Saturday, 9 December 2017

Celebrating Trees on 2nd December

A year ago, in December 2016, Friends of Mayow Park held our first Tree Dressing Day in the community orchard, an opportunity to celebrate how the orchard has developed with the help of so many volunteers. We had such fun then and the committee wanted to hold the event again this year. We were anxious about the weather but after a light drizzle the rain held off for the rest of the morning.
A team of volunteers gathered at the orchard to put up our gazebo, unfurl our banner, check we had enough fabrics, paper, pens, pencils and crayons, wool, ribbons and string plus apple juice, tea, coffee and hot water. Our story teller, Rich Sylvester, arrived and set up his area under the protective branches of a lime tree.
Rich prepares for story telling

By 10am we were ready to welcome visitors.
Visitors welcomed to our gazebo

But why hold this event? Tree Dressing is based on many old customs from all over the world, celebrated at different times of the year.
Tree Dressing Day in England falls on the first weekend of December every year. It was initiated by the charity Common Ground in 1990 and has grown to become a chance for the whole community to gather and celebrate the leafy friends we all have in common. It is also a chance for communities to reflect on the social and cultural history of their local area, and the role that trees have played in shaping that story. 
Trees have provided our sustenance, food, shelter, medicine and the air we breathe. They are part of our history and also our future. Trees have long been celebrated for their spiritual significance. It can be as simple as tying strips of cloth or yarn to a tree. The practice in Japan is to decorate trees with strips of white paper, or tanzaku, bearing wishes or poetry. 
Borrowing from these many traditions, our Tree Dressing included paper leaves for people to write messages or draw pictures to give to the trees, tie coloured strips of fabric (with or without messages) or make objects to hang in the trees.

Dream catcher

Our story teller captured the imagination of young and old with his stories and showed how to make dream catchers to add to the decorative creativity that was transforming our orchard.

creative decorations

More creative decorations

We finished off the morning with rousing winter songs led by our two wonderful singers Lucy and Valerie, and some mulled wine with thanks to Valerie and Robert.
There are so many thank yous: thank you to all those who visited our event, the lovely children and families who joined in the story telling. Thank you to our story teller Rich. Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed so much of their time. 
Celebrating Tree Dressing in our community orchard was a wonderful way to show our appreciation  of trees in our locality and to share tree stories with everyone who joined us.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Come to Our Tree Dressing Day on 2nd December 2017

We are planning to have another Tree Dressing  Day, similar to the one we held in December 2016.
Here are the details.

For more information on Tree Dressing Day and the work of Common Ground who initiated this in 1990 to become a national event see

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Great Fun on Apple Day (in Mayow Park)

After all the planning and preparing, Apple Day arrived today. It may be mid-October but we had a warm, mild day with temperature in the low 20s, ideal for an outdoor event.
Volunteers arrived in plenty of time to put up the gazebo, set the tables and prepare the apple varieties for tasting. Our story teller, Rich Sylvester, arrived and chose a wonderful lime tree within our orchard area where he set up his story telling den.
The tennis courts beside our orchard were busy too, with parents bringing children for tennis coaching. This was great for us as  parents found out about our event and all could join in either before or after their tennis session.
The orchard sign had been installed on 11th October, in time for the great unveiling today. It has illustrations provided by some pupils from St Michael's Primary School, a local school.  One of the local Perry Vale Ward councillors, Cllr Alan Till,   offered to unveil the sign and he invited a couple of children to help him. One of these two  children saw his illustration in the sign and looked really happy; he had been one of eight children who contributed orchard-related pictures.

Our story teller gathered adults and children and recalled some apple names. He gave out pairs of wooden rhythm sticks so that people could chant and clap out the rhythms - Lane's Prince Albert . . . Cox's Orange Pippin . . . Winter Banana . . . with these wonderful rhythmic beats and chants everyone followed Rich to the story den. Try it yourself - it sounds rather soothing.
story telling
 Meanwhile, back at the gazebo, many people came to learn and wonder at unusual apple names that they had never heard of. They had the chance to do a taste test and decide which variety they preferred.
The apples we brought were cut into small pieces so that as many people as possible could taste them. Some varieties had been purchased from Brogdale, on the edge of  Faversham in Kent. As it happens, Brogdale is  holding a national Apple Festival this weekend! get along there if you can.
If you don't know of Brogdale they grow over 2000 varieties of apple as well as other fruit. Their fruit is not grown commercially but groups like friends of Mayow Park and other organisations can order small numbers of heritage fruit for events such as our Apple Day. We ordered four varieties from Brogdale and more varieties were harvested from local gardens or bought from our local greengrocer.It was a joy to see so many children who LOVE eating apples and who wanted to taste as many apples as they could. Could it happen that they may grow up wanting to grow their own fruit? will they be our future Mayow Park orchard carers? It seemed that Zonga, a fairly new variety grown in Kent and bought from our local greengrocer, was the most popular.

For those who wanted to learn more names of apples there was an Apple Variety Treasure Hunt. In and around the orchard appeared large cut-out cardboard apples with unusual names written on them. The task was to find all 15 cardboard apples and note their names on a sheet. To encourage a slower pace participants were asked to also add any item found in nature next to the apple variety named on the cardboard. Everyone who returned their sheet was a winner!

Well done to all the volunteers who put in time and effort. Verbal feedback from visitors was very positive. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Countdown to Apple Day

In the countdown to our Apple Day in Mayow Park, the past two days have seemed a bit chaotic. Yesterday was all about waiting at home to receive the new orchard sign so that it could be installed before Saturday. When it arrived it had to be unpacked, creating a sea of bubble wrap plastic scattered over the corridor floor.
Today, the wait was for heritage apples we had ordered from Brogdale - four different varieties to use for tasting at Apple Day. Luckily they arrived before 9.30am. The apples from Brogdale were specially ordered: you won't be able to find these in your local supermarket.  We will also buy more common varieties for tasting on the day.
Today was already booked as the day that our five bat boxes were being installed.  The bat boxes and the new sign were installed thanks to Steve and Lee from Glendale.

installing the new orchard sign

Job  completed
The Friends of Mayow Park (FOMP) have held evening meetings to finalise arrangements for the day. We plan to set up two gazebos and to have  story telling in the woodland area nearby.We have also planned

  • Unveiling the new orchard sign
  • Pointers on how to identify apples.
  • Apple tasting from a range of varieties.
  • Hunt for apple names - search for labelled apple templates hidden in and around the orchard.
  • Story telling with a professional story teller

Some more ideas we had for games and activities include apple bobbing and longest apple peel, drawing and poetry writing. Come along and join in.

The event is free and suitable for everyone. It is organised by Friends of Mayow Park. We are always keen to welcome new volunteers to help with events.
The new orchard sign showing all our fruit varieties 
We will not have any of our own apples at our event. Some fell off the trees as part of the natural  'fruit drop' process of thinning out, some because squirrels or birds fancied them  and some were removed by volunteers if they showed signs of brown rot or were too crowded together. All this thinning helps to encourage larger fruits. But that still left  plenty of apples, pears and three quinces, none of which were ripe or ready for picking. Unfortunately all these remaining fruits were removed by people unknown. This is a blow for those volunteers who cared for the trees throughout the spring and summer hoping to share them at our community event. As we had already planned the Apple Day it was decided we would buy in apples - after all they are the stars of the show.
See you there!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Apple Day 14th October 2017 with FOMP

It has been months since our last post. If anyone would like to write a blog for us on green spaces in general or Mayow Park in particular, do send an email. We would love regular contributors and some of your photos to make this blog more active.

Our latest news is that we are planning Apple Day in  Mayow Park community orchard on 14th October,  a free event in celebration of orchards. 
We are very excited that we will be launching our new orchard sign. It was designed with illustrations from St Michael's Primary School eco-committee at the end of the summer term. The poster below gives a taste of what we are planning. If you'd like to help or want to know more you can send an email to 
Hope to see you there.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Diary date: Lark in the Park on 15th July 2017

Lark in the Park event in Mayow Park, organised by Perry Vale Ward Assembly. 15th July  from 12 noon until 4pm. Free entry. Community stalls, food, ice cream, children's activities, Grow Mayow, tennis tasters and much more. Come along support  groups and organisations in our locality.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Summer pruning orchard workday June2017

We had a very productive Orchard Summer Pruning and tree care session on 24th June with a total of 12 adults and 5 children. Good weather obviously plays an important part in determining how many people are able to take part, so that was a good start. We put up our gazebo to signpost our presence and placed our sign board nearby so that passers-by would recognise who we were and what we were doing.

As usual on these occasions we went through the risk assessment, safe handling of tools and list of tasks for today.
First up was to check trees for pests and diseases. We found some ant and aphid activity on two trees, most noticeable on the Cox's Orange Pippin; some leaves on some trees had evidence of leaf miner but nothing to worry about. Some leaves on the pear trees are starting to show signs of rust but this should not cause serious damage. Many of the apple trees are bearing heavy loads of fruit so we thinned out clusters to prevent disease and encourage the fruits to grow bigger.

Before pruning started in earnest we ran through the reminder of what to look for with the branches:
CROSSING OR CONGESTED (i.e. overcrowded)

The plum and cherry trees can only be pruned in summer as winter pruning risks developing Silver Leaf, a fungal disease that could destroy a tree. It is probably better to summer prune in July and August but today was our workday for this task.
Before we could prune, some of the tree guards needed to be reduced in height. They have helped to protect the trees pretty well, despite two guards having been damaged during the past few months.

Jonathan inspects the Quince before cutting the height of the tree guard

Sandra with Lane's Prince Albert apple
Robert & Jon reduce the height of the guard round the cherry

Jon among the plums
While the pruning was going on, Sue with her able assistant Christopher (aged 4) were cutting down the comfrey plants, putting them into the wheelbarrow, then chopping them up into small pieces to put round the trees as mulch.
Christopher chops up comfrey leaves to use as mulch

Two other able-bodied young helpers were Thomas and Daniel, watched over by Carol while Jonathan cut down the guards around the quince.
Daniel and Thomas supervise the work
We also had two babies (under 12 months old) supervising us and other adults not in these photos.
Half-way through our work Lewisham's Mayor, Steve Bullock, came to officially open the newly refurbished tennis courts. They have been open for a few weeks already  and have been welcomed by most  of our enthusiastic tennis players.

Newly refurbished tennis courts - May 2017

 We were invited to join in to see the cutting of the ribbon  and share in the delicious strawberries and cream cake.These photos of the Mayor and the cake were taken by Carol Robinson.

And here are photos from the official photographer, including
- a group photo of the Mayor, tennis players, young children and the orchard volunteers
- the tennis courts
- the amazing cake

Three hours of orchard work by the team of volunteers passed by very quickly and the opportunity for a group photo was lost as people went home. In addition to pruning, guard height reduction and comfrey mulching, we also managed to weed round the trees and cut the grass round them.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Mayow Park has an impressive number of pollarded boundary oaks, planted between 250 and 300 years ago to mark field boundaries, before the existence of the public park we know today.
Boundary oaks indicate a once common farming practice to mark land and field boundaries in the same way as walls and fences.

Pollarding is a pruning method used for centuries to manage trees. The upper branches are removed when the tree is still young and in the case of these ancient boundary oaks they develop new upward-growing branches which over the centuries become as thick as mature trees and look like respectable tree trunks in their own right.
 Daniel Greenwood (from Sydenham Hill Wood, a stone’s throw from our park) has written about boundary and pollard oaks in nearby areas and you can read his fascinating article about some of the trees here:
 So Mayow’s ancient oaks reflect past local land management, while providing habitats for a large number of flora and fauna today. Birds, small mammals and invertebrates make their homes in the hollows, fungi and mosses find somewhere to grow. The trees contribute to the character of the park and park users have often said that the Mayow trees are valued in making the park landscape so special.
When a lovely tree that has stood for centuries loses a major limb many of us express sadness, as happened to a pollarded oak in Mayow Park on 19th May 2017. A local resident posted a photo to Friends of  Mayow Park Facebook group, thus alerting park users and the park maintenance team.

Tree alert. Photo by K Andreakou
The tree that lost a limb had the widest girth of any of the ancient trees in the park as measured on a tree walk in 2016.  Word quickly spread. Soon adults and children were seen clambering over the fallen limb and around its broad branches,  enjoying the opportunity to get close and personal.   A tree that probably few had noticed became a celebrity overnight. It was lovely to see how people engaged with the tree. But current concerns about health and safety, with the risk of someone falling and injuring themselves, was too great. Something had to be done.                                                                                                            
Clambering around a fallen tree
Heavy branches of the fallen limb hidden by dense foliage           
Within a week a team of arboriculturalists from Sevenoaks arrived to make the broken limb ‘safe’. 
photo K Andreakou
Photo K Andreakou
Photo K Andreakou
These guys are clearly skilled at their job.  They explained their intention to leave most of the thicker branches on the ground to create wildlife habitats. Some of the thinner branches were taken to use as path edge markers along the woodchip path adjacent to the dawn redwood tree. Other branches were relocated by volunteers from Friends of  Mayow Park into a locked woodland nature area for wildlife, out of reach of human interference. And the thinner branches were shredded.

Broken limb still attached to parent tree by a small fragment of wood and bark

Concerns were raised by park users: maybe this tree is diseased because the heartwood of the broken limb was powdery brown sawdust? 

Powdery hollow heartwood

Without scientific knowledge about ancient oaks, I am inclined to the view that the collapsed limb may be due to old age, to the natural hollowing out of the inner trunk and to being a pollard with heavy limbs that lean out from the tree. I hope someone with greater knowledge can come forward to suggest some reasons for this fail. Meanwhile, the exposed inner core can provide a home to solitary bees, beetles and other invertebrates while the tree continues to live.
Looking around at other ancient oaks in Mayow Park, regular park users will recall that in July last year a mature oak split in two and needed urgent surgery. It now stands as a monolith tree where the whole crown was removed. Tree surgeons pruned it to remain standing as a monolith tree, allowing natural decay processes to continue for wildlife. Remarkably, it survives and has started producing new growth with side branches.
Not far from the monolith tree is the ‘lightning tree’. Hit by lightning a few decades ago, it lost most of its crown, thus exposing its hollow interior. It continues to survive, with growth only on one side of the trunk. 

These individual ancient trees contribute to the value of the park. Regular visitors recognise them, plants and animals colonise them and they recall land management history as pollarded and boundary oaks. 

(Photos by K Andreakou and A Sheridan)