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.
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.
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.
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.
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.