I think of Poplar and education.
At my primary school the entire perimeter was huge old Poplar trees. In England, ehen we started school in September the autumn was starting and their rich, sweet-mulchy, succulent scent of fallen leaves was unforgettable. Then, by Christmas time the bare sentinels stood all around us, reaching plaintively to the sky. I was little and they were huge and strong and made me feel utterly safe in that ‘campus’ world. This was a huge school before shonky politicians sold off our free recreation land to greedy developers. Our school had two sets of buildings with quadrangles, one each for the Infant & Primary Schools as well as the Dining Rooms (we had school dinners at lunch time then); the gardeners’ buildings (for equipment & tea room) and lots of other small buildings (for all the PE equipment etc) were dotted around a small back road meandering into the school. One was where we littlies met for Animal Defenders Club (early bird RSPCA). We even had an on-site Caretaker, Mr Fox – appropriately red-haired and burly, and his family living in a two story house at the back entrance, next to the Basingstoke Road gates. Our ‘playing fields’ were vast and we had courtyard play areas in the stone pillared quads, as well as a vast playground on the western side, covered in tarmac. Where we were allowed to ‘play’ was determined by time of day: courtyards for morning tea break and season. Summer meant piles of mown grass to play with and create. As young architects we drew grass-lined walls of our imaginary castles & houses. The Poplars in summer were fluttering, glimmering towers of every green-jewelled light,; the shimmering backdrop to everything, their scent fresh and strong.
The next time I came across my beloved Poplars was at the University of Adelaide, half a world away from Reading, Berkshire. Next to Bonython Hall, there they were in all their splendour. When autumn came, I made a point of trudging on the leaves to press out the smell of my childhood. I loved the colour and the kick in the leaves.
But now they are gone, replaced by low flying, pretty blossom trees in clusters amid the bricked walkways. I think the reason is these trees flower just in time for graduation photos and allow the vast number of overseas students to each find a little tree and having no overhead light problems, take the perfect photo. The area had no shade from any angle, just beating, heating sun and brick shimmer. I’m sure someone in authority would say “But Poplars are disruptive – invasive”
There is only one large tree remaining on the entire North Terrace frontage of the University, the one last Morton Bay Fig tree. But I’m sure the Marketing Department will work out a way to down that one soon…
© M.L.Emmett 2016