10 July 2012

Daisies Smile Defiantly At Tesco's

July seems to be the month of oxeye daisies (though I think it's normally June, but this year has gone all awry).

And Monday is Tesco day. My weekly shop has developed into such a routine event that much of it is accomplished without any conscious thought. Somehow I find myself back in the kitchen with a couple of bags of shopping. This Monday’s visit began in much the same way. Quickly scratch out a shopping list – dodge the rain to get in the car – Radio 4 – automatically turn into the car park ... but this time there was something different ... exclaim out loud ‘What’s that?’ (I’m sure you talk to yourself in the car too). On the other side of the road a big starry display of white flowers has miraculously appeared.

The road junction where my Tesco sits is complicated. If you stand in the middle of it you have the option of going to three towns, as well as in or out of Manchester city centre. At that precise point is a small triangular green space; too small to be called a park. It contains trees and grass and at certain times of day groups of slouchy children going to the nearby high school. But at the moment an extravagant sea of meadow flowers sits amongst the mad confusion of cars and buses.

parrs wood roundabout

three views of traffic island in Parrs Wood, Didsbury

I came back to it on my bike to have a closer look. Whoever planted it has done a good job. The daisies and poppies will go over soon, but there are thistles and other plants I don't recognise still developing their buds, and primroses are still flowering underneath. It’s the kind of planting that a brave council might try in the larger areas of grass in a big park, not a tiny noisy traffic island. I wonder if it's the result of some subversive guerrilla gardening. I hope so.

This traffic island was created in the 1930s, perhaps earlier. A bus depot was on the current Tesco site, on the very edge of Manchester, and the roads from the three towns (then villages) were wide and quiet. The current high school with its associated cinema complex were the kitchen gardens and orchards of a grand house.

1935 map of Parrs Wood
1935 map  of Parrs Wood showing bus depot and open ground

1909 Parrs Wood East Didsbury Station
1909 Looking through rail bridge to Parrs Wood

1935 Parrs Wood
1935 Bus depot to left (and no cinema to right)

 As Manchester developed all the surrounding land was built on and another bigger road was driven through. The bus depot closed and as the wheel of time has turned we now have a large tram terminus being built nearby. During all these changes the triangle of greenery remained. To be honest it would help the traffic flow immensely if it was cut down and turned into a proper roundabout, which would make my Tesco run much smoother, and I’m sure I’m not the only one has thought that. I don’t know why it survives. Perhaps it was bequeathed to the council and can’t be altered, though more likely it’s a matter of lack of money.

This new fashion for councils to plant meadow flowers and leave grass to grow high is caused by having to meet national biodiversity standards, and shrinking budgets, but it has the effect of producing chaotic areas of nature in the normal urban landscape of concrete and conformity.

How strange that this small overlooked traffic island has become, by the simple addition of oxeye daisies, a gentle symbol of sedition against one of the greatest examples in our age of corporate banality.