Maps in bloom

Perhaps I’ve simply been oblivious before, but this year it seems the bush around Berowra is awash with flowers –  white posies crowning the Sydney red gums (Angophora costata) that now appear to be on every street corner, ridgetop and slope.

There’s something strange about this foam of blossom appearing across our familiar view, as if, while we weren’t looking, a stagehand unrolled a new backdrop to our lives.  I’ve become a tiny bit obsessed by capturing this new scene on camera. Here’s a small sample of my multiples.  Andy Warhol eat your heart out.

Closer to town, the jacarandas are also out.  I love the way this royal bloom redrafts the map of the suburbs, rerouting your eye from the usual lines of roads and railways and wires, to a new dot-to-dot of superbly laden trees.  The city shifts on its axis.  Or better, the city’s axis, the radial city itself, retreats behind a mist of purple flowers.

Of course, this new cartography of living things is still a map of privilege, of the breathing space between people.  They don’t call affluent parts of town “the leafy suburbs” for nothing.

Creating and keeping green space gets more urgent as cities get hotterAn article in the Harvard Gazette reports research on the way inequality, heat and green space correlate.  “Heat” says Joyce Klein Rosenthal, who teaches in Harvard’s School of Design, “is an environmental stressor, unevenly distributed in places where there are less trees, less green space, and associated with poorer housing quality”.   “At every scale” she noted “income levels are associated with surface temperatures. Poorer neighborhoods are hotter; wealthier neighborhoods are cooler”

Street trees have magic carpets beneath them, not just lilac flowers, but shade.  And on a stifling day the breath of wind across a city park – old-school evaporative airconditioning – is almost as good as the breeze off the water.  Just now, the City of Sydney is trying to green streets and villages, beating the urban heat island effect by shading concrete, weaving plants into walls and sowing seeds on roofs.

But, that hasn’t stopped the chainsaws round here.  New regulations in NSW, created in the name of fire risk-management, let householders rip, at least on trees ten metres or less from their place (oddly, it seems that trees in the middle of spectacular views present the greatest fire hazard).  What an irony: climate change, worsened by tree-felling, makes the Australian weather hotter and extends the bushfire season.  We fear the urban forests, just as we need them the most.

After years of cultivating a back yard the size of a large picnic blanket (that’s to say, a picnic blanket made of concrete) every day I bless the growing things I see from my window.  I may feel differently one day when the view from my back deck is Sydney red gums topped with flame rather than flowers.  Let’s hope I don’t find out anytime soon.

6 thoughts on “Maps in bloom

    • Thanks Sarah! Easier to get a good photo of a nice static thing like a tree than to get a goodie of a bird, so I think you are well ahead of me! As you say, a clear course between chainsaws and bushfires is tricky… I am especially ambivalent about chopping down pittosporum which is a bit of a plague (albeit a native one!) around here (I wrote about it in an earlier post // ). No clear answers there for sure…

  1. Really excellent photos.
    I was out driving on Friday and noticed all the white blossoms on the gum trees too.
    My native bees and honeybees must be enjoying them.

    Tree removal certainly is a complex issue, especially in areas designated high fire zone.

  2. Beautiful post – and further encouragement to take notice of the shifts in blooms over the seasons. I do love the beautiful gum blossoms with their frill of stamens.

    • Thanks Vanessa – sorry to clutter up your wonderful blog with self-promotion, but it seemed like there was a connection! As always, your posts get me thinking about hidden aspects of the city. I wonder if someone has written a history of street trees? The dot to dot of the jacarandas in backyards is a bit different to the straight lines of crepe myrtle hedges and roadside plantings, isn’t it? I didn’t think of that til after I posted the link…

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