‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…’ wrote A.E. Housman about cherry blossoms and in the springtime it is hard to disagree.
Strolling up to Notting Hill Gate the other day I decide to go the back way by which I mean I went up Vicarage Gate rather than Kensington Church Street.
I’m glad I did. Vicarage Gate leads you to the white stucco terraces of Palace Gardens Terrace, Brunswick Gardens and Berkeley Gardens which at any time are some of the quietest and most beautiful streets in the borough. In the early spring sunlight however they are absolutely stunning and the reason is that the cherry trees are in blossom.
Inevitably, A.E. Housman’s famous poem. ‘Loveliest of trees’sprang to mind. And I dimly recalled from a lecture heard long, long ago that as well as being a hymn to the cherry tree the poem might also be something of a reflection on mortality.
But notwithstanding that, I still felt uplifted. And it got me to wondering just how many cherry trees we have on the streets of the Royal Borough.
The answer it turns out is about 800. The species that dominates our cherry blossoms is the white flowering cherry; or Prunus avium Plena for the botanists and show-offs amongst you.
We also have some other types of flowering cherry as well as species such as amelanchier, pear, apple and magnolia. Overall, there are getting on for 8,000 trees lining our streets. Close to a third of them are planes of the sort you see on Holland Park Avenue, but there are some 160 species in all, ensuring we have lots of colour in the autumn as well as the spring.
And here’s the other thing I found out from our excellent tree team: cherry blossom trees are not an especially long-lived tree. On average they live for just 70 years or “threescore years and ten” as Housman would say.
So it is no accident of nature that the streets of the Royal Borough still have so many beautiful blossom trees but the result of careful planning and investment by yes, you’ve guessed it – the Council.
In fact, over the past decade or so we have replaced more than half of the oldest and most diseased cherry trees in a phased programme that keeps each spring in Kensington and Chelsea as blossomy as the last – weather permitting of course.
As regular readers of this column will know, the Council has many things to attend to, like building new homes and new schools, looking after vulnerable residents and much, much else besides and the money we have for doing all that has been shrinking year-on-year.
But things would have to get a lot, lot worse before we would ever contemplate a Kensington and Chelsea without its cherry trees.