For most of its history the High Street has been a green place with lots of open spaces between the buildings, gardens, orchards and many trees. All this started to change as the street got more built up in the 18th and 19th centuries. The population mushroomed, any remaining open spaces were built on and trees became few and far between. By the middle of the 20thcentury, the High Street was a place of concrete and tarmac, commerce and traffic.
It was not until the 1980s, after the building of the Arndale Centre that planners saw the urgent need to transform the High Street, banish traffic and open the central section as a pedestrianised area. Trees were to pay a big part in the new look High Street with their softening and civilising effect, bringing the change of seasons back to the street. The trees that we see today were planted as part of that scheme with a few later amendments.
Walking down High Street it is easy to ignore the trees or think of them as more obstacles to avoid along with lamp-posts, litterbins, benches, market stalls and advertising signs but their effect is much more important. Without the trees, High Street would be a much starker and more barren place. They soften the hard landscape and bring light and shade and changing colours to the scene.
The High Street trees include a variety of species. In the central section are a number of graceful ashes with their pairs of slender leaflets. Sadly ashes have recently been afflicted with a fungal disease known as ash die-back which has affected 90% of ash trees in Denmark. We have to hope that Government attempts to stop the spread of the disease are effective. The High Street ashes look healthy at the moment but everyone needs to be vigilant. (See the Forestry Commission website Die-back symptoms to recognise the effects on infected trees.)
Alternating with the ashes are a few sturdier broad-leaved hazels (if I have got the identification right!). These are tolerant of poor soils and are good trees for the challenging growing conditions of the street. Another couple of rather unusual trees are the two ginkgos, one outside Alcatraz and one in the upper High Street near the Sony Centre. These are very ancient types of trees and fossil gingko leaves have been found from 200 million years ago. The leaves are unusual, having a bi-lobed fan shape, distinctive and easy to recognise. Another asset of the gingko tree is the brilliant golden yellow colour of the foliage in autumn.
Perhaps most striking of all the High Street planting is the arcade of plane trees in the corn market. Two plane trees in central High Street grew too big for their position and had to be removed. In the corn market however, the trees have plenty of space to flourish and form a series of graceful arches along the pavement in front of Sainsburys Local and the Orchard Plaza. Planes are adaptable trees which tolerate polluted town conditions very well. One striking feature is the smooth bark which peels off to reveal a soft green or creamy coloured under layer. The best time to see the corn market plane trees is on a sunny day in autumn when their maple shaped leaves are turning glorious colours of yellow, red and brown. – Now in fact!
There are other trees in High Street such as the magnificent bronze maple in the front garden of Ma’s Pizza & Pasta. The fact is that without us realising it most of the time, the High Street trees enhance the environment of the street tremendously and signal the changing seasons as much as the window displays of the shops. Do you have a favourite High Street tree? Can you help me out with any more facts or identifications?