Trees feature prominently and add greatly to the beauty and interest of Abbey Fields. The oldest are English Oaks, some of which are probably approaching 300 years of age. Alders, willows and elders occur along Finham Brook, probably self-set and growing where nature intended. But 60 or more species have been introduced to the fields from various parts of the world. Some have a Victorian origin, but subsequent tree planting has produced a complex treescape of varied age and character.
Conifers and Broadleaves
The fields contain both conifers and broadleaves. Can you tell the two apart? Most conifers have evergreen needles or sprays of foliage and produce wooden cones. You can find pines, cypresses, spruces and cedars in the fields, especially within the cemetery. Yew is not a true conifer but a relative, and female trees produce bright berries that birds love to eat. Broadleaves usually have broader leaves that are shed in winter. Some, such as cherries and rowans, have conspicuous petalled flowers that insects pollinate, but others, including poplars, birches and alders, have less conspicuous catkins that are wind-pollinated.
Compare and Contrast
One of the valuable features of open spaces such as Abbey Fields is that they allow you to compare closely related trees and practise your identification skills. Four types of lime are present, including particularly large specimens of Broad-leaved Lime and Common Lime. They are very similar, but the crown of the Broad-leaved Lime is usually neatly rounded compared with the untidy one of most Common Limes. Broad-leaved Lime leaves also have a soft, velvety feel. Both occur in the children’s play area. Common Rowan and Japanese Rowan are also present, the former with furry buds, the latter with purple, hairless ones. Three sorts of alder can easily be distinguished by leaf shape, as can the five species of oak. A good tree guide will help you identify the various species.
A Tree for Every Season
The trees of Abbey Fields give interest throughout the year. In winter, you can fully appreciate the conifers and the bare architecture of the larger broadleaves. Spring brings the blossoming of the various cherries, notably two specimens of the Japanese Cherry ‘Shirotae’, a large one close to Forrest Road. Summer sees the foliage of Copper Beech, variegated Norway Maple ‘Drummondii’, purple Norway Maple and White Poplar at their best. Autumn in the fields features the fine purples of Claret Ash, the bright yellow of the Norway Maple at the top of Abbey Hill, the oranges of the various cherries, the soft olive-brown of the English Oaks and the bright red berries of the rowans. It is one of the finest times to appreciate the trees of Abbey Fields!
Noteworthy Trees in the Park
A few specimens of particular note are present. Caucasian Oak is a great rarity in the Midlands and resembles an English Oak with oversized leaves and stout, downy twigs, A specimen is situated at the top of Abbey Hill – can you find it? Another specimen of oak, a Pin Oak, growing between the lake and Finham Brook is one of Warwickshire’s largest, with a girth of over two metres. The large White Poplar and three hybrid Black Poplars found north of the swimming pool are also amongst the largest examples in the County.
This tree near the top of Rosemary Hill looks like a conifer from a distance, resembling in particular an Italian Cypress. However, it is in fact an oak, with leaves of classic English Oak shape. Not surprisingly it is called a Cypress Oak!
(photo Richard Gillard)