The Symposium, the lentil patches … and design!

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No apologies for beginning this month’s Blog ‘away from home’. The First International Forest Garden Symposium (see Blog, June 1st, 2021) more than lived up to my expectations. It ran for the whole week from May 31st to June 4th, was a huge success and raised so many important issues, that I have written a short article about it; the Blog needs to concentrate on what’s happening here in the garden, and in an article I am free to express views on the bigger picture and on what the Sombrun Forest Garden Project symbolises in the wider world – a global ‘landscape mosaic’ connection that I think is important, as regular readers will know. To read this, go to the Articles page in the menu above.

And so, to more local matters! The design ideas discussed in last month’s blog (June 1st) have moved on a stage, and it’s now clear that the lentil patches will become the focus of development here. They have been re-named Carré 1, Carré 2 etc (from the French for ‘square’). Carré 1 has this year’s lentils and beans (plus some self-seeded tomatoes from the biomass I added last year, which have been removed as they would have used up all the nitrogen the bed is creating!) and is behaving very well – see below.

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There’s a word for it … evolution!

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I have had more time to just be in the Forest Garden this month, observing everything that’s going on – and there’s a lot! It’s so pleasing to see the developments, even though to the casual observer it may seem that not much has changed (it still looks like a field!). Living in and among and around the garden I notice how much has happened in the three years since the Project began. And especially this month, I have suddenly realised that what I’m witnessing is the ‘constant evolution’ in the sub-heading to the website’s title. I’m not even sure if I fully realised when I wrote that what it could really mean!

For example, I’m seeing more bugs, beetles and insects in general, and evidence of mycelial networks, this year than before – mushrooms, the caterpillars mentioned below, but also grubs rolled up in tree leaves and ladybirds and beetles to feed on them. It’s good to realise this is happening and that the natural cycles of plant and insect ecosystems and food chains that I know will come, are beginning to get established.

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Challenges and progress … and wild flowers

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As I have known from the beginning, my ideas and plans for the Forest Garden, and indeed the life of the whole garden itself, are “in constant evolution”, as it says at the top of the page! This is completely natural, and I welcome it, and sometimes it presents me with unforeseen challenges. A case in point is the rather unwelcome attention of the deer from the forest opposite the property. As mentioned last month (Blog, April 1st, 2021) there has been quite a lot of damage to the young trees, to the extent that a large part of April’s work was in providing individual netting to protect them (see below), and including a daily morning round of the garden to check on damage. So far, I have only lost one planted tree (a small-leaved lime which was completely severed at the base), and a few self-sown oak and wild cherry. Several other planted trees have been partially damaged, but I think they will survive.

You might think that the best answer would be to fence off the whole property to allow trees and other plants to grow up in peace over the next few years, but apart from being hugely expensive, this is against the whole ethos of the Project. I have often mentioned in these blog posts the idea of the Forest Garden being an integral part of the local landscape mosaic, and to put up a high deer fence would be a symbolic closing of the door on everything that surrounds it. So no, no fences thank you! The netting protection that has been installed doesn’t look particularly nice but it seems to be doing the job. In fact the problem will exist for quite some time yet, as the Forest Garden develops and each year young, juicy plants are added to tempt the browsers. No doubt my approach to this will evolve too, but for me it’s a question of learning to live with the deer, not against them!

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The first cuckoo and a new development …

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The workload has been fairly light this month, but there has been plenty happening. Right at the beginning of the month there was that key spring moment when you notice trees coming into leaf, a pale tinge which can be a hundred shades of green, yellow, bronze, beige, gold …, not just here in the Forest Garden, but over the surrounding area too.

I think that because of the generally mild weather since the latter part of February (see the Monthly Weather Record below), everything is fairly advanced here this year, and the Wild Flower Census (see below) showed no fewer than 40 species, up from 27 last March. This was no doubt due to the weather, because virtually all the extra plants were ‘returnees’, just coming through earlier. The Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum) finally showed up (see Blog, March 1st, 2021), but just one solitary stem; hopefully it’ll be back next year in force.

One new arrival this year in the gravel outside my front door is Cornsalad (above), also known as Lamb’s Lettuce or Mâche (which is also the French name). I hope it spreads because it is very good as a salad leaf. The Cuckoo Flower turned up in numbers, and right on cue, I first heard the cuckoo on the 24th!

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Winter’s work is done, a new life begins …

February has been another busy month, with the completion of winter tasks and a general feeling of the garden beginning to wake up, especially towards the end of the month.

Some of the wild flowers that have appeared this month, left to right, top to bottom: Lesser Celandine, Hairy Bittercress, Lungwort, Dandelion and Great Horsetail

The Wild Flower Census has revealed 26 species this month, up from 17 for February last year. There is one new species, Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa), which I discovered on the last day of the month hiding among the Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), and the others are flowers returning earlier than ‘usual’. This in itself is interesting from the point of view of climate change, and I have also noticed that flowering times in many cases are earlier now than those given in the flower identification books I use.

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Planting, pruning, strimming … and wild flowers!

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Weather-wise, January has been a month of contrasts. It was cold until the new moon on the 13th, with most nights falling below zero and a low of -6°C on the 8th; then the rest of the month was very mild with overnight temperatures of 11° or 12°, and a high of 19° on the 28th. It was reasonably dry at the start of the month (13mm rain) but the mildness later on meant a lot of rain (114mm) and very unsettled weather in general. January went out with a bang, with a thunderstorm, gales and heavy rain late evening on the 31st!

The swales filled up very nicely as you can see above! This photo also shows the principle of the swales very well. Rainwater running down the slope is caught by the ditch and because this follows a contour line, the water is evenly distributed and slowly infiltrates the soil. Biomass is also placed in the swale; I have in fact added more since this photo was taken. The trees planted on the bank then benefit from moist ground with increased bacterial and mycorrhizal activity.

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Coppicing and hedging …

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After last month’s collective sigh (from both the forest garden and from me!), December has been a very active month, and a large part of it has been spent on coppicing the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) on the north-eastern boundary.

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Time for a rest …

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The predominant feeling this month has been one of shutting down. It’s obviously something that we know happens, but being so closely involved with Nature’s processes in the forest garden here, it has struck me more than ever how remarkable this is, and how clear the change is. That having made the supreme effort of growing, flowering and fruiting over the last six or seven months, both the land and the plants need to rest and marshal their resources for the next season.

For this reason, I have decided to suspend the wild flower census until maybe February, when the winter crocuses should show themselves again. There have been a few individual flowers, such as dandelion or clover, with the mild weather we have been having (see below), but really nothing to speak of. They too are having a well-deserved break!

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René, the cèpes, and a busy month!

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Forest cèpes (Boletus spp.)

There’s been so much going on this month, it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I think my neighbour René and his cèpes deserve pride of place. (You’ll have to imagine what he looks like as he doesn’t want his picture to appear on ‘The Internet’, and I respect his wishes).

For me he epitomises the spirit of still being able to gather what Nature has to offer us, and he does it in a sustainable way, on his own, using his local knowledge of where and when a pigeon will be flying over, or the forest mushrooms will appear in the undergrowth. A modern-day hunter/gatherer, he takes just what he needs for himself and I get to share some of his bounty!

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SFGP fait peau neuve!

Have a look here to check out the ‘new skin’ for the Sombrun Forest Garden Project website!

It’s been a lot of work, but well worth it, and I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out. Thanks to WordPress, couldn’t have done it without your help!

If you are an email subscriber, don’t forget to go to the the site itself (link above), rather than stick with just the one notification.