Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Behind the Wall

I love that film Stardust - where going 'behind the wall' leads to a whole new reality full of magic and enchantment.

I suppose behind my wall could just look like a pile of dirt but I can see the magic and enchantment that not only hides amongst the neglected wildness of it - I see the beauty and potential of the finished project.  

I suppose that is what it means to have a vision.

Today was beautiful and I felt ready to get out and do some serious graft behind the wall.  All the gorgeous colours and the crisp autumn light made working in the garden a delight.

The garden is giving a good show before she settles down for some winter quiet.

The recent rains have made the earth pretty boggy - making harvesting the organic matter to help lighten up that soggy clay all the more necessary!

Section 2 now cleared!

So today I worked on the next section of the wall and now the space is really starting to open up.

There's quite a bit of rubble to remove in this section as a great deal of the old wall has crumbled - so I'll have sweet talk some manpower to take it to the bottom of the garden where I am using it to build a base for my birthday present - a bothy!

Also known as a garden shed/summerhouse. But that is a subject for another day!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Learning the Art of Least Resistance - gardening for life

Behind the wall used to look like this.....

.....well actually it did look much worse, but this photo was taken AFTER we had cleared out the shrubs, brambles and many, many ash trees that had taken root.

When we first arrived here I was filled with mad enthusiasm  and we began clearing it out.  Then suddenly I had a crisis of confidence.  Why am I doing this?  What am I doing it for?  How much would it cost to realise my vision?  Is it worth it?

Fast forward three years of neglect and this area looked worse than ever.

But now, with the Charles the God-Send (aka GSC) helping out in the garden I have a growing confidence not only in my ultimate dream but also being able to tackle the challenges and break them down in to manageable chunks.

If I'm honest, I want to use as little effort as possible.  I'm in reasonable nick and want to keep it that way.  This garden is an amazing site and I'd like to make it even more beautiful - without creating a monster that needs constant feeding or exhausting myself in the process!

Least Effort, Maximum Result 
Nature knows how to grow things, my job is to help create the best environment for that to take place. So the first thing we are tackling is the soil condition, trying to improve the soil (mostly clay) in the flower beds around the house and also with an eye on building a veg garden next year.

Whilst I have a compost bin and a wormery, both were in poor condition but GSC has got things humming again.  The compost is now cooking away nicely and the wormery is getting a make-over so we are well on our way to creating powerhouse organic matter for the soil to grow healthy plants with very little effort or expense.

And what is behind the wall?  Over 40 years of organic matter, that's what.  Nature has been busy working quietly away creating a huge amount of leaf mould, rotten wood, fat worms and microbes that are PERFECT for helping the soil.  The only problem is there are also nettles, brambles, rubble and saplings in amongst it.

So last weekend I wandered behind the wall and, armed with a wheelbarrow and an old fashion garden rake, slowly began clearing the area.  I decided  harvesting the 'soil' would be my winter project but had no desire for digging, lifting and general exhaustion, so even if the work was slow - I would just quietly get on with it.

Every time I encountered a difficult task - like pulling up brambles or the web of nettle roots that are like a tight mesh - I would just shift my focus or attack it from a different angle.

I couldn't believe it - after a day this is what I achieved!  I even had the strength to carry a couple of logs to the old fireplace - so as to have somewhere to stop and drink my tea.

I realised that my approach, whilst slow was very sure and that I'd taken the path of least resistance: anywhere I'd encountered strain, anything that had felt too heavy or was too tiring, I'd just either found another approach or went and did a different area until I was ready to tackle it again.

I worked hard for two days and had no aches, no pains - but a great sense of satisfaction....and a ton of wonderful soil for the garden.

Now for section two.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What dreams may come...

The great thing about neglecting a garden like mine is that it hardly shows!  Two acres of semi-woodland means that nature can kind of do what it likes and it hardly looks any different....well to my eyes at least.

I had been feeling completely overwhelmed by the garden - every time I started on something the sheer enormity of the task got to me and I'd retire back inside to do something more achievable - like sewing, crochet, painting furniture....basically anything other than what felt like 'outdoor housework'.

This is not a good strategy because nature keeps on working even when you don't and the garden has started to look a little too wild.

One the signs of leadership is the ability to ask for help, so I did.  I asked my garden designer friend (and devoted surrogate owner of our dog, Asha) Janet if she knew of someone looking for garden work.  She did!!!

So now we have the amazing Charles and his steady and consistent work is helping me regain confidence in my vision and ideas.

Let the dreams begin!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gardening Relationships: 10 Permaculture tips

I have never thought of myself as a gardener. I’ve taken care of a few houseplants along the way but the idea of working in the garden seems like outdoor housework.  But 2 years ago we bought a house that sits in what was once the orchard to an old Edwardian estate.  The fruit trees were gone, self-seeded ash and sycamore had set up camp amongst the brambles and the ever-thickening hedge of laurel was slowly creeping over the garden like a dark spell.

Fortunately, through a series of wonderful discoveries, including Martin Crawford’s amazing book ‘Creating a Forest Garden’ and the Permaculture Magazines my daughter was bringing home from work, I began to learn there was another way to approach gardening, nature and growth.  I began to see what I could use to bring my garden back to life without killing myself in the process: Permaculture. 

Permaculture offers a model of design that promotes practices and processes for a sustainable lifestyle.  Its one of those things that’s easy to understand but takes ages to explain. The word means 'permanent agriculture' and is a model of design focussed on living and caring for ourselves, others and the earth in a way that is creatively resourceful and keeps the focus on the long term, not just 'what is in it for me?

Most of us don’t ‘design’ our relationships consciously, we’re more likely to stumble and/or bumble along in the hopes that they’ll grow in the right direction.  They usually catch our attention only when things have gone wrong and we scramble around trying to stop things from unraveling.  But imagine if we put the same thought and attention into building a relationship as we do to creating a productive, efficient garden?

I have just completed a Permculture Design Course and in the crossover between my work as a relationship coach and my steep learning curve with my garden, I've found some valuable parallels.

1. Mulching.
A relationship is a growing organism, create the right environment and it will thrive.  Mulching offers several things including nourishment, protection and effective action with least effort.  So how do you mulch a relationship?   By paying attention and being more observant, learning to listen, understand & communicate more openly; simple gestures of care and affection can bring about amazing changes rapidly. 

2. Greater productivity lies at the Edges
Relationships have their growing – and dying – ‘edges’.  Just before a relationship is about to move to the next phase there will be a great deal of productivity.  Sometimes that can be arguments, disagreements, upsets and misunderstandings. It can also be feelings of deeper connection, greater love, more respect and trust. Either way there will be an increase in emotional ‘productivity’. Be curious about the emotions, about what changes are occurring, we can use this productivity wisely to build a strong and more resilient next phase.

3. Design for co-operation rather than competition.
Make sure your companion planting takes everyone’s needs into consideration!  Just like a plant, we communicate our wellbeing by healthy productivity.  It is really important to understand that some people compete to win and some to lose and those who compete to lose will do so in order to win later. Both styles of competition uses up nutrients in the relationship soil. A healthy relationship design is one where everyone thrives and feels valued.

4. Use the least effort to create the biggest effect.
This translates simply as ‘be authentic’.  It is the small, genuine gestures that work the most effectively.  The language of the heart is the communication that resonates most clearly, goes the deepest and lasts the longest. 

5. The yield is only limited by the imagination of the designer.
Every relationship is deserving of a Vision, what Vision do you have for your relationship? What do you believe is possible? What yield are you hoping for (closeness, co-operation, laughter, trust, forgiveness)?  If the yield seems low, it may be time for you to study the relationship from a new perspective, to open up your imagination and get creative!

6. Appropriate technology is that which can be easily applied.
If your relationships are hard work and feel like you’re trying to push the river uphill, its a sign that you are going against the natural flow. Stop. Give yourself some breathing space and think about what is really being called for and what it is you are capable of giving, easily, authentically and wholeheartedly.

7. Start small and work out from well managed areas.
It helps to assess what is working well and build on it. Trying to make big changes or address difficult challenges can seem frightening and overwhelming.  Learning to chunk things down in to manageable pieces helps relieve the stress and creates a better focus. 

8. Turn problems into solutions.
Weeds and pests get into relationships too.  They’re made up of beliefs, thoughts and experiences we bring from the past and can take hold in a relationship, creating feelings of suffocation and heartbreak.  10% of pain in a relationship comes from the present, 90% is old childhood hurt being recycled.  I often see relationships blossom when people discover that hiding beneath the pain is a new level of connection and friendship.

9. Mistakes are opportunities for learning.
To embrace this principle we need to retrain our minds to see mistakes differently; not as a something deserving punishing but as behaviour that simply need correcting. It can be scary at first to open up and talk about mistakes and misunderstandings, it makes us feel vulnerable and defenceless.  The safest and most effective tool in relationship is empathy, it takes the charge out of situations and makes space for forgiveness.  Forgiveness means being willing to ‘yield’ to ‘give way’.  But if we look at the productive concept of ‘yield’ you can see how forgiveness is a way to improve harvest!

10. Everything Gardens
To live a meaningful life it is important to give everything meaning.  Everything that happens in our life, every event, every encounter is helping us to grow and evolve as individuals.  We are all on a journey to fulfilling our potential; the events and lessons we are presented with are there to help us be more productive, if we have the eyes to see it. 

Just like the Earth, relationships are a rich and precious resource.  Once we view them as source of opportunities for growth and development, any emotion or experience becomes the organic matter to be composted and processed in order to promote growth, health and well-being. 

Some of this article was published on the Permaculture Magazine website.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Brave New World

I went off to beautiful Devon to attend a Forest Gardening course with the inspirational Martin Crawford.  The two day course took us through the process of understanding what a Forest Garden is and how to create our own.

I came back and frightened everyone with my enthusiasm.  This poor, sleepy little garden that quietly snoozes in the lea of the hill is about to have a rude awakening.  Whilst she is yawning and stretching and waking up to LIFE, she has no idea what's in store.  It's going to be Garden Boot Camp.  She's flabby, undisciplined, out of condition and downright lazy.  She has let herself go completely and her diet is appalling.  Her hair and nails need seeing to, her wardrobe needs revamping (although there are some key pieces) and her general outlook on life requires an overhaul. She's lost her mojo, her sense of purpose, her self-worth but we are going to make this bad girl GLORIOUS.  

The most important thing is not to scare her - or myself - with the scale of the job.  Let's break this thing down into manageable chunks.  

The Weigh In:
The first stage is to do a site survey: soil readings, draw a site map to scale and plot not just what is here, but what needs to go.

Nutritional Review - or the non-diet diet:
As Martin talked us through the history of his garden we were aware that he used really simple strategies to keep his workload manageable, for example, after planting a tree he covered the surrounding area with protection to kill off weeds, grasses and other competition.  Genius.  I would have dug a big hole, planted and then made loads of work for myself having to weed regularly.  As one participant whispered 'he's quite lazy, isn't he?'.  My kind of gardening.

Lots of digging is bad for the soil.  Just as the human body is very vulnerable when cut open, dug over soil can lose valuable resources and is exposed to external bacteria, unwanted seeds etc.  So rather than brutal digging, weeding etc we're going to throw a dark blanket of covering over tough areas full of brambles etc and kill off weeds that way and throw good seeds/plants at other areas to encourage fertility and improve the soil.  A two-fold approach depending on the area's needs.

In other words.  You can still have a Hobnob, but let's start the day by juicing.  A kind of Stealth Bombing nutritional programme.

Mini Make-Over
When embarking on a health kick every woman needs a new wardrobe - just a few new pieces to make her feel better about herself and give her some confidence.  

What is our girl going to get?  A lovely little number that can be used for many occasions - dressed up or down and lovely to look at.  Rosa rugosa hedging!!!

Beautiful flowers that can be put in salads and, later, lovely hops that are full of vitamin C and can be made into syrups and cough mixture.  There is a delicate scent and the bees love it.  The garden equivalent of the Little Black Dress!

Waiting for the new outfit
We'll put this at the fence at the entrance to the garden and it will really give her a boost.  It's the first thing that people will notice and it will communicate her change of attitude.
Definitely time for a make-over

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Floral Dance

My mother-in-law calls those dried wreaths you get at Christmas 'Death on the Door'.  I have to admit, I've never been a fan of them.  

However, I've seen photos of flower wreaths that look so pretty and summery I wanted to put some on the wall in the courtyard outside my kitchen.

Today my florist daughter taught me how to make them.  We had such fun just going round the garden collecting leaves and flowers and look what we created!  

I'll be interesting to see how long they last - but as the garden is over-run with geraniums and lady's mantle - I could make a fresh one every day.*

I basically used any pretty flower I could find - suddenly even those I had considered weeds had a new beauty.

By the way, with regards to Lady's Mantle,  another use for this is as a herbal tea.  Just pluck the top flowers and leaves and add hot water (I also add mint or lemon balm).  Keep a saucer over the cup whilst it cools to trap the steam and prevent the volatile oils from escaping. It is a uterine tonic and good for menstrual cramps.  Tastes like honey!

*four days later - still looking good.

If you'd like to learn how to make a wreath (it is really easy!) there is a great tutorial by inspirational florist,  Jay Archer  on great website called pocketfullofdreams.co.uk

Monday, June 25, 2012

I know it's early, but.. get ready for Spring!

Hay fever Remedy.

Just a quick apothecary note on those elderflowers.  A herbalist friend of mine gave me a great remedy for hay fever using elderflowers and as they are still in bloom so late this year, there is still time to do this.

Pack a jam jar full of elderflowers.  Get a jar of your local runny honey and pour it over the flowers, get as much in as you can.  Leave the flowers to infuse, shaking from time to time.  

After 5 days strain the honey and re-bottle it.  Next Feb as the pollen count starts to rise, take a teaspoon of honey a day to ward off hay fever.

Use the honey-soaked flowers as a tea - hot or iced!!!

Bless you.