This time of year, there’s a little bit of magic right outside my back door.
No, it’s not the Snake’s Head Fritillary – though a life-long love of Charles Rennie Mackintosh means I can’t see their lovely flowers without coming over all Art Nouveau. Nor is it the many dock plants ‘dynamically accumulating’ lots of minerals from deep underground with their long tap roots.
It’s not even the lovely, delicate yellowness of the oxlips (they were supposed to be cowslips so we could get enough flowers to make cowslip wine, but someone in the garden centre obviously got their labels mixed up).
No, my own bit of magic is our mini forest garden just outside our house. Planted a couple of years ago with a few bits of wild garlic and a single sweet cicely plant around an old and ailing bird cherry tree, it has since gone native and is now become our ‘go to’ spot to spritz up our salads and our scrambled eggs.
Forest gardening is a way of designing a bit of land to mimic a young woodland, planted up with edible or useful plants. It has a top storey of fruit and nut trees, with under-storeys of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, herbs, annuals, root crops and climbers, all planted to make a wonderfully productive, naturally fertile landscape. It’s the perfect gardening technique for the terminally lazy and it’s one that we use a lot!
With only the effort of wandering out to see what I fancy for tonight’s meal, since early April I’ve been harvesting a range of salad leaves from our patches of forest garden for which I would have to pay an arm and a leg in the shops – sweet cicely, lovage, wild garlic, tarragon, rocket, watercress, salad burnet and masses more (and not a limp lettuce leaf amongst them).
Later on, I’ll have soft fruits, nuts, crops for hedgerow jellies and wines, a bit of willow for my first attempts at basketry, herbs which act as natural fly and moth deterrents, topped with a crop of more apples than I know what to do with. And apart from trimming off the odd nettle (yes, I know, I should be using those too), there’s no weeding required.
That’s my kind of grow your own!
If you fancy giving forest gardening a go, Lets Live Local have produced a free booklet on how to go about it. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy.