Healthy neglect…

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Last month other commitments pulled us away from the garden. Apart from us harvesting apples, raspberries and vegetables, the land was left to its own devices for the duration of the month. On the very last day of September we walked around the different areas to get a few pictures for this blog and we realized that the land had not suffered at all in our absence. Sure, it looked a bit untidy and overgrown on the surface, but underneath it was healthy, alive and brimming with wildlife. Maybe that is the biggest lesson we have learnt from looking after and developing our land over the last few years. A forest garden, mimicked on young natural woodland but full of edible and other beneficial plants, is a very forgiving place. Nature has a marvellous way of doing what is best for the land and when you start to work with nature and not against her fantastic things can happen. We wanted more frogs, newts and other wildlife so in addition to our stream we added two ponds. Because of this the slug population is being kept small and is not the major problem it was for the first couple of years.

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Mulch.

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There is one thing that above all else has helped us in the creation of our garden over the past few years. Mulch. It is the single most effective way to eliminate competition from grass and other unwanted plants when young trees and shrubs are developing. It also helps to keep the soil moist in dry spells and many types of mulch feed the soil as they break down.  Our aim is to create a forest garden, a place with many useful trees, shrubs, groundcovers and vines growing together, mimicking natural woodland. As the years progress the need for mulching will be less and less. The natural leaf litter and the shade cast by the growing plants will eliminate the need for most types of mulch. But for now it is essential.

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Woodland management on a small scale.

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Our little woodland has had a complete makeover in the last few days. We had about 22 spruce that were planted in 1972. They were quite close together thus thin, tall and leggy. As the ground is boggy the wind had started to rock the roots and it was time for a change. We cut a lot of them quite high and used some of the cut trunks for crosspieces, creating supports for climbers. A lot of the logs will be used for firewood, some of the big thick ones will be supports in our conservatory and a few have been given to friends for their house renovation project.

woodland before

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woodland logs

As we have electric cables right next to our woodland we got a friend with a digger to come around and make sure no trees went on the wires or on the road. We had a lot of willow and other tree saplings in the woods and we moved them to a temporary safe location, out of reach of falling logs. Here you can see the two tree fellers hard at work.

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After the felling was complete we were left with a lovely bright space ready to replant with trees, shrubs and ground-covers more beneficial to us. Our whole garden is based on the principals of forest gardening, where all plants have a purpose other than just aesthetics or fashion. They are planted in a way as to mimic young woodland with a canopy, shrub and ground cover layer. Plants are chosen for food production, wildlife, pollination, soil-improvement, firewood, medicinal purposes, basketry materials etc. Did you know that lime, hawthorn and beech trees all have lovely leaves for spring salads? A lot of perennial vegetables are included as they are more reliable, often more nutritious and less susceptible to slug damage.

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woodland whitebeam

Waiting to be planted out.

We have kept our beautiful big Scots pine and larch trees as they still have decades of life left in them. We are in the process of adding rowan, lime, beech, oak, willow, hawthorn, maple, birch and hazel trees to the woodland. A lot of these trees will be kept pollarded or coppiced and we will use the off-cuts for fuel, plant-supports and basketry.  We already have some mature ash trees along the boundary.

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 It was love at first sight when we spotted this copper beech at the tree nursery. It had to be included in our new woodland as well as the stunning purple contorted hazel.

woodland beech

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You will have to imagine climbers growing up and across all of these structures. Old fashioned roses, honeysuckle, ivy, virginia creeper and clematis. All of these will bring more wildlife and pollinators into our garden. As the ground is boggy, we will use the brushwood from the felled trees to build it up and some trees will be planted on raised mounds so as to save them from water logging. We will add water loving mints and wait for all of the marsh marigolds, wood angelicas, wood anemones and meadowsweets to come back. We have some beautiful native geums, which the bees just love. In Swedish they go by the name of humleblomster, which translates as bumblebee flower.

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woodland geum

We are very much looking forward to seeing this part of our land transforming from a dark, boring plantation into a beautiful diverse habitat for us and all our visitors to enjoy. People and animals alike. We will show you the progress here over the months and years ahead.

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