Figs on the front. It’s all about sex.

Many people ask me about the fig trees growing on Madeira Drive at the bottom of the green wall.

We all know about the leaves used to cover Adam and Eve’s modesty, but are figs really all about sex? Well, yes.

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There are 2 trees at the bottom of Paston Place, one growing 10m tall. They are often cut back hard, but grow back quickly…tough and hardy plants even in our salty and windy climate.

Ours are male figs…so whilst they have fruit, it’s dry and inedible. In the wild, you need males and females to reproduce (like us), but also a little help from a tiny wasp (unlike us).

According to Jonathan Drori in his great book ‘Around the world in 80 trees’, in the native Turkey, the wasps (Blastophaga) are female, stingless and tiny. Wasps of both sexes hatch inside male figs and mate, the males burrowing out to die. Male figs produce pollen…which covers the female wasp as she leaves the burrow made by the male in search of figs to lay eggs in.

It’s a one way trip with a 50-50 success rate. Getting into a new fig strips off her wings so there’s no turning back. If it’s a male fig then she lays eggs which hatch to continue the cycle of life. If it’s a female fig, tough luck – it doesn’t fit her anatomy so she can’t lay eggs. She does however spread pollen around unwittingly as she goes, and when she dies her body contributes to the plant’s growth.

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A couple more interesting facts. The smell of the ripe female figs is designed to attract bats and birds to spread the seeds. And the natural laxative effect of eating the figs ensures the seeds get a good dollop of fertiliser to help them along.

So if we can’t eat the fruit, what about the leaves? I once met someone who picked a fig leaf to munch on his way along Madeira Drive every day and swore by the health benefits. Well, turns out regular consumption may lower triglycerides which are implicated in obesity and heart disease. Just watch out for that laxative effect!

Madeira Drive green wall – a 3 point plan

Building Green has a simple 3 point plan for the green wall at Madeira Drive Brighton, the focus of major redevelopment and heritage restoration proposals.

Madeira Drive Green Wall is the longest, oldest green wall in  the UK and will be the first to be designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. The wall is integral to Madeira Terraces, a unique ironwork structure that is under threat from lack of maintenance and investment. Building Green work with the Save Madeira Terraces Campaign, the council and other partners in a collaborative endeavour to shape the best possible future for our seafront.

This plan is supported by extensive surveys by Building Green volunteers, which are free to download at the end of this article.

 1. Protect and maintain the best sections of green wall

The priority is to protect the sections of green wall below and above the terraces where there are mature Japanese Spindle plants. There are over 100 of these, and each ‘tree’, approximately 150 years old, has magnificent curving trunks that wind their way up the cliff from ground level. These plants support a wide variety of other flowering plants, as well as home to birds and other wildlife. The repetitive planting scheme mirrors the serried ranks of Victorian arches that are such as special feature of Madeira Terraces. The views under the terraces of these arches and Spindle trunks are key to the impact and beauty of the original Victorian vision, and are irreplaceable.

Building Green would prefer no development under the arches in these sections, particularly between Concorde 2 and Paston Place.

Ongoing maintenance of these sections – and the green wall throughout – is crucial.

2. Enhance sections of wall to encourage greater coverage

There are many parts of the wall where the Japanese Spindle was damaged or removed in the past. However Japanese Spindle is not the only plant of value – there are now over 100 species of plants found at Madeira Drive green wall.

Building Green would work with developers to find imaginative solutions to conserving, where possible, other plants of conservation value; removing plants where they can become invasive; and enhancing sections of wall to encourage greater ‘green’ coverage.

In these areas there are likely to be imaginative solutions to incorporating green wall features as well as ‘pods’ or other development under the arches.

Building Green will continue working with volunteers at Duke’s Mound to restore the green wall to its original extent, improve its biodiversity, and make it look fantastic for visitors and local residents.

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3. Create new green wall and green the Terrace walkway.

The green wall was originally over a mile long. Building Green wants to see planting restored to the full length, as there are many bare patches and sections.

In these sections, development could take place without harm to existing nature. We suggest these are the first priority for ‘pods’ and other businesses under the arches. However, all development will be expected to make a ‘net gain‘ for biodiversity, and there are many opportunities to enhance development proposals with environmental benefits.

One exciting vision from Building Green is to plant the terrace walkway like the New York ‘high line‘ – creating a new linear seafront park, a major tourist attraction in its own right, and a draw for visitors to the new businesses that will find a home on Madeira Drive. New green wall features should be installed on the upper East cliff (retaining wall).

Building Green web

Surveys and other supporting information

Arch by arch biodiversity survey, indicating areas of value to nature and natural heritage. Madeira Drive Arches Survey 2017

Madeira Drive species list – the flowering plants and other wildlife found along the green wall. Madeira Drive Green Wall Plant Species List 12.09.2017

Plans mapping the extent of green wall coverage along the length of Madeira Drive retaining wall. Surveyed by Building Green c2014.

 

Ton up! Over 100 species found at Madeira Drive Green Wall

Building Green’s intrepid survey squad spent last weekend under the terraces at Madeira Drive. Armed with clipboards and Bob the Builder hats, we surveyed the extent and health of the green wall, and updated the list of plants and other wildlife found there.

The results are in. Ton up! We have now broken the 100 species barrier…104 species of plant to be exact…and found a number of other wildlife using the wall that we hadn’t seen before. We counted 117 trunks of 150 year old Japanese Spindle – not including the plants at Duke’s Mound further East, or those in the planters on the terrace itself.

This really strengthens the case to designate this wall a ‘local wildlife site’ in the Council’s forthcoming City Plan. It would be the only green wall site of importance for nature conservation in the UK, and deserves this recognition.

Here is the full list of species. Interesting finds include Japanese Holly Fern, shown below, Hoary Stock, and Holly Blue and Painted Lady butterflies.

Big thanks to our volunteers, and to the Council for the PPE and access.

Download a PDF of the surveyMadeira Drive Green Wall Plant Species List 12.09.2017

Species list from survey 12 September 2017

Scientific Name Common Name
Faunal Records  
Vulpes vulpes Fox
Passer doemesticus House sparrow
Prunella modularis Dunnock
Parus major Great tit
Troglodytes troglodytes Wren
Columba livia Wood pigeon
Turdus merula Blackbird
Celastrina argiolus Holly blue
Vanessa cardui Painted lady
Vanessa atalanta Red admiral
Meles meles Honey bee
Bombus lucorum White tailed bumblebee
   
Bryophytes  
Barbula cylindrical  
Barbula sardoa  
Barbula unguiculata  
Didymodon tophaceus  
Didymodon luridus  
Didymodon rigidulus  
Rhynchostegiella tenella  
Tortula muralis  
   
Vascular Plants  
Acer pseudoplatanus Sycamore
Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Agrostis stolonifera Creeping bent
Anisantha sterilis Barren brome
Anthriscus caucalis Bur chervil
Anthriscus sylvestris Cow parsley
Arctium minus Lesser burdock
Asplenium adiantum-nigrum Black spleenwort
Avena sativa Common oat
Ballota nigra Black horehound
Bellis perennis Daisy
Berberis darwinii Darwin’s barberry
Brassica rapa Turnip
Buddleja davidii Butterfly bush
Campanula porscharskyana Trailing bellflower
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s purse
Carex pendula Pendulous sedge
Catapodium marinum Sea fern grass
Catapodium rigidum Hard fern grass
Centranthus ruber Red valerian
Cerastium fontanum Common mouse-ear
Chenopodium album Fat-hen
Crithmum maritimum Rock samphire
Cirsium arvense Creeping thistle
Cirsium vulgare Spear thistle
Clematis vitalba Traveller’s joy
Convolvulus arvensis Field bindweed
Conyza canadensis Canadian fleabane
Coronopus squamatus Greater swinecress
Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora Monbretia
Cymbalaria muralis Ivy-leaved toadflax
Cyrtomium falcatum House Holly Fern
Dactylis glomerata Cock’s-foot
Digitalis purpurea Foxglove
Diplotaxis muralis Annual wall rocket
Epilobium ciliatum American willowherb
Epilobium hirsutum Great willowherb
Erigeron glaucus Seaside daisy
Erigeron karvinskianus Mexican fleabane
Erysimum cheiri Wallflower
Euonymus japonicus Japanese spindle
Ficus carica Fig
Galium aparine Cleavers
Genista hispanica Spanish gorse
Geranium molle Dove’s-foot crane’s-bill
Geum urbanum Wood avens
Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus Eastern gladiolus
Hedera helix Englsh ivy
Hemerocallis fulva Orange day-lily
Hordeum murinum Wall barley
Hyacinthoides hispanica Spanish bluebell
Hypochaeris radicata Cat’s ear
Lactuca serriola Prickly lettuce
Linaria purpurea Purple toadflax
Lolium perenne Perennial ryegrass
Malva sylvestris Common mallow
Malva x clementii Garden tree mallow
Matthiola incana Hoary stock
Melilotus officinalis Ribbed melilot
Narcissus pseudonarcissus cv. Garden daffodil
Onopordum acanthium Cotton thistle
Parietaria judiaca Pellitory-of-the-wall
Pentagottis sempervirens Blue alkanet
Phyllitis scolopendrium Hart’s-tongue fern
Picris echioides Bristly ox-tongue
Picris hieracioides Hawkweed ox-tongue
Plantago coronopus Stag’s-horn plantain
Plantago lanceolata Ribwort plantain
Plantago major Greater plantain
Poa annua Annual meadow grass
Polypodium vulgare Common polypody
Rubus fruticosus Blackberry
Rumex crispus Curled dock
Rumex obtusifolius Broad-leaved dock
Sagina apetela Annual pearlwort
Sagina procumbens Procumbent pearlwort
Sambucus nigra Elder
Sedum acre Biting stonecrop
Sedum album English stonecrop
Senecio cineraria Silver ragwort
Senecio viscosus Stick ragwort
Senecio vulgaris Groundsel
Silene alba White campion
Sisybrium officinale Hedge mustard
Sisybrium orientale Oriental rocket
Smyrmium olusatrum Alexanders
Solanum dulcamara Bittersweet
Sonchus asper Prickly sow-thistle
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth sow-thistle
Sonchus arvensis Perennial sow-thistle
Spergularia marina Lesser sea spurrey
Stellaria media Common chickweed
Taraxacum officinale agg. Dandelion
Triticum aestivum Bread wheat
Urtica dioica Common nettle
Veronica x franciscana Hedge veronica

Building Green – the Bible

Tucked away on the resources section of the Building Green website is a broken link that tells the story of how this group came about.

London Ecology Unit published a highly influential book in 1993 called ‘Building Green – A guide to using plants on roofs, walls and pavements’. It was a prescient tome – heralding techniques and approaches from across Europe and the world that came established only years later in the UK, Building Green was a systemic, ecological approach to urban nature. It became the name of our community group.

When at the Greater London Authority, I created an electronic version of the out of print manuscript – the broken link referred to. Well, here it is in all its free, downloadable glory. Go crazy.

Johnstone and Newton – Building Green

In particular note the appendices which list plants for different locations – walls of different aspects, balconies, roofs etc. Check it out, it’s great – all credit to the originators Jacklyn Johnston and John Newton.

Some inspiration from across the Pond

So we like to think we have some great green roofs and walls here in Brighton. Well, we do – but there are lessons we can learn from others including the good citizens of Olympia WA, San Francisco CA and Portland OR.

I was lucky enough to visit this summer – here are some pictures that I hope act as inspiration. We could think, and act, so much bigger.

In the Government complex at Olympia, Washington, is a large area of green roof established on underground car parks. Food is grown for local food banks, tended by Government workers. Some lovely large squash ripening in the sun. There is a large area of wildflower mix (‘Ecolawn’) sown for insects and appearance, and is not watered. This has been established by the Department of Enterprise Services – basically the legal and procurement department!

Nearby, just outside the historic Capitol building, is an area of rain gardens that have been retrofitted to help manage storm water. They are very attractive, and feature seating to encourage enjoyment.

San Francisco Academy of Sciences has a living roof…that is so large it is a visitor attraction in its own right. Not a very good photo, so I’ve stolen one from the website and there are more here.

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Also in San Francisco were these mini gardens, usually in shopping areas, that brought planting into very urban settings, softened the street scene and provided fun features and places to relax. A ‘public parklet’ indeed!

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Portland, Oregon is well known for its approach to sustainable urban planning and design. The whole neighbourhood we stayed in (Alberta – much like Brighton in its hipsterness) has bioswales and other street level drainage built in. Basically permeable sidewalks (ownership extends to the kerb so householders plant up their strip of sidewalk however they like), roof drainage to ground level, street level swales and other features incorporated into street furniture and traffic calming. Drains are clearly marked to encourage people not to use them for disposing nasties. Much of the sidewalk strip was used to grow veggies and fruit – including a nearby pub that harvested salad crops from the street and boasted of it on its menu.

Here in Brighton, a number of partners including the Council and Environment Agency have launched a pilot ‘sustainable drainage’ scheme in Portslade. Great, but surely we could be bolder?