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It’s the little things: three hidden features of the Fulham Palace garden

By Jonathan Nichols, Sunday garden volunteer

When I’m volunteering in the garden on Sundays, there are some small details that never cease to amaze me.

Some catch your eye unexpectedly, others as if gradually coming into focus and then you can’t stop seeing them. I find they almost soothe the vision, a welcome respite from much that is harsh to on the eyes in our urban world. Some are whole words in themselves.

There’s a humble feature that I relish at the start of each volunteer shift.  It’s the brick floor in our gardeners’ bothy at the back of the glasshouse. We walk on it, and okay, it’s a little dusty – but it’s immensely beautiful. In some places the bricks are worn by the passing of how many feet over how many days by how many gardeners and volunteers? There’s something comforting and intriguing about those humble old bricks, and I’ve found similar interest in the bricks of the garden wall, especially when the sun hits it right.

Next time you’re in the garden, check out the brick work on the wall or the gate and see what you think!

The wonderfully worn brick floor in the bothies

Another ‘noticing’ in the garden might appear to be as dead as a brick, crusty and a bit alien in fact – but it’s very much alive. Those of you who have pruned the apple trees might have seen some pale green scabs on the bark and branches, bright yellow spots in other places, small orange cups of miniscule proportions and some are tiny corals.

These are the lichens, not one organism, but two: a symbiotic being where a fungus and an alga share a body. One provides nutrients, protection and stability, while the other delivers energy captured from the sun. Without trying too hard you can see there might be around five different types on one branch, not to mention the mosses and liverworts with whom they often form a community. And if you look even more closely – best with a magnifying glass – you will enter whole new landscapes in miniature. These creatures are harmless to their host tree and are important components of the Palace garden’s biodiversity

Lovely lichens

The last ‘noticing’ I’d like to share: more charismatic perhaps than the bricks on the bothy floor, or the silent lichens on the bark of our apple trees, are the tiny brightly covered aircraft that buzz, bumble and flutter about our flowers in the warmer months. Of course, we think immediately of honeybees, bumble bees – and who could forget butterflies and the excitement of the occasional dragonfly?

Yet how many different hoverflies we can count? These guys are surely some of our closest friends as they have a hand – or a wing – in not only pollination, but there are carnivorous kinds that munch on aphids and predate other pests. Alarming at first, they can look like a wasp, which is their defence mechanism known as ‘biomimicry’. They’re more dynamic than bricks or lichen, so you might have less than a second to get a good look before they teleport to hover in another spot in the air.

To many it will come as no surprise that mindfulness, meditation and wellbeing practices espouse the benefits of paying attention to the world around us, noticing the details of nature. There’s plenty in the garden to hold our gaze and inspire our imagination. What new worlds will you discover  on your next visit?

Harmless hoverflies looking for a snack