On entering the Vintry Garden from Sumpter Yard, I find a bench, sip my cappuccino slowly and bask in the sunlight. After a busy morning, I switch off, slow down and feel restored by the swish of trees and birdsong in the air.

This walled garden overlooking our magnificent cathedral feels private and secluded despite being so close to the high street. I feel as if I know these trees as they have been a backdrop throughout my life while living here; each one has its own distinct character.

I am struck by the secluded nature of the garden. There is no city vista or grand panorama to boast about, it is small in scale and simply a tranquil and snug place to linger at lunchtime or chat with friends; an ideal garden in which to have a picnic or savour those in-between moments during a busy day.

This garden is part of the cathedral grounds, and back in the 14th Century the monks cultivated this land, turning it into a fruitful vineyard. Sitting here beneath these huge trees, I wonder about all the historic events these trees have witnessed throughout the passing centuries.

The last time I was in the cathedral, I picked up a tree trail leaflet. I would never have thought of learning about tree species, but as I open it up I immediately recognise the English oak tree in the middle of the garden. The mighty oak has been around for a while, in fact since the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago!

I love the way it spreads its low branches, and how its open canopy lets the sunlight filter into the garden and onto the lawn. It is native to Britain of course, and has become our national emblem; the ‘quercus robur’ which means ‘strength'.

The hornbeam tree situated on the other side of the garden is also native to Britain. A smaller, more compact tree, its long slim trunk and pale grey bark yield a very hard timber. Apparently, the Romans used hornbeam for their chariots and nowadays is used in parquet flooring.

I look up through the centre of an old yew tree and see a labyrinth of red branches against the sky; memories of my daughter and her friends tree climbing in Clarence Park come to mind, twisting, turning and navigating from branch to branch, discovering the natural world while suspended. I used to worry about them reaching too high and leaning on flimsy branches, but now I see what fun it must have been and how every ascent must have felt like a triumph.

As I didn’t have a rural childhood, I get the feeling that in my retirement I might have to make up for lost time, kick off my big city shoes, spend more time in nature and join the tree huggers society!

I go and sit under the ginkgo biloba tree. It instantly lifts my spirits with its bright emerald hues lighting up its abundant yet delicate foliage. I recently read that the species was around more than 300 million years ago and is also known as ‘living fossil’ - one of the oldest living tree species! The word ginkgo comes from the Chinese word ‘yinxing’ meaning ‘silver apricot’. It is grown as hedges in China and is widely used in natural remedies.

I walk along a short winding path towards Sumpter Yard. The sun’s luminous rays skim along the tops of the herbs, grasses and shrubs. Suddenly I encounter a small yet robust mulberry tree. Its deep colours are mesmerizing. I’m spellbound as the sunlight lights up the clusters of thick mulberries. It is gnarled and bent growing beside the wall and yet looks so abundant and fertile. It feels like it is straight out of a Grimms' fairy tale and I imagine it appearing at the threshold of a dark forbidden forest!

In her book, The Remarkable Trees of St Albans, Kate Bretherton shares her views that “St Albans Districts’ trees as a whole are remarkable... we are rich in specimen trees, in native woodlands, trees in streets, parks and churchyards.” The trees are so remarkable, she claims, because they are “rare or of exceptional beauty....others are remarkable for their associations – the memories or ideas that the tree evokes”. I have to agree with her and can see how these old magnificent trees have become “heirlooms”.

I enjoyed my escape to the Vintry Gardens and as I head back into the hustle and bustle of the high street, I think about which tree I’ll be planting next in my small city garden and what future historic occasions it will bear witness to in many years to come.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city