Every tree is a forest

Recently, I posted about replacing my evergreen hedge with native trees. 

I had been planning to purchase some saplings from The Woodland Trust,* but something last week stopped me, and I decided to put a post out on Freecycle instead. What I discovered was something inspiring.

My notice read something to the effect of;
WANTED: Tree weeds. Do you have saplings growing where there should be no saplings? I would be very happy to come and remove them, and give them a good home.

An amazing couple responded to my ad, and so I set off – armed with my shovel and some empty dog-food sacks in which to transport the roots.

As my sat nav brought me towards the house, I passed a plantation of young trees and wondered if this was where my saplings would be coming from – the response had said, ‘We have some trees to spare’ so I thought that perhaps the couple had bought a large quantity to fill the field and hadn’t been able to fit them all in.

When I arrived, however, the lovely people donating the plants took me round to the back of their house where they presented the biggest monkey puzzle tree I have ever seen. It looked to be around six storeys high and was apparently planted when the house was built. As the cottage looked to be around 200 years old, I could well believe it. It was absolutely magical – an enormous ladder of spiney branches, reaching into the sky.

And all around it, at waist height, were bare saplings. The homeowners explained that birds came to sit on the tree, pooped as they set off again, and spread a variety of mystery seeds all around the monkey puzzle tree. Most were obviously raspberry canes, but others looked more robust and it was these we settled on.

I mentioned the plantation as I began to dig, saying that I’d thought the saplings might be coming from there, and they explained that the entire thing had been filled with self-seeded examples from beneath the monkey puzzle tree.

I was absolutely taken aback. Here was the making of a forest, stemming from the planting of one single tree. The huge field full of saplings had been laid in the last ten years – how many generations had been in that house before this point and had pulled up all those potential trees? How many trees had been lost through being in the ‘wrong place’?

As humans, we have both the power to destroy and to protect, and never have I seen it as starkly as I did here. The residents of this cottage had the option to do as all their predecessors did – to rip out the self-seeded trees which threatened to take over their garden. But they didn’t. They chose to save literally hundreds of saplings and create native woodland instead. And now that they’ve filled their own land, they’ve chosen to help others plant trees too.

And each tree – as evidenced by that incredible, giant beanstalk-esque monkey puzzle tree – has the potential to create not just one, but a multitude of forests over the course of its life. And all those forests need in order to become are humans willing to work with the natural world, and not against it.

I took home and planted a beech, a holly bush, an-almost-certain-rowan, and three mystery trees. Whilst our slip of garden won’t ever be big enough to plant a forest in, I am now determined that I will pass on whatever saplings come form these plants. I might not be able to plant a forest here, but I can make sure that while I am custodian of these trees, that I give their forest every chance I possibly can – even if that’s dispersed throughout the region.

Have you planted any trees this year? Do you think it’s something you have space for in your garden? What would you plant if you did? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.

____

*I just wanted to touch on why I did things this way. Firstly – fewer transport miles. There were a total of six miles between where I am and where the trees were. This means that – secondly – I know that whatever I plant can survive here and will be hardy enough to tolerate the weather. Third, there’s no packaging – I reused the sacks my dog’s food came in, and now that my saplings are in the ground, I’ll be able to use them again. Fourth – and it’s a big one – time. According to everything I’ve read, it’s actually pretty late in the season for me to be planting trees. Apparently, they need to be moved during their winter dormant phase so as we move into spring, the window for getting them in the ground grows ever shorter. I didn’t know how long postal delivery would be, so this seemed like an instantaneous alternative.

And finally, even though I didn’t get the trees from the Woodland Trust, I put in a donation to the same value as I would have spent. The charity does absolutely amazing work, and I want to support them – it’s why I chose them to buy trees from rather than my local garden centre. I feel like this way, everybody wins.

 

Peter Piper plants a pot of peas in paper…

Work on the garden continues, and this week I dug out one of the gifts we’d been given for Christmas so I could set to work making some biodegradable plant pots.

This little gizmo is great for so many resons.

a. It doesn’t come in plastic.
b. It isn’t made of plastic.
c. It prevents the use of plastic pots.
d. It offers a use for scrap paper (rather than it being resigned to recycling).
e. The pots it makes are biodegradable so when you’re ready to plant out, you don’t disturb the roots of what you’re planting – just pop the whole lot in the ground.

Plastic plant pots are a real bugbear of mine. Firstly, they’re prone to cracking. Secondly, they blow over in the wind or – as in the past few storms – blow away completely with your apple tree-babies in! Finally, unless you want an especially large pot which needs to be light, they’re not essential. You can plant seedlings in pretty much anything – I love a syrup can, personally, but toy stacking cups, mugs without handles, and plastic trays from supermarket meat are all completely servicable ‘pots’ too. In short, if it’ll hold water, you’re golden.

Anyway, I digress.

All you do to make the paper pots, is wrap a strip of your scrap around the thing that looks like a pestle. You then fold the overhang of paper over the bottom of the pestle and mash it into the ‘mortar’. Then you remove the resulting paper container and you’re done.

Of course, you don’t need to buy a fancy gadget to make free paper pots. If you want to use a similar method to the one detailed above, you can simply wrap your paper around a jam jar and push the base into the upturned jar’s lid (presuming the base of the jar is slightly smaller than the lid). Alternatively, you can snip at four points at the base of a toilet roll to around a third of the way up, then fold these ‘flaps’ in on themselves to create a pot base.

Whilst I do plan to plant carrots in paper pots, these particular ones are destined for peas. We have a tree-stump in our garden and I have ambitious plans for it involving peas… watch this space…

Gardens are a fantastic place to use up resources which we might not use inside. Whether that’s via compost, seeds from our food, or paper (as above), all of these actions help to minimise our impact directly and indirectly. Directly; as a way to dispose of our waste which isn’t landfill. Indirectly; by providing us with (potentially) plastic-free food with zero food miles, habitat for wildlife, habitat for pollinators, and as a way to process carbon in the atmosphere. What are your favourite things about gardening, and do you have any tips for things to reuse outside? As ever, I would love to hear them – here, or on Twitter.

The Garden

I touched on our plans for the garden a long while back, whilst chatting about my kitchen. Since then, we’ve been busy scheming, and now that the new year is on us, it’s time to get to work.

Image

Using Allotment Month by Month, by Alan Buckingham as our main source of information, I sat down one night and tried to make a month by month plan of what we could realistically achieve within a year as total novices.

Hardback cover of Allotment Month by Month

Then yesterday, with help from our absolutely amazing neighbours at the farm, work began.

Firstly, the conifer hedge at the back of the property came out. I’m not normally one for removing trees, but I’m going to call this one a win – the maintainence of this border was getting increasingly difficult given the trees’ height, it was interfering with the farm’s electric fencing, and now it’s gone, I can plant a variety of native trees and bushes which will flower and provide food for us and various wildlife.

The plan so far is to purchase a ‘Scottish Mix’ of trees from the Woodland Trust.  This includes a holly, a rowan, a silver birch and a juniper. I had also hopes to plant a yew, however it’s potentially unsafe for grazing animals on account of the apparently toxic alkaloids in the foliage and seed-coats (if anyone knows more about this, I would love to hear from you – I’m just reading things online!) so for now, the yew will have to go on hold.

Without the constant maintainence of the hedge to worry about, we can devote our time outdoors to raised beds, which is precisely what we intend to do. Husband planned and built the containers from a mixture of scrap wood and new, treated timber, and we have – so far – filled them with a mixture of shredded branches and rotted manure from the farm up the track.

The next stage – roll on pay day! – will be buying some (peat free) compost as the top layer and planting all manner of exciting things. Because of the chippings and the manure, I shouldn’t need to bring in an awful lot of compost. Eventually, I hope we’ll be able to keep topping this up with our own from the compost bins we’ve managed to source but for now, I’ll be prioritising large sacks and recyclable plastic.

In addition to the compost bins, I hope to purchase a wormery so that the cooked food waste and dog poop can also be processed here – less to transport off site on bin-day. Obviously, you can’t use the resulting soil on food beds (because dog poop), but I’m sure this new earth would be welcome beneath the little bee-buffet I’m trying to cultivate around our deck.

At some point, we absolutely want to get a greenhouse, but as with so many other things, money is a (huge) factor. I think, to begin with, we’ll see how we go with the raised beds and assess the greenhouse situation after that, but given the climate in the north east of Scotland, in all liklihood, we’ll need glass to grow anything beyond potatoes…

I will keep you updated on our progress over the coming months. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that what I’m doing here is far from a tutorial – we have absolutely no idea what we are doing! – so please don’t copy me! In fact, feel free to comment with ways we can up our gardening game to avoid complete failure!

As ever, please feel free to get in touch below, or on Twitter, with ANY suggestions!