March marks the official start of Spring!
Starting at the park café and walking clockwise around the walk/cycle route, take time to divert to the small garden at the car-park entrance to the park. This lovely little area is coming into bloom with crocus, daffodils and magnolia. Returning to the main track, just past the carved toadstools, there is a Yew tree on your right hand side. In March it is covered with blossom and every breeze will release clouds of yellow pollen. An early blooming Magnolia is on the left of the track; you’ll need to look up to see the blossom, as this tree is quite tall! There are more Magnolias on your left as you pass the university buildings. These five trees were a gift from New Eltham Allotment society in 2013.
Following the walk/cycle track around the perimeter of the park look closely in the clumps of fading crocus, you may see a wild flower; Greater Celandine. This lovely little plant occurs in most of the hedgerows in the park and is an indicator of the great age of the area, woodland or hedgerow, it occurs in.
The young trees on the right of the track are under-planted by daffodils. Eltham Girl Guiding planted these to mark their 100th anniversary. Rounding the corner past the bus stop we walk along the boundary with the University village campus. While the trees are still bare of leaves we can see and admire the neat hedge laying on the Uni. side of the fence. This is the traditional way of making sure a hedge is animal proof. Good to see traditional crafts still in use!
Under the trees along this southern boundary to the park you can see the fern like leaves of a plant emerging. This is Hedge Parsley and will have lovely lace-like flowers in the coming months. Keep going along the walk/cycle track until you reach the lower bridge over the Pippinhall stream. Take a diversion to the left here into the field; its old field name is Great Stony Meadow and is one of the fields farmed by Ann Twist. Ann was Mistress of the Royal Laundry to Queen Elizabeth 1st. Look along the banks of the stream here and see if you can spot two wildflowers; Greater Celandine with its heart shaped leaves and shiny yellow flowers and the arrow shaped leaves of Wild Arum. The root of Wild Arum was used to make laundry starch in Elizabethan times.
Return to the walk/cycle track and take a look along the west side of the hedge that borders the Pippinhall stream. The wild daffodils “dancing in the breeze” were planted by Alderwood School pupils in 2007. Keep going along the track beside Charlton Athletic grounds. These hedgerows, together with most of the hedges in the park have been here at least since 1609 when they first appear on an Eltham tithe map. Ann Twist was farming most of them at that time! As you walk along the track returning to the café listen out for the “drumming” of the male woodpecker and see if you can spot the red flowers on the Aspen trees and two more wildflowers; White Dead Nettle and the tiny blue flowers of Speedwell.
All parks have a great history, created as public open, green spaces by visionary men and women for the people to enjoy.