Terrific Terabac Play at Heathfield

The organisers of Croydon Ecology Centre arranged for Terabac, a drama and dance group, to visit Heathfield to perform a play about insects, their life story and the effect that mankind has on them.

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Due to the inclement weather, it was a bank holiday after all, the play was moved from the far rose garden to the walled garden immediately next to the side of the house. The backdrop of multiple trees and bushes at Heathfield provided the ideal setting for the play.

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The unusual array of objects spread out across the lawn  represented an insect and served as props to be used throughout the play. The lead drama actor and  coordinator Vanessa welcomed us to the production . Atmospheric music and some ethereal singing set the stage.

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The opening scene was a dramatic if sombre affair with the death of an insect and how its demise should affect us all. The players took us through the life cycle of a variety of different insects with humour and pathos.

The australian dung beetle, hope you are not eating while reading this, came in for a bashing as it was unable to deal with the cow dung that the imported european cow was producing. Initial blame was laid on the Australian sun that caused the beetle to only move in straight lines, but then it was remembered that the dung beetle came out only at night! The solution was to import European and African beetles to do the digestion and save Australia from the 12 cow pats a day that each animal produced.

The lifespans of a dragonfly enabled the dancers to show their prowess to good effect.  A dragonfly spends the first two to three years of its life as a larvae under the water. When the larvae are full-grown they climb up the stem of a plant and shed their skin. This metamorphosis was dramatically demonstrated by the dances who emerged together from a sack cloth. Further dances were performed with some acrobatics during the play with good choreography and some movement through the audience.

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A lady dressed in black performed the role of the Black widow spider. She engaged the children sitting at the front of the audience and sent a shiver down their spines as well as some adults. Before we annihilate the more familiar  house spider, a fly popped up to remind us that without the arachnids the place would be overrun with flies like her! She then made humourous exchanges with the audience about the hazards of flying into windows; but she concluded that mainly it was a good bugs life.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall a most enjoyable performance with good interaction with the crowd and some sexual references  that were funny and appropriate for all but the youngest of children (of whom their were none in this audience).

A poignant moment came at the end when it was explained an elderly lady from Brighton who had cherished her garden could only have artificial flowers when she moved into sheltered accommodation. She watered the flowers everyday as it reminded her of  home.

The play, about an hour long, was performed free of charge although donations were requested and we were also invited to retire to the Heathfield pantry cafe for tea and cakes.

Afterwards one of the performers explained that the play had been two to three years in the making and the dancers were brought on board in the last two months.

The bees and the cedar

In the recent high winds a branch in the middle of the cedar tree at heathfield started to tear away pulling with it a number of lower branches that trailed close to the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGarden contractors were quick to identify the problem and coned off the area as you can see in the photographs.

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I am pleased to say that less than a week later the offending branches were trimmed back and the area made safe in time for the heathfield plant sale yesterday, sunday.

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The cedar tree was planted by Raymond Riesco who owned the property prior to the council. It was a birthday present to his wife who opened the curtains one morning to find the majestic cedar tree planted in a prominent position in the garden. It had been transported there overnight that just goes to show you could have items delivered efficiently before the days of the express couriers.

 

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Cedar tree still looking good despite its enforced trim

 

The orchards were also open on sunday and the female bees were hard at work pollinating the nearby trees that are all fertilised organically and are in flower. If you look closely at the base of the hive you can see the bees queuing to enter the hive.

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The hive was manufactured by EH Taylor, crest at the top, the leading maker of beehives in the uk from the 1800s until they were taken over in the eighties by EH Thorne. The factory had its own siding off the main railway line at Welwyn station in Hertfordshire. The new owners still make beehives today.

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Horse at Tram crossing

I was walking along the pavement when I met a horse. No, it’s not the beginning of a joke, it happened to me recently and up close he/she ( I did not look that closely!) seemed pretty big .  I managed to “pull over” on to the grass verge and then watched as the horse and rider manged to negotiate heavy traffic by the tram crossing.

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Polite notice: Please keep clear of my hooves I will be running in the Grand National this weekend.

Fortunately I had my camera to hand and was able to capture the events in real-time as they often say on the sports programs. Each photograph I have annotated to give the opinions of the horse if it could articulate its thought aloud.  No doubt the skill of the rider also had something to do with the safe crossing and their onward journey to the stables at the back of Heathfield.

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I have never met a horse called “trams” before. Does he live round here?

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Still trying to find a safe place to cross , such a nag.

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Half a furlong left, I hope they don’t call me back for a false start

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Phew! safely across and not much further until I can enjoy a bag of oats

Herb Garden at Heathfield

Last year Friends of the Earth with help from Heathfield volunteers, planted flowers and herbs at the rockery to attract honey bees that are in considerable decline. The result as you can see is a fine spread of spring plants that are all hardy perennials.

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Heathfield rockery

Heathfield also benefited from the ingenuity of one council employee who thought it would be a good idea to plant 20,000 crocuses on the vacant plot of land where stood Taberner House, the former council office hq in Central Croydon. He raised £5,000 through a crowd funding scheme online. The unique strain of crocus produced violet flowers in the autumn and was named the Croydon Saffron crocus.

The saffron flowered for two years before the Croydon site was redeveloped. 8,000 bulbs were donated to schools and community gardening groups including heathfield. This blog is being written in April so unfortunately no crocus flowers are available, but I will be sure to include some pictures in my autumn blog .

Meanwhile a plethora of daffodils adorn heathfield’s grounds.

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worms eye view of daffs

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Magnolias are in abundance at heathfield , these trees or shrubs have amazing  goblet- shaped flowers that appear in the spring. They command considerable space and are mainly half as wide as their height. The magnolia is one of the most ancient flowering tree and as it evolved before the bees it can only be pollinated by beetles.

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Goblet flowers – perhaps Harry Potter’s favourite tree?

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Rhododendrons have spectacular spring flowers and  have young leaves and stems covered in a striking dense woolly covering (indumentum) . They need an acid soil and have shallow roots. If you would like to plant one in your garden the roots should be placed just below the surface or the plant may die.

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Camelia at heathfield

Ice ponds and conservation

With the temperature plummeting recently , it is not surprising that the ponds at heathfield are frozen. The ducks may have problems accessing their house unless they get their skates on! In fact the house was abandoned after the summer so no harm done to their young.

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Frozen duck house

Similarly the pond at Bramley bank , situated just below heathfield is also frozen. It is the largest natural woodland pond in Croydon. The resident heron was not at home having to fly further afield for food.

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Pond at Bramley Bank

Bramley Bank is managed by the Wildlife Trust and assisted by their teams of volunteers, family and friends they  were out coppicing, clearing the woodland path of encroaching trees and overhanging branches. They have also been clearing the middle of the wood to allow more natural light to reach the wood floor enabling future fauna and flora to flourish in the spring.

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coppicing by the Woodland Trust

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On my return to Heathfield I noticed that the herdwick sheep, Sam and Ben were out in the orchard despite the weather. Herdwick sheep hail from Cumbria so are used to harsher winters. Can you tell who was cheeky enough to stick his nose through the gated bars at the entrance? No it wasn’t me!

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Mystery sheep

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yes it is Sam

Heathfield Open Day

The open day took place on Sunday under cloudy skies but this did not deter the crowds enthusiasm for the orchard tour that was engagingly conducted by Mick a longstanding volunteer at the Croydon Ecology Centre.

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Lane’s Prince Albert

He explained that the land had laid derelict for 25 years before being leased free by the council to the volunteers in 1998. It took 2 years to clear the land and 100 fruit trees , pears,plums and apples all pre 1900 varieties  were planted. We are able to sample a number of  apple varieties including Blenheim Orange, American Mother and Lane’s Prince Albert.

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Blenheim Orange

Two Herdwick Sheep , Sam 5 years  and Ben 3, also live at they end of the orchard in pens.The sheep originate from the mountains of Cumbria and were saved from extinction by a certain Beatrix Potter. One chap piped up “Was that Harry Potter’s Mum?”. A breeding programme was set up by Beatrix and now the wool is popular for use in eco-friendly building insulation.

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ripening grapes

In the recent Croydon Council Development Plan the Ecology Centre  was formally recognised as a site of nature conservation.

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another close up of the royal variety show

The house was open for Cream Teas and cake in the pantry , plants were on sale and the Croydon Astronomical Society were in attendance.

Squirrel eat my sandwich

I was walking round heathfield recently. I was unable to finish my last sandwich so i carefully deposited in the bin and inside a bread wrapper. I heard the sound of something diving head first into the bin. Unwilling to disturb the scene I circled round the park . Imagine my astonishment when I caught the culprit in action, a squirly squirrel!

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This was  as close as I was able to come without disturbing my furry friend. No such problems when photographing the large broken branch that had broken off from the old cedar tree.

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CEDAR CUT

I tried to manipulate the fallen branch but it was impossible to detect any motion given the large weight. The moral stay clear of trees during a storm or high wind.

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Sheep at Heathfield Farm

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Sheep at Heathfield Farm

In addition to the sheep at Heathfield Ecology Centre , there are now 3 sheep at the adjacent Heathfield Farm. This is unusual as the farm is renowned for its horse riding and its instructors and pupils are a common sight in the area. To my knowledge there is no known sport of sheep -riding, but perhaps they  are there to attract the younger clientele to the stables!

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Sam at the Ecology Centre

 

Of course the friendliest sheep is still Sam from the Ecology Centre , he was particularly inquisitive when visited recently as you can tell from the photograph. The heron from the nearby pond at Bramley Bank was also in  attendance, but hidden behind Sam he quickly fled the scene before any camera could be produced.

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In the cold weather the horses at Heathfield farm were suitably attired to ensure they remained warm and they were joined by the mysterious heron who again remained out of view of the camera lens.

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Heathfield Open Day

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th September saw the Heathfield open day and central parks who attended both days, can confirm the event was very well attended, no doubt helped by the gloriously sunny weather.

Quincy apple

Quincy apple

Both the house and the garden with orchards at the back were open . The Orchard tour was very interesting with amusing anecdotes given by our guide. The ecology centre grow their own honey and the large group were shown a mock-up of a hive. Explanation of worker bees and queen bees was simplified for the children in attendance : but I was impressed by the 40,000 female bees that provide the honey in the summer while the 100 boy bees sit around watching the rugby and tending to the queen bee! In the winter though the girls get their own back and kick out the boys.

mock up of bee-hive

mock up of bee-hive

We sampled a variety of the apples that grow from the old english trees some  of which are over 150 years old. Verification of their ages by Kew Gardens resulted in the site being given natural heritage status . I particularly liked the Blenheim Orange , an apple tree that tastes like an orange. The Cox’s pippins and The American Mothers were also very enjoyable and all varieties were available for purchase afterwards.

Visitors on the orchard tour - faces obscured to ensure privacy.

Visitors on the orchard tour – faces obscured to ensure privacy.

blenheim orange

blenheim orange

The resident  sheep Ben and  Sam were kept behind the gate as they can become wary of large groups. They are Herdwick Sheep made famous in the writings of Beatrix Potter. One child asked was she the mother of Harry Potter?

Once the tour was over we visited the mansion-house that hosted a number of exhibitions from paintings from a local artist, to demonstration of ancient  art of wool weaving , stalls from Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth and the ubiquitous plant sale.

Croydon Astronomical Society displayed a number of their telescopes

Croydon Astronomical Society displayed a number of their telescopes

Outside on the lawns various telescopes were set up by the local Croydon Astronomical Society who meet up down the road at The Royal Russell School. Curious about the bright star that is appearing near the moon I sought the advice of the organiser who confirmed it was probably Venus , but over the next two weeks it is more likely to be Jupiter that is in the ascendancy.

After a great weekend this pheasant was spotted heading for the car park.

pheasant

pheasant