A great adornment for any front window or bedroom wall!
Please print and display proudly.
A great adornment for any front window or bedroom wall!
Please print and display proudly.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
Building Green’s page on the history of Madeira Drive has been updated. There’s more to do – this is undoubtedly a passion project! – but it’s a fascinating story so why not take a look.
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 survey: Madeira Drive Green Wall Plant Species List 12.09.2017
Species list from survey 12 September 2017
|Scientific Name||Common Name|
|Passer doemesticus||House sparrow|
|Parus major||Great tit|
|Columba livia||Wood pigeon|
|Celastrina argiolus||Holly blue|
|Vanessa cardui||Painted lady|
|Vanessa atalanta||Red admiral|
|Meles meles||Honey bee|
|Bombus lucorum||White tailed bumblebee|
|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|
|Berberis darwinii||Darwin’s barberry|
|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|
|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|
|Diplotaxis muralis||Annual wall rocket|
|Epilobium ciliatum||American willowherb|
|Epilobium hirsutum||Great willowherb|
|Erigeron glaucus||Seaside daisy|
|Erigeron karvinskianus||Mexican fleabane|
|Euonymus japonicus||Japanese spindle|
|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|
|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|
|Rumex crispus||Curled dock|
|Rumex obtusifolius||Broad-leaved dock|
|Sagina apetela||Annual pearlwort|
|Sagina procumbens||Procumbent pearlwort|
|Sedum acre||Biting stonecrop|
|Sedum album||English stonecrop|
|Senecio cineraria||Silver ragwort|
|Senecio viscosus||Stick ragwort|
|Silene alba||White campion|
|Sisybrium officinale||Hedge mustard|
|Sisybrium orientale||Oriental rocket|
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Why plant or protect green walls? What’s the point of them?
There have been good studies on this, focused on green walls for buildings. These have put pound (or dollar) signs on costs of establishment and maintenance, and benefits including:
This study concluded that ‘direct green facades’ – ie climbing plants established onto a building surface – are the most sustainable green wall type, and have a very positive net present value.
There are lots of places in Brighton where this applies – around New England for example, Westergate, American Express, and so on.
For Madeira Drive, our most famous green wall, things are a little different. However, the benefits include:
It would be useful to do some economics on this – anyone out there with the requisite skills?
New group set up that will be helpful in raising awareness and interest in these historic, unique and threatened parts of our City.