THE MODERN MINT BLOG
It is easy to stay up late into the night reading this lovely little book by Ben Law – Woodsman.
It is the story of how he came to live in a 100 acre wood – building his own home, coppicing trees as a way to regenerate the woodlands eco-system and, with a sensitive hand, learning to add value to the natural materials he used and lived amongst everyday.
“The importance of coppice woodlands has inspired me to get more derelict woodland restored so it is able to provide useful poles once again. These land use patterns that produce food and materials for our needs whilst maintaining a rich, biodiverse landscape should be the models we use to help us design future landscape strategies.”
A compelling case for rethinking how we use our land. He then writes in the book about the need for shelter, but the more insistent and powerful idea behind what he says is about designing with what you already have. A philosophy we have seen before and try and use at Modern Mint…
“If we study local architecture, it is clear that the use of the available local resources has dictated how buildings have evolved… in recent years this pattern has changed. Architects design buildings and then search for the resources to meet their designs, using materials that have been transported vast distances across the globe… the need for architects to start with a study of available local resources and then design from what is to hand has never been more necessary.”
It is not always possible, but most gardens have plants in them with great character, or are doing well in a particular situation. We try not to dig them up and throw them away, but work with what is there. It means the client gets better value for money and, by working with these limitations, we are forced into being better garden designers.
Obviously a fan of the Transition movement and the writing of Rob Hopkins – The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times (Transition Guides) – the final chapter is a prophecy sequence of what the wood will be like in 2037, when we live without oil. If you explore the Modern Mint website further you will find an interview with Essex Bees, who talk about this idea of ‘resilient living’ in more detail. It really is fascinating.
A client asked us last year what they were seeing in blossom in May. The answer is hawthorn (conveniently called Maythorn – who said remembering plant names was difficult?) In Woodsman, Ben Law shares the timing of each trees blossom and pollen time in more depth…
“Goat willow (salix caprea) will join alder in colonising the damp areas and stream banks in the mixed coppice. Although of little value as timber, its value comes in its early flowering, providing the first tree pollen for the bees to start harvesting. Woodlands provide a range of pollen for bees throughout the year, and at Prickly Nut Wood this begins begin with goat willow, then moves on to the blackthorn and plums. Pears and apples follow, and then soft fruits, wild blackberry, lime trees and chestnut. Ivy, with its late flowering, produces the last flush of woodland pollen. All of this is, of course, interspersed with flower pollen in the garden, and the clover that grows throughout the adjacent fields.”
The philosophy behind his work is very much growing in popularity – it is about creating a permaculture, or a ‘Silvi-pastoral’ system, which is –
“A traditional system of fruit trees grown as standards above a diverse grassland that is grazed by sheep or geese or other poultry. These systems produce a joint yield from the different components… growing food in this country will become the essential industry it once was… other agro-forestry systems will involve nut trees over arable crops, and light shade-casting trees such as ash (or birch, if ash proves impossible to grow as a result of ash dieback) are likely to be seen more often, grown as firewood avenues between vegetable and cereal crops.”
Don’t get us wrong – this is not a negative book, or a book driving fear – but almost a manifesto inspiring us to dream about how we could manage our lives in the future, to make sure we have what we need. He started from scratch, just as you are, needing to learn first about observing the forest and what is around him in his local landscape, and then the skills necessary to harness the potential that sits there.
We will leave you with this, a definite call to action about what you can do right now:
“Plant a fruit or nut tree and tend it, so that it will produce well for the next generation. Every person who undertakes this simple yet satisfying act will be greatly improving this environment and ensuring the necessary extra supply of perennial food.”
A beautiful plan and a book that will gladden your heart. Please do get yourself a copy of Woodsman by clicking the picture below!
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …
Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary. But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space. Robinia Near The Sea Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is …