It’s a mystery who planted this Kensington street as an arboretum, rather than the conventional avenue. In its four hundred-odd yards we have about fifty different trees, including one I still haven’t been able to name with much assurance. Outside the house we have one of the Council’s favourites, the double-flowered version of our native cherry, Prunus avium Plena; in fact three of them in a row. They must be fifty years old, and as many feet high. Their long branches are supple enough to wave in even faint breezes outside the bedroom window. Flower-buds, now conspicuously knobbly, will soon open to cover the street with a dazzling white cloud.
Across the road a young Prunus sargentii. Sargent’s double pink cherry, brought by the famous director of Boston’s Arnold Arboretum from Japan in 1890, could reach a similar size. Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’ crops up here, as it does almost everywhere in London; a safe but scarcely exciting tree, round here invariably grafted, so it soon sprouts a bush of suckers round its base. Will they never learn? There are several liquidambars, two fastigiate hornbeams, now at their best with catkins and young leaves, a Manna ash across the road and a hawthorn looking very modest among the tall specimens. A solitary plane, on the other hand, looks over-mighty.
Does any conifer make a good street tree? The most prominent planting I can recall is the avenue of Metasequoias along the Cromwell Road extension in Chiswick. If the function of a street tree is to provide shade, they fail. They form a green (in summer) curtain, but a fairly dismal row of sticks in winter. Is there an ideal? They must be in scale with the street; happily this street is double-width – a mini-boulevard, you might say. In wide-enough streets, as an alternative to the magnificent London plane, there is a lot to be said for elms (and very little against them) once we regain confidence in their survival.