At its heart, forest gardening is about creating an edible productive ecosystem which encourages wildlife*. This principle requires a change of mindset from traditional gardening. As Anni Kelsey puts it in The Garden of Equal Delights, a forest garden is a different type of garden, and it requires a different type of gardener. She describes how it requires patient watching and waiting to learn about the garden as an ecosystem, to see who and what arrives there, and to notice what parts each plant or creature are playing. I am learning to pay attention, developing a mindful awareness of the space and a willingness to learn from it rather than quickly moving to control it.
This week I’ve been sitting beside the boxes, patiently weeding out grass. As Jake says on his forest gardening course, grass will take over everything if you let it. The soil that we filled the boxes with clearly had a lot of grass seed in it. While the plot is in its infancy, I need to intervene and remove the grass to protect the edible plants while they get established. Once they are big enough, I can protect bare soil with mulch. But for now, I’m sitting there pulling out tiny grass seedlings. It is a pleasant task, with the robin twittering at me. A fellow plot holder passed by and said that it looked like I was practising mindfulness. And indeed he had a point. It is a quiet, absorbing, mindful activity which is strangely soothing.
The badgers are still visiting regularly, evidenced by the digging that is visible on the paths. I’ve been thinking of these creatures, wondering if they will dig in the raised beds, apprehensive of how destructive they might be. Mindfulness, as I understand it, is about paying attention, noticing things without judging them, and learning to accept things just as they are for now. Noticing my thoughts, I realise I’m fighting the badgers. Yet I want to welcome and accept them, just as they are.
In the rainy days that have followed my bout of weeding, my thoughts have been morphing. My plans have been changing. I have come to a decision, which is simply not to grow things that badgers like to eat. Since I made that decision, I’ve realised that it frees me up to grow more of the things that we like to eat, the leafy greens that I never seem to have enough of. It might be boring to grow spinach and its perennial substitutes, but we eat a lot of it. And, as far as I know, badgers don’t go wild for spinach. They probably won’t raid the boxes simply for worms – unless they are very hungry. The boxes will take energy to climb or jump. This would be worth their while if they can smell sweet roots, but not if it’s just more boring old leaves.
By growing leafy vegetables at the plot, I can free up space in my home garden to grow some roots. This would increase diversity in my garden. The plans have now fallen nicely into place, and I am no longer badgered by doubts.
* For more information, see Forest Garden Wales