Today was a very early start in order for me to fit in my various chores before the symposium started at 9am. The weather was beautiful and I could tell it would be hot later, so I spent ages watering. I have to pay special attention to the seedling trays at the moment because they dry out quickly in the heat. It is a very strange situation for me to be sat inside watching a computer all day, especially when the weather is good. In fact, it feels very odd being inside during the day, full-stop!
However, Patrick, James and Aideen were outside early to work on the box hedge. Patrick and Aideen are cutting and James is spraying with XenTari to protect against the Box Tree Moth caterpillar. By the end of the day they have finished the main hedge, which looks amazing, but they were all sunburnt!
Meanwhile, I was sat inside trying to negotiate an online symposium. As can be imagined, I had to call Aideen in several times to help her tech-phobic mother! James teased me about going back to school, saying “Do you have your book bag and new pencil case ready?”! Despite all of the teasing, I remained glued to the computer screen until after 5pm and it is hard to describe how I feel.
Robert Hart coined the term ‘forest garden’ when he invented this new way of gardening. An edible forest garden is like natural woodland with three layers of vegetation; trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. These layers can provide fruit, nuts, soft fruit, perennial vegetables and herbs. The forest garden is extremely diverse, with almost all plants carefully chosen to meet human needs and the remainder to support the food plants. “It is an attempt to create (to quote Robert Hart) a model life-support systems, which would enable a family or small community to achieve a considerable degree of self-sufficiency in basic necessities throughout the year, while enjoying health-giving exercise in a beautiful, unpolluted and stimulating environment”.
I found today completely absorbing and I felt privileged to be attending such an event. It is a five day symposium comprising of multiple presentations, each followed by live Q&As given by expert practitioners from around the world. It is also attended by many people with expertise and/or interest in forest gardening from around the world. From its small experimental beginnings, forest gardening is now regarded as a major contributor to resolving the climate change crisis.
Today began with Geoff Lawton (Austrailia) who designs permanent perennial food forest systems to regenerate large arid areas throughout the world. We then had Martin Crawford discussing maximising carbon storage in food forests. Then Anne Stobart, Sebastion Pole (Pukka teas), Simon Miles and Jenny Pickup on the subject of Forest Gardens and health, medicinal plants and mental wellbeing. Ricardo Ricarbol on the history and potential of forest garden systems in Chile. Emma Pilgrim on forest gardens and their value to wildlife and people. Then Eva Johansson (Sweden), Frank Gorter, Jelle Fekkes and Louis De Jaeger (Belgium) on food forests on a farm scale. Of particular interest to me, was Steven Heyde’s presentation on the potential of food forestry for historic estates. He pointed out the links between todays forest gardens and historic multi layered orchards and multi-functional landscapes. He believes that historical estates with their mixed operations could be an ideal solution for the future of food production.
At the end of the day my head was full and I went out to my embryo forest garden to clear some areas to plant comfrey, whose deep roots are excellent for carbon storage – Martin Crawford would approve!
Emergency Cranberry Repair
Today was even hotter, so I was outside bright and early giving the tunnel trays a major soaking before I started my symposium for the day. Martin (digger driver) was back for the morning and this time Aideen was driving the dumper, they made a start on the deep section of the pond. Later, Aideen stood in the hole and said that she thinks she would be below the water level, which will be 1.5m deep.
Today’s symposium started with the wonderful Graham Bell, describing the history of his 30 year old forest garden on the Scottish borders. It is amazing to see the authors of so many of the books on my shelves speaking live to me from Aideen’s lap top!
This was followed by a presentation and very lively Q&A by Steven Newman who works in agroforestry research, who along with Dave Jacke, did a fascinating talk clarifying the definition and use of guilds in forest garden design. They had a very sensible, down to earth approach to forest gardening. They both said don’t be frightened to make mistakes and experiment, every environment is different, so just ‘go for it’! This attitude certainly appeals to me.
There was a very helpful presentation on Biochar as a nutrient source in Agroforestry systems which I was really interested in as I’m considering making biochar myself if it is practical. I’m hopefully getting a book on this for my birthday! The remainder of the day was centred around urban forest gardens in UK and abroad for public use in community spaces and even on roofs! There were also discussions on how forest gardens can be used to reclaim degraded/polluted soils.
It was another excellent day and afterwards I spent some time in the polytunnel sorting out the climbers and planting out the aubergines.
However, first I paid a visit to the Forest Garden bed and discovered one arm of my highbush cranberry had been partially snapped…Bella?
I tried to repair it by binding it up with masking tape!
Each day is dawning hotter than the last and the atmosphere is muggy. This isn’t good for anyone. Patrick is finding it difficult to breathe, Martin and the girls are finding it unbearable to be digging the hole for the pond and it is very hard to keep the polytunnel from drying out.
I am now on day three of the symposium and today was particularly informative. It started with Salah Hammad discussing agroforestry systems as a post disaster aid empowerment tool. This was really inspiring, as the purpose of this work is to get people back on their feet without being dependant on aid, encourage them to continue eating their heritage foods and to keep their farming sustainable and organic.
We then had a presentation by Louise Gehin on the Bec Hellouin forest garden made famous by their book ‘Miraculous Abundance - One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers and Enough Food to Feed the World’. I have this book but haven’t read it yet, I will start tonight! She also discussed her own multi-strata orchard project. This was followed by a brilliant talk by Adolfo Rosati about his research and diverse agroforestry on his Italian farm. Something that came from these talks was the use of livestock to combine with orchards and vine yards etc. to control weeds and pests. This certainly got me thinking about putting Pecky to work and on a serious note, it is a wonderful way to make livestock carbon neutral.
There were talks on edible wood farms that use inoculated logs to produce mushrooms and the wonderful Eric Toensmeier talked about how perennial vegetables are massively important for carbon sequestration, improving nutrition and biodiversity.
The day concluded with everyone agreeing that it was vital to have places in a forest garden for humans to gather and enjoy themselves, like a natural swimming pond, because otherwise the forest garden would be neglected. I think this means we are on the right track at Church Gardens.
At the end of my ‘computer day’, I harvested my existing comfrey which was so tall it had partly fallen over. I took it up to the forest garden bed, chopped it up and spread it over the bare earth that I had weeded. This caused some raised eyebrows, why was I covering the newly weeded areas with weeds? The earth needs the nutrients and I don’t want to leave it bare so I will mulch it.
I then planted out my new comfrey plant and went into the tunnel and planted out more climbers and some chillies.
Pond Excavation Complete…Almost
Before my day of study began, I became distracted by the fruit tree border. Whilst snipping off some dead stalks form the Russian Sage I spotted that some of the giant achilleas, which looked respectable from the front, had spilled out at the back and were blocking the service path. I nipped along the path and attempted to tie them in before I started watering. I will have to spend a lot longer staking and tying in all along the bed because some of the peonies are a bit spread eagled as well…but I do not have time this morning.
The symposium today was enthralling. It started with Wouter Van Ecd, who heads a national foundation for food forests in the Netherlands. The Netherlands appears to be the most advanced country for supporting and funding food forests in the Western world, realising their importance in tackling climate change and food poverty issues. He discussed designing larger scale, rational food forests that offer a real alternative to existing agriculture rather than the more ‘romantic’ forest gardens that we are more familiar with.
We then had a presentation by Xavier San Giorgi about Utopia Island and urban food forest, Rijnvliet. This was about brilliant new housing developments in the Netherlands surrounded by food forest landscaping. Imagine being able to step outside your new house and pick fruit and herbs from the surrounding landscape, what a marvellous idea! I resolved to talk to Patrick about this when he is suggesting planting schemes for his own development projects.
The day’s programme continued in this vein, edible community fruit orchards and diverse orchards in public spaces. This was a really good idea, where more unusual varieties of fruit are planted in a public park, giving people the opportunity to try the fruit to help decide what they would like to grow in their own gardens. There were further talks on pruning apple trees, forest garden education, eco-literacy for schools and the national forest gardening scheme. We then moved on to breeding oaks with low tannin to improve palatability of acorns, research on multi strata food systems around the world and which plants are the best varieties and species for productivity in a forest garden. We finished with a very useful section on ‘Where are all the perennial veg cook books?’ and a film ‘Evergreen Abundance’ about central and southern Chile.
At the end of my forest gardening day, two exciting things occurred. My new range cooker, ordered just after Christmas finally arrived. Unfortunately, despite the 6-month delay, we are still not prepared for its installation so it will have to sit next to the fridge in its massive packaging case for the foreseeable future! I was then called out to the pond to see the completed hole.
It is not entirely finished, there needs adjustment on the beach area, overflow drain and neatening off the plant shelf, but Martin and the digger have done all they can. It looks amazing…Tiggy sat on the edge and she was totally dwarfed by the ponds size. I wish the pond was finished, partly because I know how much more work is still required to get to that stage and partly because I am desperate to swim in it!
Aideen wrote in my card today that I was rather unusual because I wanted to spend my birthday at the last day of the Forest Garden Symposium! I’m probably also unusual because I’m pleased that it has rained all day, which will be good for the onions, garlic and shallots.
I have had a lovely half term, taking part in this completely inspiring symposium. I feel like I’ve travelled around the world and met the authors of many of my favourite books. Today, it was Tomas Remlarx who wrote ‘Forest Gardening in Practice’ and Jerome Osentowski who wrote the brilliant ‘The Forest Garden Greenhouse’, this man has a sleeping platform, hammocks and a shower in his greenhouse!
Today was mainly about cold climate forest gardening ie. How to stop an elk nibbling your young hazel trees! There were speakers from Norway Denmark and the Bavarian Alps. There were also discussions on holding water in the landscape, soil research and finally, the future of forest gardens, linking to the transition town movement. I cannot think of a better way to spend my birthday and now I will have a glass of wine!
I got some lovely things for my birthday which included some very comfortable, rather trendy, coral coloured crocs. This is a great, as my customised crocs slip on wet paths and it was only a matter of time before I slipped over. Diane gave me a matching coral ‘Fitbit’…I think she’s trying to get me interested in my fitness again. I didn’t realise that they are also watches and it was agreed that a Fitbit would be much more practical to wear outside than my usual watch. This little gadget also counts steps, so everyone was intrigued to see how many I would do on a normal day in the garden.
I really enjoyed my symposium but I am so relieved to be back in the garden, I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time indoors and sitting in front of a computer is completely alien to me. Today the sun was shining and after the lengthy rain yesterday the garden looked lovely. The delphiniums are starting to bloom, a few roses have opened and there are alliums and irises everywhere.
The wildflower meadow is beginning to meet with Patricks approval, the yellow rattle is doing especially well.