Review of ‘The Garden of Equal Delights’

Finally some good news!  Anni Kelsey’s new book, The Garden of Equal Delights, was published yesterday.

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This is a book about how to be a forest gardener. It is not a ‘how to’ garden book. The emphasis is on being and becoming, rather than doing. Anni shows us that forest gardening is a different type of gardening from the horticultural norm; one which requires a different type of gardener. Her book shows how the garden and gardener can grow together in a process of co-creativity in which an abundant ecosystem emerges. The job of the forest gardener, suggests Anni, is largely one of learning to keep out of the way; to sit on ones hands. To watch, and wait, and learn from the garden about how it wants to grow. The gardener may then make gentle, informed interventions – a nudge here, a suggestion there – without being wedded to the outcome. But this isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds; it takes practice. By telling the story of her own garden, Anni shows us how she developed this practice.

The book first reminds us what a forest garden is. Anni explains how it is a different type of garden – a self-supporting ecosystem. The main chapters then suggest what kind of ‘tasks’ this type of garden requires. Anni gives some practical examples of observations from her own forest gardens, and the subsequent actions (or rather non-actions) that she took. From these, she unfurls a set of principles that can be used by other gardeners to reflect on their relationship with their gardens. These principles were developed through watching her own garden and listening to her internal dialogue with it. The work of the forest gardener, she suggests, shifts from traditional tasks of digging and weeding, to more observational ‘tasks’ of watching, waiting, and learning how the garden develops as an ecosystem. She acknowledges that watching and waiting can be uncomfortable, as the gardener gives up their enculturated urges to tidy or weed and lets the garden run rampant. The gardener allows this to happen. Their job is to watch carefully as an ecosystem slowly develops that no longer requires pest management, weeding, or added fertility. Only once the forest gardener begins to understand this ecosystem, and the many interactions occurring within it, can they begin to gently intervene. They may make introductions to increase biodiversity – and then stand back and watch rather than trying to control what happens next. This is a patient, absorbed quality of watching with no agenda other than noticing what is going on. Anni shows us how she evolved this gentle, watchful role in her own garden, and how she learned to delight in its complexity and abundance. Her development of the gardener’s role into one of appreciation and humility brought her to a transformational understanding of her place in the world, and perhaps our place in the world. Slowly, gently, the garden changed the gardener.

now is the unfolding of forever

I reviewed this book for Anni last year. It is a beautiful and important exploration of the development of a relationship between the forest gardener and the forest garden. It is good to see it come to fruition.

gardens of delight

My labour of love writing ‘ the garden of equal delights’  is about to come to fruition and I have gathered a few quotes together to give you a flavour of what you will find within:

a forest garden

“A forest garden is like no other garden. As well as food harvests and many tangible benefits for the land and local ecology, forest gardening presents the gardener with an opportunity to find a new relationship with the natural world, to see, feel and think differently; even to live differently.  

A forest garden is a beautiful, fertile, healthy and abundant edible landscape. It is first conceived in the gardener’s imagination, it gestates in our planning and planting and then one day it is ready to grow. But we don’t plant a forest garden and then garden it just as if it was a ‘normal’ horticultural garden. We garden it differently…

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What work and time are needed in a forest garden? — gardens of delight

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Anni believes a lot of the ‘work’ of the forest gardener is in taking time to get to know the  garden:

As mentioned in the previous post I have recently both read and heard claims that a forest garden (a) needs intensive management and (b) does not need any management. Either way there seems to be a lot of interest in finding an answer to the question of whether or not a forest garden is a […]

via What work and time are needed in a forest garden? — gardens of delight

forest gardens are amazing but they are not a panacea — gardens of delight

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In this post on Gardens of Delight, Anni Kelsey makes the point that forest gardens feed not just us, but the wildlife that make it a self-sustaining ecosystem:-

And I will repeat it with emphasis – forest gardens are amazing but they are not a panacea. I could not be a bigger fan of forest gardens and forest gardening and it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that forest gardening has profoundly changed my life. Forest gardens are beautiful, vibrant, healthy and abundant […]

via forest gardens are amazing but they are not a panacea — gardens of delight

Claytonias – miner’s lettuce, wood purslanes and spring beauties — Of Plums and Pignuts

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I have started to establish both pink purslane and miners’ lettuce in my garden.  Here’s a timely article on these useful edible shade-loving ground cover plants from Of Plums and Pignuts blog:

The Claytonias are a very useful group in the forest garden, being very palatable species whose natural habitat is woodland. Claytonia perfoliata, miners’ lettuce, is unusual in the genus in that it is an annual rather than a perennial. It is often grown in greenhouses in Britain as a winter salad, but it is much […]

via Claytonias – miner’s lettuce, wood purslanes and spring beauties — Of Plums and Pignuts

Let Plants Choose Their Destinies — Humane Gardener

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This post from the Humane Gardener is absolutely singing my song!  I love volunteers.  They are a gift.  Most of the time.  Enjoy reading …

“Right plant, right place” is a popular design mantra. But who’s in a better position to find the right place than the plants themselves? And why don’t we just let them? (Above:) A new book from Princeton Architectural Press, The Gardener Says, quotes one of my essays about a favorite topic: nurturing native plants that…

via Let Plants Choose Their Destinies — Humane Gardener

Mucky work

There has been a pungent smell in the air of late as I’ve been walking alongside fields of pasture.  The farmers are clearly telling me that it is time to get mucky.  It is time to actually use some of the compost and manure that I spent last year preparing.  It is also gorgeous weather for getting out in the garden.  Rather too gorgeous for the time of year.  Whilst I’m enjoying it, I am supressing a sense of unease.  Spreading compost is one way to alleviate this.  It is good for me, in that the exercise and fresh air that it entails is good for managing anxiety.  And it is good for the garden, because it improves soil structure by adding compost, and keeps the soil covered by mulching with manure.  These are two of the most important things that you can do to make your garden more resilient to climate change, according to Kim Stoddart’s article The Extreme Gardener in the Autumn/Winter 2018 Garden Organic magazine.

green compost bag shrunk

Home made compost stored in bag

The first thing that I saw when I unfolded the top of the green canvas bag in which my homemade compost is stored was a purple crocus protruding out of the compost, in full flower.  The first job, then, was to find a more suitable home for the enterprising little corm.  I hope it may be happier in the Spring border, although I have to say, it was doing splendidly in its compost bag.

Home made compost

Home made compost

I picked out some of the twiggier material from my compost and used it to mulch my path at the back.  Then I shovelled compost into a trug and trotted round the garden, patting handfuls in place around my perennial edibles.  I am prioritising the perennials, as they need the sustenance and protection, and are the best bet for a climate change resilient garden says Kim Stoddart.  She explains that these plants get their roots right down into the subsoil to find water and nutrients, and have evolved to last longer and therefore have greater resilience.

Perennial edibles mulched with compost and manure, protected against cats

Perennial edibles mulched with compost and manure

Next, I delved into Bob Bin.  The manure was lovely and buttery, soft and malleable and teeming with worm life.  There was no smell (unlike the farmers’ pastures) and it was frankly a pleasure to work with.

Manure composted in Bob bin

Manure composted in Bob bin

I used it to mulch over the compost that I’d just spread, patting it down firmly. Sadly, this won’t discourage the blackbirds who love to dig in it for the worms, chucking clumps of manure out onto the surrounding paths. It doesn’t discourage cats either. As you will notice from the photos, I’m working on that one.

It was also a good opportunity to take stock of the garden.  I moved some garlic chives which had been a little bit jammed in last year.  I mulched them in, and hopefully they will reward me with big juicy clumps of garlicky leaves to munch.  More pungent smells.

Garlic chives mulched with compost and manure

Garlic chives mulched with compost and manure

My small ‘forest’ garden

I have to confess that, for a while, I was confused about the term ‘forest garden’.  Is my garden, I wondered, properly a ‘forest garden’?  Or is it just a vegetable patch?  Gradually, by following the work of people like Anni Kelsey, I’ve come to know that the term refers to a way of gardening, and not to gardening in some sort of woodland.  Jake over at Forest Garden Wales, posted this succinct summary of how the term can apply even to a small garden.  I thought I’d use his five principles of a forest garden to review my own small garden.

First, Jake explains that a forest garden ‘mimics’ a forest edge, rather than being situated in a forest.  My back garden certainly does a good job of mimicking a woodland edge.  Sitting beneath mature trees, it both benefits from, and is limited by, their shade.

Back garden beneath mature trees

Back garden beneath mature trees

The front garden sits beside a mature hedge, and in the centre we have planted a small edible cherry (Stella) which was a gift from friends.  As it grows, it too will create its own edge, casting shade, capturing water, and feeding and housing birds (and hopefully us).

Front garden

Front garden

The garden is productive, with a range of edible green vegetables, and fruit such as alpine strawberries, raspberries, and blackcurrants.  It is also productive for wildlife (we often share the same plants, such as cabbage), with nectar rich plants grown alongside the edibles.

Verbena and hablitzia using height

Verbena and hablitzia using height

It is multi-layered.   For example, tree cabbage and hablitzia tamnoides use vertical height, and the raspberries make the most of the heat from the back wall.

Hablitzia climbing back wall next to raspberries

Hablitzia climbing back wall next to raspberries

Ground cover sits beneath the taller plants, such as parsley and lambs lettuce beneath the tree cabbage, and Siberian purslane and lamium (nectar) beneath the kale. 

Kale with Siberian purslane, lamium, lambs lettuce

Kale with Siberian purslane, lamium, lambs lettuce

Tree cabbage with parsley

Tree cabbage with parsley

Comfrey nestles in amongst the raspberries, providing biomass and fertility for sustainability.  I also grow yarrow, lemon balm, and red clover as mineral accumulators that I can simply chop and drop on the ground as nutritious mulch.

Comfrey with raspberries

Comfrey with raspberries

It is lower maintenance than an annual vegetable garden, as I don’t dig the soil.  This is also ‘lower maintenance’ for the wildlife and soil organisms, who are allowed to get on with what they do largely undisturbed by an interfering human.  By increasing the range of edible perennials that I  grow, plants are able to get their root systems established and can ride out more extreme weather conditions.  I mulch with horse manure, home made compost, and leaf mould to feed the soil, trusting the worms to dig it all in for me.  This all means that I can concentrate my efforts on learning how to actually harvest and cook the food that I grow, an aspect that can get forgotten.

So is my garden properly a ‘forest garden’?  I think I can probably say that it is.

 

Greenhouse – a year on

It was around this time last year that our new greenhouse arrived.  Now that we’ve come a full year’s cycle, I’ve been thinking about what’s worked and what hasn’t.  I wanted a greenhouse for two reasons: (i) to safely raise perennial and annual plants from seed (so I can be sure that no chemicals or pesticides have been used); and (ii) to provide an all year round productive space.

For the first half of the year, the greenhouse did a really good job of safely raising seedlings.  I managed to grow a good range of perennial plants, including sea beet, Caucasian spinach, good king henry, kale, garlic chives, wild rocket, and lovage.

Seedlings in greenhouse Summer 2018

Seedlings in greenhouse Summer 2018

I grew annuals including tomatoes, salad greens, kale, French marigolds, snapdragons, basil, parsley, and more.

Plants in greenhouse Summer 2018

Plants in greenhouse Summer 2018

I was determined to use peat-free compost.  Finding a good one isn’t easy, but I used Sylvagrow with added John Innes, and it performed well.  It isn’t available locally, so I had it delivered from an online supplier.  This obviously bumps up the cost quite a bit,  so I just used it for seed sowing and raising seedlings.  For my salad troughs, which require a lot more compost, I used veggie soil from a local supplier.  It is peat free and cheap, but isn’t actually a potting compost.

As the year went on, I started to encounter problems.  The first was the number of plastic compost bags which I ended up accruing.  I don’t throw them away as I prefer to reuse things rather than ‘landfill’ them (especially plastic).  But there is a limit to how many empty compost bags I can actually use.  So I need to find a growing medium that doesn’t proliferate plastic bags.  The only way that I can think of to do this is by making my own.

The second problem was that a load of compost fly arrived with the veggie soil.  Compost fly are not a nuisance for mature plants, but unfortunately their little grubs feast on seedling roots.  Once the compost fly arrived, the seedlings stopped growing.

A third problem, which is related to the relatively dark situation of the greenhouse as well as my ineptitude in keeping things too damp, was the arrival of powdery mildew.  This particularly liked the chard and kale baby leaves.

For this year, then, my objectives are to learn: (i) how to make my own greenhouse growing medium; (ii) how to manage pests in the greenhouse – specifically compost fly and powdery mildew.  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted a problem here.  If I’m putting the compost fly and mildew back into the compost (erm – yes, I am), then my home-made compost will not be a pest free growing medium for the greenhouse.  I’ve already had a go at making potting medium from home made compost, leaf mould, sand, blood fish and bone, and garden soil.  I can see from the arrival of enthusiastic volunteer seedlings that I don’t kill the seeds in my compost.  I also found a slug under a pot.  That explains the vanishing remains of seedlings that were already struggling.

In summary, the problems that I face if I use my own growing medium include slugs, seeds, compost fly, and powdery mildew.

Things that I intend to try to address these problems are:-

  1. Turn my compost every month to heat it up and kill the seeds.  This is a pity, because I actually delight in ‘volunteers’ in the garden.  An alternative is to create the compost and pot it up, let the seedlings grow, and ‘hoe’ them off before sowing the stuff I actually intended to grow.    
  2. Check under pots for slugs regularly.  Put down something they might love to hide under, and check that regularly.  Put ‘bait’ in there, such as a large cabbage leaf.
  3. Grow the things that aren’t susceptible to powdery mildew, such as oriental greens.
  4. Don’t overwater in winter, don’t underwater in summer, and don’t water foliage.
  5. Clean greenhouse and pots thoroughly to remove mould spores.
  6. Try biological control for compost fly, including carnivorous plants.
  7. Try sowing seed into leaf mould (do compost fly lay eggs in leaf mould?)

I’m learning the hard way that a greenhouse is a micro-environment which is more susceptible to pests and diseases, as it is a closed system rather than an open eco-system.  There are  fewer natural predators, and the air and sun can’t get at the plants freely.  Trying to manage without commercial potting compost, and particularly without peat-free compost, makes a difficult task even more tricky.  But that is no reason not to try.

Your small garden can be a forest garden — from Forest Garden Wales

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A really useful and succinct blog about why ‘forest’ gardening applies to small domestic gardens, and what the features and advantages of this approach are:-

The term “forest garden” can be misleading. It’s neither forest-sized nor a forest, so rest assured that your small garden can be transformed into a forest garden. source https://www.forestgarden.wales/blog/small-forest-garden/

via Blog: Your small garden can be a forest garden #ForestGarden #GdnBloggers #SmallGarden — Forest Garden Wales