The beautiful abundance of the wild .

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 .

Lessons from the land: A Pathway through the woods

The first task I had when taking on this space was to clear the dead wood and brambles left to over grow for years .

Not an easy task but after a few weeks of steady perseverance, the majority of the thorns had been tamed . I’d pitched a little tea making spot beneath the elder and began to observe as spring brought a surge of growth to the land. What had been bare and barren and quite frankly looked a huge mess , began to transform before me into a beautiful woodland paradise.

A thicket of brambles between the willows.
Brambles and bracken cleared from the meadow

It became clear early on we would need pathways to make getting round the site easier for people but also so wildlife habitat wasn’t being trampled on. It took a while to sit with the space and work out where best to place them. Some , like the path from the entrance to the compost to the meadow were straight forward and self evident. It was the how of it that started the first conversation with the land .

Laying the path to the compost using the dead sticks and moss cleared from the land.

I wondered back and forth for days trying to work out what to use . Weed membrane? Wood bark ? Stone gravel ? Do i buy stuff in ? Card board ?

The answer came from the land itself as piles of dead sticks from last years flowers mounted up and as the dead grass and moss was raked to make space for shoots and new growth . “use whats here already”

And so the winding path beneath the willows was made of soft green moss and stalks . I continued it past the compost heap and towards the meadow. And then after a sudden spell of snow the sun warmed the land and the site exploded into its spring growth . The paths were overwhelmed and it has become evident that my initial reluctance to put down the weed membrane was not such a bad idea.

Plants growing over the initial pathways.

By not putting it down immediately I learnt 2 lessons- one that it was in fact a good idea and two that the site needs much wider pathways than I anticipated especially during summer ! I also got to learn why they need more room and the kinds of plants that the land is home too.

Nettle , thistle and common hog weed grow incredibly tall during summer if left unchecked. As do the grasses . They are all vital food and habitat for wildlife and sources of nutritious forage for people. And the site is abundant with them ! Its wonderful but also means it needs to be managed if people are going to access the site on a regular basis . And without weed membrane down the paths need clearing every two or three days . Leave it more than a week and they disappear beneath the green .

Snowed under
Widening the paths
Path through the glade being taken over by nettles

There’s something deeply satisfying in taking time to work with and negotiate with the land about what is done and when and why.

By allowing myself to go step by step guided by the space and the wisdom of the garden , by not rushing to impose a solution but giving the place time to show me how it grows I have been able to figure out not just what i need but what the place needs. What the wildlife needs. What the plants need. Where they grow , how they grow and how that effects how the space is used and becomes shaped.

It has allowed me to consider what kinds of workshops and activities might be best suited to here and what can be foraged and utilised for them . And what needs to be left alone . To grow . To keep the balance.

It also reminded me of how we build new neural pathways in our brain by learning new things and doing things new ways . The physical act of laying new paths in the outside mirrors the creating of new pathways within. And so it goes with permaculture. Undoing my human learning to do to , rather than with all beings not just the human .

As I continue to deepen the relationship to place and land it begins to open up and speak more. Nudging me here to do this and there to do that. Advising when to leave alone , stay away or come closer and help out. There are times I notice i am stuck internally and in danger of forcing things to happen and the wisdom of the land supports and offers its advice . To stop. Go home . Rest. Come back in a few days . Do something else for a while . And I do and it works. Things shift and move.

Nature can be harsh and unforgiving in its wildness at times but it is also very giving and patient and welcoming. It shares its abundance and its wisdom willingly . When we are able to listen and hear what it has to say and let go of our human need to control everything. Thinking we know best .

View from the meadow

Earth Medicine

I’ve just returned from a beautifully nurturing, nourishing and wonderfully held Wild Therapy taster weekend .

It was lovely to connect in the flesh with real people during what has been an often difficult and isolating period.

My main role was fire tending and water keeping – keeping people warm and with brews and holding the observer position, part of the group,yet just outside of it. Noticing.

I often take sometime to commune with the land and the space and often receive poems to share during these times. This one was the one that came during this weekend. These experiences often rekindle a deep connection to the wilderness and the other than human that many people find deeply connecting and sustaining. They remember something. They make time for stillness, pause and reflection. And the wild works its medicine through all of them.

Medicine.

Listen to the voices of the wind..
Its medicine,
You need that

Listen to the voices of the water
Its medicine
You need that

Listen to the voices of the fire
Its medicine
You need that

Listen to the voices of the land
Its medicine
You need that !

Go to the forrest and speak to them
They are longing for your company

That tree you love so much ?
Its medicine

That plant you are being drawn to
That rock , that stone, that feather , its medicine,
You need that !

The beetle longs to tell you the secret of its shell ,
The butterfly, the squirrel, the hazel tree, the crow
All are waiting for you …

Your medicine,
They need that .