Sometimes the most obvious is right in front of me and it never ceases too amaze me how I miss it. Our smallholding might be 10 acres but a lot of it is woodland. We harvest the wood for fuel but that is about as far as that resource has gone. With a focus on cut flowers and potted herbs our time is spent in the fields and the polytunnel. Last year things began to change with the planting of our first willow crop. This has now increased to 450 willows covering all the beautiful colours of the willow spectrum.
The willow is the tree of inspiration and intuition in natural folklore and it has certainly worked its magic on us. Suddenly we are seeing new ways of doing things and our focus has shifted towards the woodland areas. We are fortunate to have a range of beautiful indigenous trees but they do need a little bit of maintenance and that is where our journey with trees took us next. Yesterday we unearthed the most impressive hazel on the property as it had become very bound up with an invasive vine. The brambles had moved in as well but as we began to clear all that away I am sure I heard the tree sigh. Like willow hazel likes to be coppiced to be kept in tip top form. After a long morning of clearing we were presented with the most wonderful hazel rods capable of making hazel hurdles and other garden structures. We were driven in by the freezing rain before we could complete the task but we now have an emerging pile of very useful hazel wood and the mother tree is positively smiling.
In folklore Hazel gives us creative change and I can clearly see why. In our clearing to reveal our now beloved hazel my thoughts wondered towards the concept of Forest Gardening. It is a concept I have brushed against many times but never taken the time to investigate further. So the freezing rain did me a favour as the rest of the day was absorbed in a research bubble on forest gardening punctured with lots of squeals of delight. The squeals betrayed a growing belief that we have so missed an opportunity on Hazelbank. Pete’s passion is growing food so when I outlined the case for forest gardening he was immediately on board and plans and designs are underway. Forest gardening provides a unique and incredibly balanced ecology that is conducive to high yields with relatively low maintenance. The seven layers of the growing structure begin with the tall trees like the hazel we already have in place. The tall canopy protects the smaller fruit trees and the bushes from the worst of the weather. The structure moves down to ground level and perennial herbs and then into root crops. Finally the structure uses the two canopies as support for climbing plants. The simplicity of it is the genius within and so this becomes a key focus for our smallholding over the next few years. The work is in the establishment but hard work hasn’t killed me yet so I am hopeful of an excellent result.
Our design plays homage to that very special hazel tree and although we have many hazel trees this one will become the centre of all we do in our pursuit of forest gardening. Hazel likes to send out its inspiration in circles so we are working on a series on concentric areas that will reflect the different structures within the forest garden ecology. Hazel has been a friend of humankind for many lifetimes as it offers us the beginning of structures that we need in our life. It is the strength coupled with flexibility that translate to an excellent raw material. Hazel hurdles, panels, baskets, obelisks, and even walking sticks are all common place in woodland culture. I am keen to try all of them but we are beginning with hazel hurdles to border our new raised beds.
The race will be on this year to harvest the nuts before the squirrels take them all as is there way. I would like to plant some for new hazels as part of our legacy.
I will use this blog as a way of keeping everyone up to date with our progress as we enter the domain of forest gardening. Exciting times on Hazelbank.
Speak very soon. xx