We are long time admirers of Mary Reynolds and were delighted when she created her ARK movement. ARK stands for Acts of Restorative Kindness. You can read all about it on the ARK website HERE. People all over the world are now creating ARKS on the land that they have available. It is time to stop gardening and start guarding the land. If we see ourselves as guardians of the land and allow it to heal and flourish, magical things start to happen very quickly. The more you give back to nature the more you gain.
We are installing as many practices and ARK principles as possible on the ¾ acre land that we are the guardians of in Roscommon, West of Ireland.
For starters we leave as much land as possible to do its own thing. The soil is full of seeds of native plants and by not interfering nature has a chance to heal and build strong healthy sustainable eco-systems that benefit all creatures and plants including us.
We want to grow as much of our own food as possible and to reach our goal we have planted hundreds of different fruit, berry and vegetable plants. We grow most of them in a perennial system called a forest garden where all the plants are grown together to mimic young natural woodland. You can read more about it HERE .
We are very interested in growing and collecting our own medicinal herbs for healing and many of these plants are traditional wildflowers and often considered weeds in modern gardens but in the ARK they have a place of pride. Most herbs flower over a long period of time and are thus very beneficial to pollinating insects.
For our annual vegetables we use a system of no dig beds where we build up soil fertility with mulches several times a year. You can read more about it HERE. We also grow more tender crops in our poly tunnel.
When we moved in about seven years ago there were only creeping buttercups and barely any trees apart from a Leylandii cypress hedge and a plantation of spruce. We have planted many trees since then and are proud to say we now have all the native trees of Ireland growing on the land. To get them off to a good start we mulched every one of them with cardboard and other natural materials at the time of planting and at least once a year while they were small. Now we have a transformed space with all the natural benefits of leaves rotting down and enriching the soil for the myriads of other plants and small creatures benefit. On a particularly wet part of the land we planted alders and now we are able to walk there without our feet sinking into the mud. Many plants have found their home underneath them as well.
We dug out two wildlife ponds and now the land is teeming with frogs and newts. They have created a balance in the slug population and now we have very few problems in that department. Next to our ponds we created bog-gardens with permanently wet soil for plants that like this habitat. At first we planted them with typical garden plants that like wet soil such as astillbes and hostas but over time nature have taken over and now the space is a tangled mess of mostly native plants. We leave it be and this year we even had a lovely swamp spider making his home here. You can read about the ponds HERE.
To deal with our food scraps we have an old bath that we turned in to a wormery for composting. When we move fully composted materials from there into the garden a few worms always travel along with the soil and now we have a healthy earth worm population everywhere. The first year of vegetable gardening we saw masses of invasive New Zeeland flat worms in the soil but somehow our combined practices since then has all but eliminated them. We are not sure how this happened. You can read more about our wormery HERE.
We have pulled together tree-stumps, branches and trunks to create stumperies in two different places on the land. This creates healthy habitats for all sorts of fungi, insects and plants. The slowly decaying wood is now home to countless of beautiful beings. You can read about this HERE.
We installed a separating compost toilet when moving into our cottage in 2013 and it has created a huge benefit for our ARK. Urine is an excellent fertilizer when diluted with water and can be used to increase nitrogen in the soil around shrubs and trees. The dry waste is composted together with shredded dried hemp and a handful of soil, first in dry containers for at least six months to kill of any possible pathogens and later in large composts outdoors. The finished composted product is often so full of earthworms that they form the larger part of it. We use it around shrubs and trees. You can read about it HERE and a page with information about our particular toilet can be found HERE.
We still have some traditional garden plants on the land but as the years go on we are slowly replacing them with food plants or just letting nature creep in and take over. We mow paths to gain access to crops and different parts of the land but apart from that we only keep one open space, a circle for gatherings, playing music, visitors, camping, exercise, meditation and play. We feel that this relatively small area is needed as a counter balance to the rest of the land that is quickly turning into woodland. It works a bit like a natural clearing in the woods and is filled with a special energy. Standing in the middle of it you feel completely peaceful and at ease. It is our favourite place in the world.