing changes in the garden. Sure, we begin to see the daffodils appearing, raising their trumpets to the warmth of the spring sun, and that genuinely lifts the spirits of all of us. The lavender is beginning to regenerate after its “hair-cut” late last year and the other flowers are beginning to show the palette of nature once again. But there are other stirrings afoot as well… only this last week we had a new arrival form Africa, and this one is a real celebrity… the Grey Wagtail, pictured below, is globally endangered and on the preservation list of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). I have in fact, seen two of them, a male and female, and they appear to be very much in love! Clearly, this is a very special event for Kings Chelsea as these birds are a rare sight across the rest of the country and in fact the world. Seeing these wonderful and somewhat comedic birds here in Kings Chelsea is something that I hope will thrill all of you!

The Grey Wagtail – a wonderful and rare sight, yet right here in Kings Chelsea


Another new arrival, not so uncommon as the Grey Wagtail, is the Moorhen. These true water fowl are regular visitors to our pond. They take refuge and nest in the reeds on the other side of the pond to the railings. Their almost tame personalities bring them up on to the lawn quite often as they forage for food. At this time of year, they are constantly foraging for food, as they have a rather large appetite… an appetite split in to, I think, seven. Just this week I spotted that our moorhen family, resident here in the pond of Kings Chelsea, has expanded again, and five chicks have been following their parents on the water. As yet, they are neither brave enough nor developed enough to venture on to the lawn themselves but watch the family of chicks and adult moorhens as the summer progresses, they will soon be joining us on the lawn as we sunbathe through the summer. Moorhens are easy to spot, with their black livery, scarlet red beaks and white bums, so they are a species easy to watch. 



Another defining feature of the adult Moorhen is the comically large feet that they have. These huge feet are a yellowy-green colour and help the adults to swim, despite their feet not being webbed.  Last year, the Moorhen family that took residence here at Kings Chelsea managed to rear three chicks to adulthood and by mid-summer they were up on the lawn mimicking their parents in the search for food, earth worms’ beetles and the like.Keep an eye out for these neighbours of ours and when you see them, keep quiet and still and they will come really quite close! On a smaller scale, the newly growing lavender is beginning, once again, to play host to bumble bees, common bees and various beetles. Just today, on the 28th of May, I spotted the first of the bees to arrive and begin to search for nectar. Sadly, the bee population of Britain is not only on the endangered list, but high up on the critical list. They really are seriously endangered, and sadly it’s all species that are under threat!

The various bees feed on the nectar produced by the plants and in the process pick up pollen to fertilise other plants


Now while the lavender is a wonderful smelling plant and there is always a temptation to run your hands through it to attract the smell to your hand… I would have to urge you not to do so, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, these creatures, as treasured as they are to our nation, do sting if they feel threatened… and that’s not an experience anyone needs! Secondly, if bees are scared off an area they often leave and don’t ever return, and we don’t want to lose these wonderful and scarce insects! One of the most important functions that bees perform is to cross-pollenate plants in the garden. Naturally the nectar of the plants is the food product that they are after, but in the process, they pick up pollen, which is the male fertilisation component. They carry this pollen, and a lot of it, to other plants and in the process of hunting for more nectar to feed on, they pollenate that plant… this the reproductive cycle of the plant is carried on. Naturally, other species do this as well, but rarely are they as efficient as they bees at picking up pollen and carrying it to other plants. As a result of this it’s easy to see the importance of the bees to our ecology and gardens. The “Asian Multicoloured Ladybird Beetle” pictured below left. While the adults might come in a variety of colours, the larvae all look the same: dark grey with distinct orange markings. They are a large species and are the only one of that size to have branched fleshy spines sticking out all over their body, so they are easy to spot. 

Insect larvae and beetles play an important part in the ecology of our gardens too


Of course, it’s not all about the birds and insects, the plant life in Kings Chelsea is what provides the habitats and homes for all of the birds and insects that we have,  in the next article, I will try to cover some of the horticultural highlights that Andrew Perley and his gang at Greenmantle so wonderfully tend to and put in for us. We are truly fortunate to have such a wonderful array of plants trees and shrubs…. As are is the wildlife it provides a home to!In the meantime, here is a wonderful pure white flower for you to enjoy…. And who can tell us what it actually is? Answers in the next article! It really does take very little effort to experience what the garden has to offer, and I would encourage anyone to try to see what’s there, to look and see what nature has to offer, because it genuinely is amazing! Until next time, have fun “looking and seeing” our wonderful gardens and have a think about what we can do to promote the wildlife we have here and to create a true oasis of natural beauty here in central London!

Signed off with a poem

William Henry Davies:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.No time to stand beneath the boughsAnd stare as long as sheep or cows.No time to see, when woods we pass,Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.No time to see, in broad daylight,Streams full of stars, like skies at night.No time to turn at Beauty's glance,And watch her feet, how they can dance.No time to wait till her mouth canEnrich that smile her eyes began.A poor life this if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare. 
Bill Hawkes
27 Benham House.(William.k.hawkes@gmail.com)