Hesketh Park is another of the elegant Merseyside parks laid out by Edward Kemp, opened in 1868. The shelter of the surrounding mature trees made it very mild within the park, which probably accounted for the wildflowers which were still blooming – Ragwort, Red Campion, Bramble and Michaelmas Daisy. On the lake was the usual urban bird congregation, Mallards, Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens, Black-headed Gulls and a few juvenile Herring Gulls. However, there were also some more unusual ones. Several dozen Tufted Duck, a single Pochard and a Cormorant flapping its wings. There was a Grey Wagtail on the path.
In the shrubbery near the Conservatory was a shrub just coming into flower. “Castor Oil Plant”, said all my companions. But that’s a common mistake, apparently. It was a False Castor Oil Plant Fatsia japonica. It is also called glossy-leaf paper plant, fatsi, paperplant and Japanese aralia.
I was hoping for a blaze of autumn colour, but there is still far too much green about. Some trees are going yellow, and the leaves are starting to fall, but there isn’t much red yet. The reddest tree we saw was a Beech near the playground.
In the (tree) Specimen Garden we looked for the Katsura that used to be there but we couldn’t spot it. It has yellow heart-shaped leaves and is said to smell of candy floss in the autumn. The Dawn Redwood’s needles were brown and falling. A Tulip Tree, said to be famous for its autumn colour, could only muster yet more yellow, and the best effort came from several Persian Ironwoods, although not up to the glory of some autumns.
By a fluke, we found the Fernley Observatory open. It was originally just a Meteorological Observatory, but after the death of local man Joseph Baxendell FRAS (1815–1887), the retired Timekeeping Astronomer for the City of Manchester, his family offered his observatory, telescope and equipment to the park. It was erected and installed in 1901, and was originally open to the public. As time went by it fell into disuse, until it was restored as a historic building in 2007. It is still used by Southport Astronomical Society, but since the dome doesn’t rotate fully, it is used only for meetings and education, not observations.
Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Albert Road / opp Hesketh Park at 11.30. Returned on the X2 from Albert Road / Park Road at 2.20, arriving Liverpool about 3pm.