I will let you into a secret. I have zero experience of gardening or any form of horticulture. I know plants grow , bud , flower , fruit and seed and that various birds , insects and creatures including humans eat them and depend on them to live.
I know the names of some trees and how to identify them through the seasons. I know lots of so called weeds are in fact medicine and have health and healing benefits. I know a little bit about this and a bit more about that , not just from research and reading but from talking to people who know more than me . From being curious and observing . From spending time with the plants and asking and then taking the answers and checking it against info available in various resources.
The small plot of land that is slowly becoming a Secret Garden has several different habitat areas. The boundary is mature trees and shrubs , sycamore, maple , ash, elder , hawthorn. Ivy.
Theres a shady coppice of goat willow and Maple in the middle where the ground gets boggy in winter, with a Bog iris Crop growing not far away.
An open south facing wild flower meadow with buttercup, daisy, dandelion and forgetmenot in spring. And as the year progresses, common hogweed, ragwort, bluebells, daffodils, crocosmia, Fetch, plantain, wild orchid, white and red clover , thistle, red knapp weed and several species of grasses .
There is a large bramble patch, strawberry and raspberry plants creeping through the meadow. Several red, black and white current bushes dotted randomly round the site that yielded a large harvest this year though the birds scoffed most of them. And a couple of gooseberry bushes .
The North of the site houses a mini shady woodland with ivy , fern , bluebells , ash , elder, maple , beech and hawthorn trees.
And everywhere you look is nettle, hogweed & himalayan balsam which is invasive but fairly easy to remove. The bees love the late summer flowers full of pollen !
To know that without doing anything much the land is already quite diverse , already has several habitats and already has fruits and edibles growing means rather than look at establishing a wild life habitat from scratch , the need of this space feels more about thinning things out , creating space and knowing which areas would benefit from the reduction of some plants and the introduction of some others . To keep the soil fertile and the health of the plantlife maintained.
My plans are still swimming round my head . Nothing has changed about them . But I am finding waiting for this shift from summer to autumn and the wait for colder , damper weather to bring about the natural period of decay and the stopping of growth before the next stages of clearing and cutting can be done , is causing a sense of impatience and inner pressure. I feel i need to hurry up and get it done now, after leaving the land to its own devices over summer it’s suddenly feels overwhelmed. There is too much of everything .
I’m half kicking myself for not implementing things in spring like membrane to prevent growth in some areas, not pruning the trees , not keeping the plants down in size to a foot or two . Some are nearly 7 foot tall !
But I also remember I was spending the first season doing the minimum to watch what the space does . I feel like I have done “nothing” and bitten off more than I can chew.
I catch myself and take note of the plans I have for different areas and am reassured my instincts weren’t wrong about what would be helpful. Listening to the land has a habit of making me question myself. Doubt myself. I am often stuck or hanging on because I’m not quite sure where to take things next.
Opting for a natural organic unfolding of the whole project has meant not doing the usual human thing of rushing to get things done as soon as possible. Its meant not rushing to form a structure ( CIC ? Charity ? Constituted group ? ) or decide how the space will work or be used – community forest garden ? Wildlife education area ? Outdoor Workshop space ? Alternative venue for community groups ? Forest school ? And not rushing out to fill in funding bids and tell the world all about it . Though that no doubt comes next .
I have an idea now of what will need doing to keep the space ticking over through the seasons, roughly what plants are around that foraging days can be organised around , which areas can be developed for wildflower beds and where the indoor space will be best placed .
I know I need more people to help me and to preferably come along on the journey but they will need to have more experience than I have in looking after the land . Or maybe we could muddle along learning as we go ?
Being patient and waiting to see who turns up ,has its drawbacks. But also brings unexpected surprises. If its an experiment in letting go of control and allowing things to come to me at the right time , I think everything is going exactly to plan .
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