homage to all plants

This is extract from my book ‘the garden of equal delights‘ speaks of our dysfunctional relationship with our world and the damage we habitually wreak upon it.

“Eventually my understanding progressed towards a deeper appreciation of the complex abilities of plants and the delicate precision of their relationships, and as I became more integrated within my own forest garden it dawned on me with ever greater impact just how much we owe to plants. Plants are mediators of transformation on a global scale; they are the weavers and connectors of the living and non-living elements binding everything together. I have become deeply uncomfortable with thinking of, or describing, plants (merely) in terms of their functions. Even if you deeply admire and love trees and plants, and spend much of your time devoted to them and their wellbeing, to see them in terms of their usefulness and to use them purely as functional entities is to make these amazing, gracious beings into servants. Of course that is the prevailing view.”

“Seeing and using plants solely for their functions and their usefulness is, in this revalued world, like valuing your family and friends only for what they do for you. So that, beyond their utility to you, there is no appreciation or love or any reciprocity at all. It sounds appalling doesn’t it? That is how we treat the whole of the wider world – as though it is just there for us humans to take, to have, to own, to eat and to mess up and to destroy. Even those of us who claim to love the natural world and try our best to protect it, still have this attitude: it is ingrained in us and not about to be rooted out any time soon.”

“I would love all gardeners to be able to recognise all plants as precious and valuable and to end the discrimination that is one of gardening’s accepted wisdoms. Some are deemed useful, some are edible and tasty, some are beautiful; some are weeds and some are even designated noxious or thugs, and I would like an end to this. All plants are special. From the tiniest to the most massive they are all wonderful and generous beings. It is the human eye and mind that separates, classifies and accordingly approves, ignores or rejects particular plants. These views are the basis of how we treat (manage) the plant world, cultivating a very few plants on an industrial scale, persecuting others virtually out of existence and all sorts of positions in between. Of course, I used to share these perceptions and I used to treat plants in the same way. Take a view from any other place on the planet, through non-human eyes, and you can see relationships rather than functions, and after a while I began to see them that way as well. Time spent in my garden opened my eyes and mind to a deeper appreciation which I call my ‘homage to all plants’. I have deliberately used an old and unfamiliar word in an attempt to get to the heart of my altered experience of being a gardener edging my way towards fresh understanding.”

Homage is an old-fashioned word which is defined by the Oxford online dictionary as “special honour or respect shown publicly”. Some other definitions relate homage to a medieval serf acknowledging the lordship of their master and it can also have religious connotations in showing worship or deep respect to a deity.

So my ‘homage to all plants’ is in recognition of all that plants are and it is my way of acknowledging a very deep respect and appreciation for all plants; my way of saying that I am deeply indebted to them – in many more ways than I can ever know. What an amazing repertoire belongs to the world of trees and plants. How profound are their life-giving relationships that even now keep our world in food and in balance. Deep respect to you all. I pay homage.

the garden of equal delights pages 124-125

Posted in a different gardener, Forest Gardening, Polyculture learning, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, the garden of equal delights | Leave a comment

The Sombrun Forest Garden Project

In rural south west France Jonathan is establishing the Sombrun Forest Garden Project following principles established over thousands of years in full respect of Nature, the environment and ecology. Here is a link to his most recent post of 1st June 2021 which is – like all his posts – very detailed, informative, interesting and enlightening.

Posted in Forest Gardening | 1 Comment

the botanical mind – looking deeper within

For anyone who likes to ‘root around’ and ponder some of the deeper questions today’s episode of Sarah Wilson’s podcast Roots and All The Botanical Mind is a fascinating exploration of the relationship between humans and the natural world, through the medium of an art installation which is also available online.

Posted in Indigenous wisdom and practice, Relationship with nature | Tagged | Leave a comment

perennial vegetables

It was nearly 16 years ago when I first wondered about the possibility of there being such a thing as a perennial vegetable.  Much has happened since then.  Despite there being almost no information available at the time I was so entranced by the idea that I embarked on a project to locate and grow as many perennial vegetables as I could possibly find.  I had the hope that that there would be at least a few that I would be able to grow in my garden over the long term with little (if any) effort or work.

Happily – and somewhat to my initial astonishment – I found that a surprising number of perennial vegetables do exist and can be grown easily.  To sum up what I discovered in that initial project I wrote my first book ‘Edible Perennial Gardening’ in 2014 to describe the different perennials I had experimented with and how well they grew, what they tasted like and suggested how to grow them in self nurturing polycultures.

I have moved since those early days and now live on top of a hill in Wales, in a windy, wet, exposed location.  Here in the midst of a small forest garden that includes about 20 different fruits and dozens of herbs, wild flowers and other bushes and plants.

These perennial vegetables survive year on year with next to no attention at all from me:

  • ‘Wild’ kale (sold to me as wild kale, but looking different to true wild kale, this is a big plant and very hardy and healthy)
  • Taunton Deane kale
  • Daubenton’s kale
  • Turkish rocket
  • Good King Henry
  • Caucasian spinach
  • Various sorrels including mountain sorrel
  • Nettles
  • Welsh onions
  • Tree onions
  • Perennial leeks
  • Wild garlic
  • Three cornered leek
  • Few flowered leek
  • Garlic
  • Oca
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Skirret
  • Mashua
  • Scorzonera
  • Earth nut pea
  • Day lily (edible flowers)

These plants are not perennial, but are self seeding annuals that reappear each year, again with no help from me:

  • Salsify
  • Land cress
  • Lamb’s lettuce

And these are what author Stephen Barstow calls ‘edimentals’ – conventional garden plants that are also edible:

  • Dog tooth violet
  • Hostas
  • Solomon’s seal
  • Evening primrose (self seeding biennial)

And – I can also fit in annual peas and beans and some salad crops!

During the intervening years more and more people have become aware of both perennial vegetables and forest gardens – all I can say is both of these topics are well worth investigating and taking up, especially if you would like to grow some of your own food with very little effort whilst improving the soil in your garden and improving the habitat for many different creatures as well.  I have also written a second book, ‘the garden of equal delights’ (2020) that describes how this works in practice.

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, the garden of equal delights | Tagged | 7 Comments

sensitive co-creativity

Nature invigorates, sustains, rejuvenates the forest garden, the forest gardener is there to see and to experience and then to react in as sensitive a way as they can. 

My partner and I don’t (unfortunately) live here in Wales all the time.  When the first lockdown was announced last spring we were here and were able to spend time here until the autumn.  But from October to early April we were across the border in Shropshire – an enforced absence of about six months.  When we returned I was glad (but not surprised) to see the garden flourishing; after all part of its purpose is to ‘look after’ itself with the minimum of intervention or support. 

Subject to the rules pertaining here in Wales over recent weeks we have been able to welcome other people to spend time here outdoors and a number of our family and friends have visited.  Each and every one of them has commented about the huge number of beautiful flowers and the number of bees and other insects buzzing around. 

honesty in bloom

And then some have added that – ‘it’s just as well that your style of gardening suits these circumstances’.  However although I think the grandchildren ‘get it’ more – many of my adult friends and family do not have a full understanding of how this garden ‘works’; and I think that they are assuming that I am just leaving it alone and that it all happens almost magically.

pear blossom

Clearly I have left the garden alone over the winter.  I didn’t do a lot last summer either.  But what I have done a lot of is watching and waiting, seeing what happens and then making minimal interventions

That means in practice that I have:

  • taken note of where the mint has been spreading and have removed some of it that grew close to smaller plants and left it where it is close to strong fruit trees and bushes
  • divided clumps of Welsh onions, snowdrops and cowslips and separated strawberry runners – and planted them into gaps
  • moved a few jostaberry cuttings that were growing too large for their space and planted them into the mixed hedge
  • removed some wild marjoram plants that were overcoming smaller plants and put them into the mixed hedge
  • left self seeded plants including wild onions (three cornered leek, few flowered leek, wild garlic), dandelions, phacelia, land cress, lamb’s lettuce, sweet cicely, fennel, forget me nots, honesty and salsify to grow where they land.

All of these quite minor activities and non activities have supported the garden to become what it is.  Had it been left entirely alone – or had I removed all the self seeded plants it might have looked quite similar; but I think it would have been less supportive to the wider ecosystem and to all the possibilities for different forms of life to find a home here.

whilst transplanting snowdrops into this hole I found a toad!

However there is no way to objectively ‘judge’ these things.  I do my best to understand the garden and to interpret how best to work with it.  And as each and every forest garden (or ordinary garden for that matter) is unique, each one will be the unique expression of the sensitive interactivity and co-creativity of that forest garden and that forest gardener.

Forest garden principles:

Everything the forest gardener does takes full account of the whole of the forest garden ecosystem – what has happened, what is happening and what they intend for the future.

Watch and wait.

When you have to do something, only do the minimum.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Doing the minimum, ecosystem, forest garden development, Forest Gardening, Polyculture learning, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Waiting, Watching | Tagged | 3 Comments

the children’s fire

Sparked by the announcement of the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June 2021, the Children’s Fire Project is a collaboration between ordinary people across several generations who dream of a better world, and a better way of creating it.

With this project we are asking people everywhere, especially young people as the generation closest to those yet to be born, to share their visions for the future, so that these can be included in the G7’s decision-making.

The decisions made by the G7 impact every person alive today and for generations to come.  We want to put the good of the seventh generation at the core of G7 decision-making.

Because when that happens, it will benefit all life on the planet.

“When you sit and you council for the welfare of the people,
think not of yourself, nor of your family.
Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming.
Those faces looking up from the earth, layer upon layer waiting their time.
Defend them.
Protect them.
They are helpless, they are in your hands.
That is your duty.
Your responsibility.
You do that, you yourself will have peace.”

Chief Oren Lyons quoting the Peacemaker

Home – Children’s Fire (childrensfire.earth)

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141,900 reasons to praise dandelions!

Dandelions are composite flowers -every yellow strand that looks like a petal is actually an individual flower – and there are 300 atop each flower stalk. Before lunch today I counted the fully open dandelions in the garden and at a conservative count made it at least 473. Multiplied by 300 that makes 141,900 tiny flowers. 141,900 opportunities for bees and other insects to feed.

bumble bee on dandelion flower

Bee expert Dave Goulson says that:

“A queen [bee] may use her own weight in sugar each day to incubate her brood, which may necessitate visiting up to 6000 flowers. If these flowers are too few and far between she will be away from the nest for much of the day, her brood will cool and as a result develop too slowly, and she will wear herself out in her frantic search for food. Hence the proximity of lots of nectar-rich spring flowers is probably vital.” Goulson 2013

At 6000 flowers per queen bumble bee per day today’s dandelions feed 23 bees and have many times more flowers than the other plants and bushes I was also counting today (of which more another time).

I have been praising dandelions for years, but now there are more reasons than ever to do so!

Forest gardening principle: plant polyfloral polycultures everywhere.

Posted in Flowers, Forest Gardening, polyfloral, Relationship with nature | 2 Comments

in praise of jostaberries

Sitting outside yesterday in the cool and damp of an early April afternoon I watched a procession of bumble bees visiting the first flowers on the jostaberry bushes.

As well as being an early food store for the queen bumble bees that are currently emerging ‘jostas’ (as I tend to call them) ripen their fruit early. The berries are lovely straight from the bush and equally good when made into jam or fruit leather. They are hardy and resilient plants and can easily be struck from cuttings. If you haven’t got any in your forest garden I highly recommend that you do!

Posted in Borderland Garden, Fruit | Tagged | 1 Comment

Roots and All podcast

I had the great joy of chatting to Sarah Wilson from the Roots and All podcast one afternoon last week and you can hear our conversation here. Enjoy!

Posted in Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, the garden of equal delights | 2 Comments

becoming delightfully obsessed

alongside the evolution of the forest garden there is the evolution of the forest gardener

As forest gardeners we are all unique individuals and each forest garden is the result of the unfolding of the gardener’s hopes, intentions and interactions with nature in a specific place.  The two evolve together – in a delightfully unpredictable way.

Out of the blue one summer’s day in my garden a single question arose in my mind:

  • Is there such a thing as a perennial vegetable? 

This was the question that first introduced me to forest gardening, and from the outset I was utterly besotted with the idea; leading to further questions:

  • How many perennial vegetables are there that are suitable for my garden’s conditions?
  • How can I obtain them?
  • Can I grow them as part of the ecology of a small forest garden?
  • Can I do so without much work?
  • What will they taste like?

And, as I explored these questions, pushing myself way beyond my initial knowledge and understanding, I found the answers that I was hoping for – that there were indeed a range of tasty, easy to grow perennial vegetables that could be grown in a small forest garden without much work!  I wrote about these questions in my book ‘Edible Perennial Gardening‘.

And so it was that after some years that another question arose:

  • How am I interacting with this forest garden? 

My aim was always to do the minimum of work, but also to obtain a plentiful harvest.  This was indeed happening, but my interaction with the garden seemed to be almost intuitive and I needed to know:

  • Are there any principles that underlying the intuition that I have developed?  Principles that could guide others on the same journey?

And so that question became my obsession for the next four years. It was finally and as fully answered as I am able to in my book ‘the garden of equal delights.

I am sure that I am not alone in becoming obsessed by forest gardening.  And because each forest garden is a unique combination of the place, the planting and the person I think that many other forest gardeners are either pondering or engaged in the process of following up on their own unique questions. 

There is so much yet to learn.  Collectively we have hardly begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know.  So much more about plants, about ways to preserve or prepare food, and about polycultures and the miraculous complexity of an ecosystem.  So many different native plants, insects and animals can be supported in our forest gardens, so many more meals can come from them.  And much peace and joy is to be found spending time watching the unfolding of nature in one place. As well as connecting our forest gardens to the wider world of ecosystems and biodiversity we are connected to one another in the human and cultural realm, sharing our inspirations, our ideas, plants and seeds, information, knowledge, expertise, services, inspiration and so on. 

It may (or may not) take time to uncover our own unique perspectives and questions, but on the day that the questions that matter to you arise – get out there and spend however long it takes to answer them.  And then please share what you have learned with everyone else!

Posted in a different gardener, ecosystem, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Principles of forest gardening, the garden of equal delights | 4 Comments