As city-dwellers, the plants growing at the foot of street trees – in “tree pits” – and on the edge of pavements can be viewed as mess and a sign of neglect or as natural beauty and a source of joy. The choice is ours. During an online writing workshop as part of the wonderful 2022 Urban Tree Festival, participants chose to see the beauty. Their pieces of Thumbnail Nature – ultrashort nature writing of 50 words or less – celebrate the pavement plants, from the commonest urban “weeds” to the nurturing trees. Enjoy!
Amanda Tuke, workshop leader
A rowan imprisoned in the pavement. The yellow blare of ragwort at the base of the tree is echoed by sunburst lichen on the trunk. White stars of chickweed flowers pattern the mossy square of soil. A blackbird pours his song of liquid gold from the highest branches. Spring sunshine.
A Treepit Discovery
Amid tufts of grass
Bursts of yellow
Peak out shyly from their bracts
Like heads of foam on tiny goblets of beer
Among fluffy little white balls
Both sitting atop grey green stems
I can see why Groundsel
is commonly called
Old Man in the Spring
iphone in hand, I learn the wildflower names in our diverse pavement display. Yarrow, old man’s beard, silverweed, hop clover and goatsbeard. New this week is the edible snowbell of the three cornered leek. Who will educate the contractors who neaten our street?
After pavement chalking, we sit on the wall watching footfall slow to read, how Daisy is our daughter’s name, how buttercups love bees and she loves honey with dandelion coffee and how we know wherever she sees wood-sorrel, she’ll remember shamrocks, and think of us in her island home.
Treepits: ecosystem oases in the urban desert
Crouch down: there’s a riot of life in these initially unprepossessing spaces, from ground-hugging common mouse-eared chickweed with tiny white flowers and endearing name, and sky-reaching rosebay willowherb swaying in the breeze, to scurrying invertebrates going about their city-based lives, just like us.
A spider spins her web, intent on catching a meal today. Bees buzz around the daisy like flowers, transferring pollen as they feed. Beneath the soil, fungal networks exchange nutrients between the tree and the understory. A bird swoops, gathering morsels to feed the chicks high up in the canopy.
Remember your excitement as you stood on the edge of a rock pool, glimpsing
seaweed, shells and tiny creatures stranded by the ebb tide? Look into a tree pit. You’ll
see plants, fungi, residents like ants, worms, ladybirds, spiders and visitors like
butterflies, bees, birds. Maybe even a fairy!
Excuse me. Can you help me please? A hunk of pavement has landed on my feet and my toes are bound up with tarmac. I won’t be able to stand here all century without fluffy grass socks and strong nettle boots. Oh how I would love some cow parsley slippers!