Kensal Green Cemetery: returning to nature

ivied tree

Kensal Green Cemetery is, as previously discussed, a tad overgrown in parts. But it turns out that’s all part of the plan. The wooded parts feature some truly magnificent trees, including the most thickly ivied tree I’ve ever seen (a sweet gum, I think).

hairy horse chestnut

Rachel also drew my attention to this magnificently “hairy” horse-chestnut, where every limb was furred with new growth.

black locust

We have black locusts all over the place back home, but I’ve never seen one with quite this shape — so ornate!

cemetery meadow 6

But the unwooded parts of the cemetery were even more striking. It’s almost impossible to imagine an American cemetery letting the grass go unmowed like this, I was saying to Rachel, when we rounded a corner and came upon this sign:

cemetery meadow management

With the advice of the London Wildlife Trust this area of grassland has been left uncut to allow fauna and flora to develop and breed undisturbed. The meadow is cut when seeds have fallen to the ground. All the cuttings are removed to prevent the build up of organic material in the soil; this encourages the survival of wild flowers. The meadows of Kensal Green Cemetery are a fine example of unchanged ancient grassland which today is a nationally scarce habitat. They contain a wide variety of wild flowers, butterflies and other creatures. Over 500 species of flowering and non-flowering plants have been recorded here. Some of these are rare in the London area. The uncut areas are managed by the London Wildlife Trust in cooperation with the General Cemetery Company.

cemetery meadow 4

Once we realized that the uncut meadow environment was deliberate, our appreciation increased a hundred fold. I’m not sure how the descendents of those buried in this section feel about this management approach, but we did pass one grave site that was mowed, so there must be some provision for dissenters. (Aside from the literal Dissenters section of the cemetery, that is.)

cemetery meadow 3

It helped that the sun had come out half-way through our visit. As with the English ivy in the wooded portions, I appreciated seeing familiar “weeds” in their native environment. As a bit of a native-plants zealot, I enjoyed this opportunity to appreciate some favorite plants — curly dock, timothy weed, red clover — guilt-free.

cemetery meadow common blue

We did see a couple of the butterflies from the signboard and chased them around with our cameras, but they were mostly too quick for me. Here, however, is a common blue.

cemetery meadow 5

Considering how many people buried in this cemetery were probably cogs in the imperial war machine, I couldn’t help thinking of Basho’s famous haiku:

Summer grasses—
all that remain
of soldiers’ dreams.

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