trust and the forest gardener

To trust is to feel confident and able to depend on someone or something (my definition).  And control is a clear marker of the loss of trust.  Forest gardening hinges on the forest gardener learning to trust and giving up control.  

“The forest garden needs to have the forest gardener’s trust.”

To give some idea of how this plays out in day to day practice: how do you react to this?

trwyn mochyn apple ripening

But what about this?

this windfall apple has been nibbled – probably by slugs

And this?

the remains of two golden beetroot

Is this stretching things too far for you?

caterpillar amidst plenty of food

And if so …

Taunton Deane kale after the caterpillars have had their fill

Is this more comfortable territory?

ladybird on wild yarrow

Or this?

small tortoiseshell butterfly on sedum flowers

Whatever comes along in the forest garden, nature can handle it.  Sometimes with the forest gardener’s assistance.  But what she doesn’t need is the knee-jerk reaction to ‘deal with’ what some people call ‘pests’

A forest garden is in the process of becoming an ever more sophisticated ecosystem.  She has far more resources than we can ever know about and over time these come into play.  But first the forest gardener has to stop interfering.  They have to learn to watch and to wait.  Learning about how ecosystems work is helpful too because it supports the forest gardener’s understanding and underpins the early stages of building trust in what is happening.

What I learned watching the caterpillars eat the perennial kale is that it regenerates, entirely.  And fast.  Before I discovered this in practice I used to  struggle with the annual appearance of caterpillars.  Years ago I looked for and picked off eggs and removed caterpillars when I saw them.  However one year there were just too many and I resigned myself to watching and waiting even though it looked as though ‘my’ kale was disappearing forever. 

Is the caterpillar, in fact, friend to the kale?

But my fears were unfounded.  The kale came back that year and has done every year since.  There is a balance to be had here, the caterpillars need the kale, and perhaps – who knows? – the kale may equally need the caterpillars.  Being perennial it would keep on branching and growing, branching and growing ad infinitum.  The garden does not have space for that to happen.  After the new leaves appear the old heavy duty centre stalks just drop off the Taunton Deane, and the Daubenton’s kale regenerates along its existing multi branched structure.  Very soon there is no sign that the caterpillars were ever there – except that the wider ecosystem has been enriched by their short lives.

Taunton Deane kale regenerating

Daubenton’s kale growing back

I expect it may have been mice that ate the two largest golden beetroot.  I grew them because of lockdown, using up seeds from years ago.  I’ve never been able to grow them successfully before and was looking forward to the harvest.  Never mind, I had all the smaller ones and delicious they were.  The mice likely became food for local owls and other hunting birds, they all have to eat.  Slugs, wood lice and others are partial to sweetening windfall apples.  No problem.  There are plenty more up aloft on the trees.

I have spent over 14 years in two forest gardens giving up control and learning trust.  It is not easy, but it does bear fruit.  Nature shows the way.  Recognising that although something is being eaten, dying or decaying here, nevertheless something elsewhere is growing and thriving; seeing the cycles of life and death, of beginning and ending –  it all helps.

Learning to stop, to watch and to wait, and thereby to give up control are fundamental to developing an ecological relationship with the forest garden.  This practise led me to understand the ecological principles that underpin the relationship between forest garden and forest gardener.  The many real life examples contained my book ‘the garden of equal delights’ demonstrate how those principles guide practical decision making that weaves the gardener into the fabric of the whole garden ecosystem.  

Principle: Support nature’s transformational magic.

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in a forest garden is gardened differently, Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, the garden of equal delights. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to trust and the forest gardener

  1. Pingback: polyculture learning | gardens of delight

  2. Jonathan says:

    Hi Anni, I have just come across your blog and it speaks volumes to me! If you have a look at my site hopefully you will see that we have very similar ideas on how to proceed. Would it be possible to correspond by email? My contact details are given on the site. Jonathan


  3. tonytomeo says:

    It is not so easy to explain how the forest uses fire to its advantage, especially when so many of us live here.


  4. Pingback: trust and the forest gardener — gardens of delight | iSustainability Project

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