Song of Water

Song of Water is a blog post written by James McGowan for the Dark Mountain website which I am re-blogging here.  It beautifully illustrates the depth of the relationship with nature that most humans have lost a long time ago, but towards which we all need to turn now.



Posted in Indigenous wisdom and practice, Relationship with nature | Tagged | 2 Comments

re-interpreting the garden

Q:        When I walk out into my garden this afternoon what is the most helpful ‘thing’ I can take outside with me?

A:        A different attitude of heart and mind.  A mind that is prepared to give up control and to embrace trust and a heart that can love everything equally within the garden.

The conventional garden mind is about control and subjugation – which characterise just about all our human relationships with the natural world.  This attitude has had calamitous effects and I keep reading and hearing that as we contemplate the catastrophic consequences of our way of life we need a new way of relating to the natural world.

If we can but start to see with different eyes, if we can pause and give our hearts time to catch up, we can discover that our gardens are offering us the chance to learn and embody a completely different relationship with the world around us.  A relationship that has abandoned control and embraced trust, that is founded upon mutual reciprocity and equality and which challenges us to the core of our beings to embrace radically different ways of thinking, feeling and (most importantly) behaving.

For me this means understanding first in my head and then in my heart that my garden needs to be created and to function as a mini ecosystem; that is nested within larger neighbouring ecosystems and ultimately that it is inextricably linked to every other place on the planet.  And for this to be the case my garden has to find a dynamic balance between all the living beings that live in it or that visit it – a balance of which I am part.  And that means re-evaluating what I can see happening in front of me.  I am pledged to do the minimum in the garden and to learn by experience as I let nature get on with finding the way forward.  Amongst other things this means that I don’t take any action at all to guard against or to remove any living beings, whether they are considered to be ‘pests’ or not.  And this is one of the points where the conventional gardening mind can start to go into panic mode.

Yesterday I saw these lily beetles mating.

Looking them up on gardening websites etc gives plenty of scope for being horrified as in this piece from The Telegraph which describes them thus:

“Lily beetles, the scarlet-coated horrors that (with their equally destructive grubs), do so much damage to lilies and close relations, hibernate in the top inch or two of soil, sometimes but not always close to lilies, and also in other undisturbed garden debris.”

No single plant is of supreme importance in my garden, everything is there because it contributes its own unique qualities to the overall garden.  The lilies are in this polyculture bed, which is about as diverse as it could possibly be, with fruits, onions, root vegetables, herbs, ornamental shrubs and plants and wild flowers.  The lilies are just one element of the overall complexity but they do have significance for me because I was given them by someone I love.

Either way, it is not for me to interfere and certainly not for me to abhor these little creatures.  Lily beetles eat lilies (which is a natural thing to do because all herbivores are busy converting vegetable matter into animal matter).  And something else will eat lily beetles.  And something else will eat whatever it is that eats lily beetles.  And so on.  That is how nature is.  And I leave it to nature to fill in the gaps.  I think we all need to learn how to leave this to nature.*

There has been a great deal of publicity and concern recently about the massive declines in insect numbers overall, like this piece in The Guardian.  And this looming insect apocalypse begs many questions.  Are our flower beds really more important than global ecology?  Are we going to persist in labelling some of Earth’s valuable and vulnerable creatures as ‘pests’ whilst lauding others as ‘beneficials’?  We must each make our choices whilst our gardens and all of nature wait to see what they will be.

*My forthcoming book explains how and why this can be done (in detail).

Posted in Borderland Garden, ecosystem, Polycultures, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Waiting, Watching | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Massive perennial kales

Perennial kales were one of the first perennial vegetables I tried to acquire and from that time to this they have always been a mainstay of my garden.  This year they have surpassed themselves in growing even more massive than ever before.  Firstly there is the green Daubenton’s kale pictured below – I haven’t measured it but it is at least the span of my outstretched arms across this (single) plant.

Then there is the plant I had from seed labelled ‘wild’ kale.  It doesn’t look like wild kale and I am not sure what it actually is.  There are several plants in this picture and each one of them is large!  It is reliably perennial – ie it lasts for several years even though it flowers profusely.  I have saved the seeds of these to propagate when they eventually die and also propagated them from cuttings, but because the leaves are so big this means of propagation is not all that easy.  You can’t see the bees in the picture, but they are there buzzing around like mad, in seeming ecstasy.  The flowers taste nice to eat too and look pretty on top of a salad.  I will save seeds from these plants later in the year so please get in touch if you would like some.

And finally there is the lovely Taunton Deane kale.  This plant is even bigger than the other two.  I picked a huge armful of medium sized leaves the other day – the largest ones and stalks were discarded (back to the garden as part of the mulch layer).  The medium sized leaves were lightly tossed in oil and crushed dried garlic and then put onto three baking sheets to dry at 50 degrees celsius in the oven for several hours until crispy.  They made two jars full of crushed up dried loveliness because this is an incredibly delicious way of eating kale.  And the small leaves were steamed to go with our meal.  This kale doesn’t flower and is easily propagated from cuttings. Most of what is visible in this picture is a single massive plant and part is a smaller plant propagated last year.


These kales used to be tricky to find, but there are more and more suppliers all the time now.  I recommend Incredible Vegetables and the Backyard Larder.

Posted in Borderland Garden, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

tree following April to May 2019

Apple Trwyn Mochyn, Borderland Garden, Wales

23 April 2019

This is a slow starter, which is perhaps a good thing in this somewhat unpredictable climate.  But by the end of April the flower buds are beginning to open.

And being visited by insect pollinators.

2 May 2019

A few days later at the start of May the leaves are appearing as well.

This is only the second year that this tree has bloomed and although there are only a few clusters of blossom I nevertheless counted 79 actual flowers.  It will be interesting to see how many apples make it to maturity.

Silver Birch, Woodland, Shropshire

Another slow starter – by mid April the silver birch was only sporting a few new leaves.

15 April 2019


But she is fully clothed in green this week and looks lovely!

7 May 2019

Tree in Old St Chads Churchyard, Shrewsbury

15 April 2019

This tree is another one of the year’s late risers, and like the apple and silver birch by mid April it is only just awakening.

Looking up through the branches you can see the young buds  swelling.

24 April 2019

But only eight days later after some warm weather it is turning a soft green all over.

And finally I am able to see enough to be able to identify this lovely tree – it is a whitebeam.

I did not know anything about whitebeams before but have discovered it is a British native tree, usually found wild in the south of the country, but also widely used as an ornamental across the country.  I have since noticed a whitebeam in full flower at the junction of Town Walls and Swan Hill in Shrewsbury and three more outside the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.  As well as others in gardens round the town and out in the countryside near the wood. I am thrilled to make the acquaintance of such a beauty!


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tree following March 2019

afal (apple) trywn mochyn 4.00 pm 3 March 2019 Welsh borders

I don’t think my little trwyn mochyn apple tree looks much different to last month, but you can see that the Welsh onions growing nearby are taller and greener than they were then.

apple trwyn mochyn 3 March 2019

I tried to get a close up of a bud starting to swell and showing some green but storm Freya was starting to blow up and the twig just refused to keep still!

fuzzy close up of bud on trwyn mochyn 3 March 2019

(as yet) unknown tree 9.40 am 4 March 2019 Old St Chad’s Churchyard Shrewsbury

A bright, sunny, clear, breezy spring like morning.  The remnants of storm Freya were littered beneath some of the other trees but not this one.  Birds are singing and flying about but not near this tree – perhaps because I am here!  There are signs of spring on the ground – red deadnettles, celandine, daffodils and the council’s spring bedding plants are in flower as are some early blossom trees.

I had hoped to identify this tree by now, but forgot to bring my tree books to Shrewsbury with me.  I have looked at native trees on the Woodland Trust website and am wondering if it is a poplar tree.  The twigs and bark look similar to their pictures of black poplar and I think the overall shape may be right, but I need to see the leaves to have more certainty.

Is it a poplar tree? 4 March 2019

‘My’ tree too is showing signs of waking up from her winter slumber.  My camera is very basic and just about captured these twigs with their buds starting to swell and show some pale green and you can also see the light glinting on the buds in the background as well.

twigs with slightly swollen leaf buds 4 March 2019

She is not a tall tree, fitting in beside the old church and the edge of the churchyard.  Some branches have previously been pruned to keep her within the space, but I think perhaps she is older than I thought before.

base of tree 4 March 2019

trunk with patch of bark missing 4 March 2019

trunk with evidence of limbs removed in the past 4 March 2019

silver birch tree 12.30 pm 11 March 2019 woodland in Shropshire

Yesterday was fresh and sunny with a bit of a bite in the wind, but being in the wood was lovely.  The birds were calling and there are signs of spring with buds swelling on the trees I planted last year, brambles starting to sprout, wood sorrel popping up and the honeysuckle and wild rose sending out shoots.

The woodland silver birch is also waking up from its winter sleep.  The buds near the ground were starting to swell a bit and were tinged with green, but my attempt at a close up was too fuzzy to use!

woodland silver birch 11 March 2019

I noticed this time that the base of the tree is much wider than the main trunk and wonder if perhaps there was another trunk in the past.  There are a lot of silver birch in this woodland, including some multi stemmed ones.  Some of these have died and fallen to the ground where they can be seen gradually decaying.  However there is no evidence of an old fallen trunk nearby.

base of silver birch 11 March 2019

Looking more closely at the tree’s trunk I saw that it has a yellow lichen growing on it.

lichen on silver birch trunk 11 March 2019

I am finding it interesting to do this tree project.  It is certainly making me look more closely and take notice in a different way.  It will be interesting to see what I have learned by the end of the year.


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In time – after watching and waiting – comes doing the minimum.

The weather has been far warmer than ‘normal’ for February – last weekend was warm, sunny, sparkling spring like weather – the kind of days we would perhaps dare to hope would come by the end of March.  This untimely burst of loveliness pulled the plants and garden creatures forward with bumble bees and butterflies out and about, buds swelling on amelanchier, jostaberry, pears, plums and gages and early cowslips and forget me nots among the crocus and daffodils.  The warmth and sunshine also drew me outside sooner than in previous years to do some minimal untidy-ing-up.

general untidy-ing-up

This consisted of cutting back last year’s remaining fennel stems – the seeds having almost all been eaten by this point in time.  I have often seen blue tits feeding on them and this year the neighbours also saw goldfinches.  I also cut off more old dead stems from sweet cicely, alliums, mashua, marjoram, mint and some other plants.  In accordance with doing the minimum I literally move these materials the smallest distance I can and put them down round fruit trees as a twiggy mulch.  As there was quite a lot of twiggy bits and pieces the mulch piles ended up quite deep – hence the untidy-ing-up aspect.

twiggy mulch round young gage tree

However the last thing either nature or I want is a bare, clean, ‘tidy’ garden.  What we humans perceive as tidy, organised and orderly is, to nature and natural beings barren, bleak and inhospitable.  What nature wants is ‘lumpy texture’ with lots of niches and habitat for all sorts of creatures to live in or to eat from and with building materials for the birds’ nests.

up close and un-tidy

Even though I relish the practice of not controlling, of letting go and living with the uncertainty of how things will develop I have a lifetime’s cultural indoctrination of what gardens ‘should’ look like to contend with.  I can’t shake it off but in the bigger scheme of things it doesn’t matter at all and anyway in a few weeks’ time there will be such an explosion of growth that these twiggy piles will become invisible amongst the fronds of fennel and sweet cicely and the massed forget me not and honesty blooms; and all the while the creatures and fungi of the soil will be wearing them away from below ground transforming them into new beings and fresh growth.




Posted in Borderland Garden, Doing the minimum, Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Untidy-ing, Waiting, Watching | 4 Comments

tree following

I recently came across something new to be fascinated by – tree following!  As explained on The Squirrelbasket website:

“Each year, we choose a tree and see what it does:

  • when its leaves appear and when they fall
  • which twigs grow and which fall off
  • if it has seeds
  • and if any germinate and grow into new trees
  • what its bark looks like – when it’s wet and when it’s dry
  • whether anything grows on it – like lichen and mos
  • whether creatures sit on – insects, birds, butterflies
  • what plants grow round it and what they do, too

 And we invite others to join us – to choose a tree and to “follow” it.  There will be a linky box on the 7th of every month where you will be able to leave links to your tree following posts.  Each box will stay open for one week. That way we will be able to keep roughly in time with each other and compare the progress of “our” trees through the year.”

 I have missed the 7th of this month, but will link to the proper website next month.  But for a start here are a few pictures and a little background information about the trees I have chosen.

What particularly appeals to me is the watching.  Most of what I do in my garden is watching.  And waiting.  And watching some more.  And thereby I learn.  A lot.  I hope to learn a lot more about these trees and the places they are growing in.

Apple Trwyn Mochyn (Pig’s Snout in Welsh)


apple trwyn mochyn

I planted this tree five years ago.   She is on the right of the second picture down in the linked post – just a stick in the ground.  She is being grown as a ‘tiny tree’ which I have written about here.

apple trwyn mochyn

Silver birch in the woods

I was in the wood this week and as I was clearing brambles from around her trunk this tree seemed to stand out from the rest.

silver birch in woods February 2019

silver birch base of trunk

hole low down in the trunk

craggy and scarred bark

Unknown tree at old St Chad’s churchyard, Shrewsbury

Only a small part of the ancient church remains and it is surrounded by lovely trees which make this (in my opinion) one of the most lovely corners of a altogether very lovely town.  I went to look for a tree in and this one that I haven’t identified yet chose me.

unknown tree old St Chad’s Churchyard, Shrewsbury

bark of unknown tree


Posted in Borderland Garden, Tree following, Watching | 4 Comments