Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Foraging - for the Benefit of Future Foragers



A couple of weeks ago, we organised a Foraging exploration of a very special piece of Eden, tucked away in a hidden valley, in the heart of Devon.

When you descend the long, steep driveway into Coombe Farm near Tiverton, and step out onto its lush, verdant grounds, you immediately feel that this is a farm unlike the vast majority that surround.




My late friend Michael Cole, the previous steward of this land, cared for His surroundings with a love and tenderness that I have rarely encountered - a very inspiring man he was indeed. After nearly 30 years of his life here, Michael sadly passed away last October - but his legacy - the land and all its inhabitants live on, and resound with his presence.

The result of such sensitive land management can be heard in the bright, resilient bird song, seen in the beautifully crafted trails that wind themselves around old, wisened trees, and felt in the exuberant gratitude of nature, that has been treated with dignity, reverence and respect.

There could be no better place for a Springtime forage, and so we arranged for a group session to raise funds for one of Michael's favorite causes - a charity which tackles many of the world's most urgent crises with one simple act - Planting Trees.

Tree Aid, a small charity from Bristol, work with communities across Africa in planting the tree of life. These are the trees that will give food for them and their children. Trees that will provide fire wood and building materials. Trees that create shade, shelter and improve the local climatic conditions. Trees that pull carbon down from the Atmosphere, and water up from the Earth. Trees that will bring barren, deserted parts of Africa back to Abundant Life - and giving ever more life to the future generations who inherit these lands that have been lovingly restored. **Please see notes at the bottom of the page about donating to Tree Aid - donations are currently being doubled by the government!

Michael was all about creating Arks - places of shelter and conservation, where people might be able to weather tough times that might lie ahead. It's no wonder he was such a great supporter of Tree Aid, and their inspirational work - in a continent that he loved.

So one Sunny Spring Sunday we set out, to explore the rich, diverse flora of Coombe Farm, and see what we could rustle up for a rustic Springtime Soup.

Sometimes Photos say much more than words - and we were lucky enough to have some very talented photographers on our walk. I leave their work to tell the story of a lovely May afternoon, spent exploring the plant world together... a simple activity that can do so much to bring people together with nature. An effective remedy, I hope, to the disease of disconnection to which much of the world seems to have found sadly little resistance... let this bring us hope :)

















The soup was a sumptuous cocktail of salt, water, lentils and at least 22 species of foraged plants that follow:

Yellow Archangel
Lesser Celandine (only edible once cooked)
Herb Robert
Ground Ivy
Wood Sorrel
Wild Strawberry Leaves
Skull Cap
Red and Pink Campion
Red Clover
Ox-Eye Daisy
Primrose
Wild Garlic (Ramsons)
Lesser Stitchwort
Ribwort Plantain
Dog Violet
Jack-By-The Hedge (or Garlic Mustard)
Sorrel
Cleavers
Water Cress
Stinging Nettle
Bramble shoots
Knapweed


***The UK Government is doubling any donations to Tree Aid before 30th June! ***

With donations from our forage still coming in, and with the addition of UK Aid, we will almost certainly exceed £500. This will specifically be used to help women in Mali plant trees in depleted lands, that will bring revival and resilience to their homelands.

To learn more about Tree Aid and to make a donation - please visit https://www.treeaid.org.uk/



Sunday, 11 November 2018

Plants Available 2018 - 2019

Updated 20 December 2018
Hello All, and a Very Happy Winter Solstice to you!


The nursery is still in its infancy, and as I'm building stocks, we have only a few species available this year. Many of these are however in abundance, so I'm happy to supply large quantities for those who need lots of plants to get their ground cover established for the coming season.

This coming March / early April I will have the following plants available for bulk orders.

Plants are available for collection from the nursery in Mid-Devon, with no minimum or maximum donation asked for.

Plants to be sent out via post require significant handling and packaging so for those we're asking for a minimum order of 100GBP donation + Postage.

For those looking for a guide price, we'd give a suggested donation of £3 each for Ground Cover plants, £5 each for Shrubs, and £7 for tree species. This is very approximate, and we wish that you simply give whatever feels right in your Heart. Please remember all plants have been raised organically, with great care to rebuild the soil and create a thriving nursery habitat.

Many Thanks for looking and please email at symbiosisnursery@gmail.com to place orders or make enquiries.

Siberian Purslane - a fabulous groundcover backdrop
Ground Cover / Herbaceous Species:

Wild Strawberry
Oregano
Oca
Siberian Purslane
Russian Comfrey
Dwarf Comfrey
Sweet Violet
Babington's Leek (Bulbils)
Rosebay Willow Herb
Perennial Tree Cabbages and Kales
Ox-Eye Daisy
Sweet Cicely
Lemon Balm
Spear Mint
Black Peppermint
Chocolate Mint
Sedum Spectabile
Ground Ivy
Vietnamese Coriander
Pulmonaria
Bugle


Rubus Odaratus - Thimbleberry Blossom
Shrub Species

Black Currants - Ben Hope

Gooseberries - a mixture of varieties

Worcestor Berries - a must try, like a high yielding delicious gooseberry!

Thimbleberry (Rubus Odaratus) - this variety has beautiful pink blossom. Vigorous plants!




Gingko Biloba Fruits Hanging
Tree Species

Gingko Biloba - a very slow growing tree, hailed for its medicinal leaves and as a nut crop.

Decaisnea Fargesii - Blue Sausage Tree (see my earlier article on this tree from 2012)

Devonshire Plum - a local Devon variety growing on its own roots. Deliciously sweet and aromatic fruits. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Saving Rare Apple Varieties - across Europe

I'm on the search for rare and endangered fruit varieties - especially apples!

I'm currently hanging out in Latvia which I hope will be my new home.

The land here is so pristine, so wild and undisturbed, compared to 90% of the rest of Europe, that I feel ready to put down roots here.

Yet even in this unspoilt corner of Europe, rampant globalisation and exploitation of resources still threaten.

Foreign logging companies buy up large areas of forest or undervalued land to plant monoculture forestry plantations.

I'm horrified to here of the orchards that sometimes get bulldozed in the process for 'progress'.

The real wealth of resources is being forgotten and destroyed. Latvia has a great treasure trove of old fruit varieties, many of them probably not documented, and most of them would have never have been trialled elsewhere. Huge potential, diversity and cultural heritage are now at risk from extinction.

We must act now to save our old fruit varieties from disapearing forever. All over Europe the situation is similar. In the rush to modernise, nations have forgotten the jackpot they're already sitting on.

If you have an old fruit variety that you value and would like to see live on, I will work to try to help you preserve it.

Simply send me enough graft wood / scion wood of your chosen variety to graft two trees. One of the resulting trees I will add to my sanctuary for further trialling. The other I will send back to you, to plant in your own garden or with friends, family or neighbours.

This way the variety will live on in at least two different locations, giving it a very good chance of long term survival. I would also hope to continue propagating from successful stock to multiply them further to be planted across wider areas of Europe.

If this sounds like a good deal to you, please get in touch and I will do my best to help.

Just mail symbiosisnursery@gmail with the story of your chosen cultivar and I will send back instructions on how best to get the scion wood to me.

Thank you. Let us act now to preserve the wealth of diversity that our children's children deserve to inherit.

Let us keep them in our mind and heart, and our Earth will surely prevail in supporting a healthy environment for the next generations to enjoy...

Another unidentified early Latvian garden variety. Very sweet, and these were ready from mid - July, just two months after blossoming!!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Hybridisation - the birth of fused possibility...

For a long time I've been curious about the nature of hybridisation - the phenomenon of two distinct varieties or species crossing with each other to form an entirely new and unique offspring.

Much myth and misunderstanding surrounds hybridisation - at school I wonder if children are still taught the wildly inaccurate assertion that a defining characteristic of a hybrid is its inability to produce its own offspring...

That is certainly not true in most cases in the plant world. Even F1 hybrids produce fertile seed, despite the popular misconception that they are sterile. Their seed merely produce very varied and unpredictable offspring (with which a plant breeder may treat as a challenge to produce something new and interesting...).

But in this case, what I'm most interested in is the possibilities of hybridisation in Forest Garden Plants - edible and medicinal perennial species. There seems to me startlingly little research in this department considering the vast possibilities involved, and the fascinating success stories from parts of the world where people have delved into such experiments...

The Shipova Pear: Whitebeam's love affair with a Pear!
Examples that are most widely known are those from the breeding programmes of Eastern Europe - especially Russia, Crimea, and ex-Yugoslavia. These have produced such delights as the 'Shipova Pear' - a cross between a Whitebeam (Sorbus Aria) and the European Pear (Pyrus Communis). The resulting fruit is certainly very easy on the eye, and though mine hasn't started cropping yet (they can take a while!), the fruits are said to be delicious, similar in taste to a Nashi (or Asian) Pear.

Sorbus species don't seem to mind who they pear with - even hybridising with members of the Malus, Craetaegus and Amelanchier genera too. The potential for further useful and interesting crosses are surely vast...

Another interesting cross is in a genus that's attracting lots of interest in temperate forest gardening - the Diospyrus tribe. Although the Kaki or Sharon Fruit (D.Kaki) is the better known member of the genus, it's fruits can only be grown successfully in Zone 7 or milder climates, which have reasonably hot summers. In the UK that confines decent cropping mainly to the South-East, and then probably only in good summers. Yet other members of the genus - D.Virginiana and D.Lotus are much more cold hardy, and able to crop in less favourable conditions.

The cross between D.Kaki and D.Virginiana has produced some very interesting cultivars, including: Nikita's Gift, Russian Beauty and Mount Goverla. These bear fruits similar in size to the true Kaki (which are 10x the size of D.Virginiana fruits), yet can survive the cold Ukranian winters where they are bred and can apparently crop even in the cooler summers that we have in south west England. I can see them catching on pretty quickly!

D.'Nikita's Gift' was one of the first Persimmon Hybrids which are now becoming more common
There is also an interest from the point of view of pollination. In small gardens, one may not wish to plant a second member of one species merely for the purpose of pollination. Members of the walnut (Juglans) family for example can take up a lot of space in the garden - yet the different species (J.Cinerea x J.Ailantifolia for example) have been known to hybridise. Does this mean it would be possible to just have one specimin of each tree and still get adequate pollination? Surely more research needs to be done on this, and it is my hope that articles like this might stimulate some further discussion on this curious topic.

Other genera I'd very interested to learn about cross-pollination and hybridisation in include Hippophae, Actinidia, Amelanchier, Citrus / Poncirus and Gaultheria.

If you have any experience or knowledge of such experiments or naturally occuring hybridisation, I'd be delighted to hear back from you!

Please do write in to symbiosisnursery@gmail.com or leave a comment here to share your own anecdotes. Thank you...

Devon Whitebeam.JPG
The Devon Whitebeam or 'Devon Sorb Apple' is a naturally occuring hybrid between Whitebeam and Wild Service Tree. Its resulting fruits may be more useful than either of its parents, and have even been sold commercially in the past. New Sorbus Hybrids are still arising today!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Teaching Forest Gardening and Meditative Foraging...

Over the past few years I've been invited to teach in various ways to share my knowledge and experience in Forest Gardening, and also in Foraging - helping others discover the joys of connecting with Nature and learning directly from Her - the best ways we can manage our gardens in a holistic, ecological way, or to simply enjoy the bounty that She provides for us in the wilds too.

Meditative Foraging, at Sagara Vajara's East Devon Forest Garden
 It feels like a wonderful gift to be able to share this connection, and I feel privileged by anyone who should invite me to do so.

So much so that, as with my design and consultancy work, I now work on a donation basis, leaving students the freedom to give or not give, however much they feel moved to, via cash, a thank you or just a hug or a smile. (Suggested Donations are available if that idea makes you panic!!)

All is very valuable currency, and I hope that the currency of my teaching will be inspirational for all those who can attend. Our connection with nature really is our greatest happiness, our true salvation, and it's my humble aspiration to help others to find and strengthen theirs.

If you'd like to book me for a teaching session in Meditative Foraging - exploring edible landscapes with all of our senses, or a talk on Forest Gardening, ways to grow crops in harmony with Nature, please just email - symbiosisnursery@gmail.com

Thanks,

Charlie

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Let's get our Shiitakes together!


Mushrooms Anyone?

Cultivo tradicional de shiitake en Pradej√≥n.jpg 
 Me and my friends at Symbiosis are going to be growing lots and lots of mushrooms!

Shiitakes are an amazing way to turn dead hardwood into incredible living delicious and nutritious food. The mushrooms we grow will be used not only to sustain us but also to serve up at our beautiful little traveling cafe - 'The Peasant's Lunchbox'.

We're looking for volunteers who'd like to come and lend a hand in our project, inoculating oak, birch, beech and alder logs from our beautiful woodland in Mid-Devon. We'll be working over the next couple of weeks - until mid January, and we will try to arrange work parties at weekends.

In exchange for a fun day's work you will receive a delicious homemade vegan lunch, everything you need to know about growing your own mushrooms on logs (the same techniques can be applied to growing Oyster Mushrooms, Lion's Mane etc.) and your very own mushroom log to take home with you! (These are often sold for up to £20 each!)

The work will consist of collecting logs from the woodland, drilling, inserting spawn and waxing the logs. All ages are welcome and any help at all is greatly appreciated.

Of course forest garden plants will also be available from the nursery for donations as well. 
If you'd like to come along, please get in touch via symbiosisnursery@gmail.com or give Charlie a call on 07935906932.

Many Thanks and we look forward to meeting you soon on the farm...

Lentinula edodes 20101113 c.jpg
Shiitakes are also being researched for anti-cancer medicinal properties

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Regeneration, Us as Part of Nature

This afternoon, spending time with my inspiring friend Sagara of East Devon Forest Garden, we rode a wave of conversation that led us to clarity over our motivation in what we are doing for ourselves, for others, for nature, our planet.

We understood why we are still caught in the grip of fear, parallelised to proceed with what we know is so important. We understood that the task in front of us is so large that we prefer to cower and hide our eyes from what is really happening out there. We understood that great courage is now needed from all of us to face the size of this challenge with resolute Spirit and Will to Succeed. We can do it.

Regeneration is a scary word for humans. In our awkwardness and lack of confidence we prefer to compromise our goal with words like sustainability or even low impact. Is that really the best we can do?? Sustain a critically sick planet for as long as we can? or even trying to only kill her slowly rather than fast? Somehow we seem to have lost faith to our deeper calling to heal the wounds of Mother Earth, and to repair her desperately damaged systems of balance, harmony and symbiosis.

Is this task really beyond us? Like a self fulfilling prophecy we will surely fulfill our collective response to this critical question... At the moment our answer is painfully clear: we have no faith is ourselves whatsoever. Whilst all around us, signs of the Earth's distress become more and more alarming, our natural call to heed is ignored, to instead destroy her at an ever faster rate.

Our apparent suicide mission is so desperate, that, seen clearly, all who participate in it must not be labeled as bad or evil, but merely unwell and unconscious. If our reaction to somebody who is unwell is to anger and to humiliate, we must also realise ourselves to be unwell, and needing the same loving kindness to restore our sanity.

Nobody who is in their right mind would destroy their home, and anyone seen trying to would surely only invite compassion for the terrible sickness they must be suffering from.

Those of us who see the damage done to our home must surely seek to repair it if we'd like to continue to dwell there.

And so it goes, it is time to make this choice, and time to act upon it, right here and now, before the walls come crumbling down on us and our beloved family.

Let's find the courage to act now. To follow our natural inclination towards that which is good and right and whole. To repair the wounds in our Hearts and in the fabric of our Beloved Mother, whom we call The Earth.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Symbiosis Nursery - A New Nursery for 2018


Symbiosis Nursery will be officially opening in the next bare root season - 2018/2019.

I aim to provide top quality organic plants to those who seek to create edible landscapes and permaculture gardens.

But there is much more to the vision for this nursery - the nursery will be operated by Nature, and will be a service from Nature, going back to Nature. The vast majority of profits will go directly back to working with the land, to regenerate and heal the wounds that we have caused Mother Nature.

The plants from Symbiosis come with soul intact. Each plant is treated with great care and respect from the moment it reaches our nursery to the moment it is passed on to another loving home. These are the plants which nourish us on so many levels, and it is our duty to nourish them in return.

Therefore plants from this nursery will demand no price, only a promise to be cared for, and customers will be free to show their gratitude with whatever contribution they see fit.

For more information on symbiosis - please email - symbiosisnursery@gmail.com

Thank you.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Autumn Harvest 2017


Worcestor Pearmain - a taste to savour every September
At this time of year, despite the often restless swirling winds outside, everything seems to take on a strange kind of stillness. It's a stillness that's difficult to articulate, yet I think all who work with the seasons know it. A strange kind of nostalgia... the sweet smell of decay on the breeze reminds us that things are completing their annual cycles. Yet so gentle is this sense of completion, I think it serves to remind us also that in nature there is no such thing as death - only a graceful culmination of cycles, a harvesting if you like, of all that once grew and flourished. A great sense of peace and abundance can be felt, as with unconditional generosity, nature offers us the fruits of another year's effort.

We, alongside nature have worked hard and enjoyed the exhilarating energy of spring and summer, now it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. An inner harvest comes with the outer harvest. It is this feeling of harvest that brings us to stillness. It is time to rest.

How have you all done during the 2017 growing season? Nature certainly seems to have been expressing to us more than ever this year of her distress. Distorted and very unpredictable weather patterns are even more noticed by those of us who work closely with the land. The drought during the spring and early summer is still evident in local streams and rivers that are still only trickling much of the time despite the huge quantities of rain lately. The ground just keeps soaking it up, the Earth was clearly very thirsty.

All the sunshine and heat we had early on did seem to get things ahead though, and just gave the edge needed to lengthen the season for those crops that lie in the margins of what's viable to grow in our climate.

For those places that avoided the late hard spring frosts, a bumper crop of tree fruit has been enjoyed by many. Here on our farm, frost pockets became very evident - fruit trees lying in valley bottoms gave no fruit at all this year compared with almost branch breaking volumes on those higher up the hills.

Apples did brilliantly - our one hundred year old Worcester Pearmain faithfully delivering more basket-fulls of her delicious, sweet early apples.

An old Devonshire Damson tree delivers again...
Plums and Damsons also did well for many. As you can see we had such a glut of damsons, we just didn't know what to do with them all - so I'm trying something new. Inspired by my friend Sagara's brined sloes, I thought I'd give brined damsons a try. It's still early days but they already have a delicious juicy plummy olive kind of a vibe going on!


(Check out Sagara's amazing facebook page for more details on brining fruits and beautiful photos of his autumn harvest https://www.facebook.com/Eastdevonforestgarden )

Smaller than from the shops, yet much sweeter!
I was also very excited to get my first couple of pears from our old wild pear tree that I top grafted many years ago (before the days when grafting troubled me so!) - Doyenne de Comice, the Queen of pears, ripening really well against the south wall.

Grapes were also a success this year. My Brandt vine giving her best ever crop to date. The vine climbs up a stair case to find the warm haven of a south facing wall. Grapes growing against the stone ripening a good bit earlier than those left dangling in the open air.

Perhaps most excitingly of all fruit-wise though was my first proper crop of hardy kiwis - also known as Siberian kiwi, Tara vine or smooth kiwi - or in latin, Actinidia arguta. My self-fertile cultivar 'Issai' giving out generous lots of its tiny sweet delicious fruits. Once they soften, the flavor is almost identical to a really ripe fuzzy kiwi - and the best ones are even more aromatic and flavorsome than that. A real winner, and providing the foliage doesn't get hit by late frosts it seems quite at home in our climate. I can see many more people growing this crop in years to come. Perhaps it could even become commercial?
Brandt Grapes - very tasty once fully ripe!

All in all, a very fulfilling harvest is being enjoyed at Symbiosis. I wonder how this growing season has been experienced by the rest of you, and as always I'd love to hear back from you on your own successes and struggles in growing forest garden plants in our funny old fickle climate...

So write in! symbiosisnursery@gmail.com - I look forward to hearing from you.

Keep enjoying the harvest :)

Charlie


 
Yes, I'm very chuffed to be growing kiwis!!! 


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Sultry Solstice Soup!


It's Solstice Season, and there's an air of climax around - plants around just seem to exude an aura of vitality and vigour, a celebratory fiesta of these long balmy sunny days that we've been so blessed by. It's a great joy of the forest gardener to feel so connected with the flux of the seasons as we work with these remarkable transformations that faithfully deliver our food year after year.

I've just come back from a two month trip abroad and so am astonished at the transformation here in Devon. Of course, I should know by now, but somehow nothing can prepare you for a change on such a scale! One thing I love about forest gardening is that I can go away for extended periods and return to find all my crops growing wonderfully, albeit often among a jungle of weeds!


This is more jungle gardening than forest gardening! But I'm always amazed by how easily one can retrieve such a situation, as long as care has been taken in the design, and one has not left things too long... and it's not just a chore, because many of these weeds are in fact yummy vegetables in their own right!

Three of the main contenders for me, and many other forest gardeners around are Hogweed, Cleavers and Nettles... but rather seeing them as a bore, lets harness their natural qualities to make nutritious and delicious dishes!

Why not make a solstice soup combining all three?

Common Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium is to my mind one of the most underrated of wild vegetables. If it wasn't already growing so prolifically in my garden I would certainly plant some, as it one of the tastiest cut and come again vegetables I know...

Though young leaves and seeds can be gathered through other times of the year, this is my favourite season to harvest Hogweed, as it's now that the broccoli-like flower buds are just unfurling. Check out this especially juicy one - just begging to be picked!--->

Anyone who's tried Hogweed Broccoli knows what a treat it is! Succulent and tender with a very unique flavor, I recommend trying this one to all.

As always, exercise caution when foraging - Hogweed's North American cousin Giant Hogweed Heracleum Mantegazzianum is toxic and will even burn skin when cut. The two can be differentiated mainly by the sheer size of Giant Hogweed, which can reach 4 meters tall, whereas our native friend H.sphondylium is normally around head height. Always be sure before ingesting any wild plant!

As nettles and cleavers are already a little tough and stalky, we'll only be using the tips of these which will nevertheless impart their powerfully medicinal qualities to the soup...

So then the recipe! Serves Two Hungry People:

Sultry Solstice Soup

12 heads of Hogweed Broccoli
One handful of Nettle Tips
One handful of Cleaver Tips
One handful of Allium leaves or two cloves of Garlic.
One cup of Red Lentils
Tablespoon of Oil (Cold pressed Sunflower Oil is wonderful!)
Three Cups of Water
Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg to taste...

 First harvest all of your ingredients. Pick only the most tender top two inches of nettles and cleavers.. For the Hogweed - only harvest flowers before they have opened. These have a much finer taste and texture than mature blossom.

Heat your oil gently, ideally in a casserole pan. Add finely chopped allium leaves from your garden or alternatively use garlic cloves.

Babington's Leek leaves make a fantastic perennial garlic substitute - and are available for most of the year. In a forest garden buying onion and garlic can be a thing of the past!

These herb scissors pictured take five cuts every time you take one. Gifted to me by my friend Clare, highly recommended for the forest gardener!


Peel the outer skin off the Hogweed flowers if they are still unopened and throw them in whole (if you have no blending facility, chop them up).

Fry gently for a few minutes.When garlic is beginning to brown, add water and red lentils to the pan. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and add nettles, cleavers, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Blend the soup well, cut yourself a couple of slices of bread and you're ready to go! If you're looking for a tangy twist try adding some Sea Buckthorn Juice to the bowl to give it that forest garden edge! Bon Appetite! :)




Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Mulberries - in Bulgaria and in the UK


I've been travelling around Greece and Bulgaria for the past couple of months, helping out with projects of regeneration and sustainability. As always, along the way I've been checking out the local wild flora, horticulture and food culture for interesting new species, and local customs of growing or cooking plants that I may be able to learn from.

One species that I've been especially drawn to lately is the Mulberry - here is Bulgaria they appear to grow mostly Morus Alba - the White Mulberry, and less commonly Morus Nigra, or Black Mulberry. The two can be distinguished by the hairy underside of the leaves of the Black Mulberry, which make them less palatable than the pleasantly smooth leaves of the Morus Alba, which are great in salads!

As I write this my hands are stained black by their juice and my tummy full to the brim! In this village of Vishovgrad street after street are lined with beautiful old specimins, most of which have been pollarded - here in Bulgaria Mulberry trees can grow very large indeed! I came across this veteran pictured below in an abandoned village in one of the driest regions of Bulgaria in the Rhodope Mountains.
It is clearly a tree that feels very at home in dry regions...



I wonder how old this one could be? I'm sure it would have at least lived through Bulgaria's war for Independence against the Ottoman in the 19th century...

The locals here call the fruit Bobonka - derived from the same root as 'Bonbon' - little sweets hanging from the trees that are so abundant in quantity that grown ups here tend to leave the bulk of them for the kids to eat! I'm obviously still young at heart since I've been gorging myself on mouthful after mouthful of them for the past few days.

The fruits of Morus Alba can ripen white, pink or dark black, depending on the tree. Here the birds are simply overwhelmed with fruit, and would never take more than a fraction of the crop, but back in the UK I wonder if these white fruited varieties would be less tempting to our often over zealous feathered friends. It certainly works well with white currants, cherries and strawberries, so I will see if I can extract some white fruiting mulberry varieties to bring back to my nursery too.

In the UK we know that Morus Nigra fruits prolifically... So much so that they fell out of favor as street trees because the falling ripe fruits would stain the pavements underneath!

I wonder if any readers have experience in growing Morus Alba, or any of the hybrid mulberries in the UK? If you'd like to share any of your experiences in growing Mulberries in the UK, I'd be very interested to hear from you. Please do write in to the usual email address - symbiosisnursery@gmail.com

As well as having my eye on some Bulgarian strains, I will be propagating three different cultivars of Mulberry in my nursery, including the esteemed 'Illinois Everbearing' and 'Italian' - available by 2018.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Symbiosis Nursery - Fruit Trees back on their own roots !


For years I've been fascinated with the idea of growing fruit and nut trees on their own roots.

Sunset - a truly delicious apple
The process of grafting has always seemed a little brutal to me - cutting off the top of one plant and surgically binding it to lower body of another. I think if I were a young fruit tree I might have something to say about this method - and if we look closely, the trees are trying to tell us!

Isn't it frustrating how often our beloved fruit trees seem to succumb to disease, or generally seem a little 'poorly' - giving fruit that doesn't somehow feel full of the health and vitality that we hope for...

Experiments conducted at Brogdale suggest that own root trees are a good deal healthier compared to their grafted counterparts and provide crops of optimum quality in terms of yield, storage and flavor.

But more importantly than any kind of scientific backing, I think many of us are joined in knowing that something just feels right about trees growing on their own roots, surely the trees will be happier.. Enough human intervention now, let's go back to our roots. Nature knows, so let's let her quietly express herself in her own unique and mysterious way...

Some say these trees may take longer to fruit, and I say Great! Let's not hurry Nature.

A young fruit tree's branch breaking for bearing a crop that it's not mature enough to support is the perfect metaphor for our strange want to always rush forward with things too quickly. Just look how branches we've broken in our mad rush for fruitfulness in our short time on this incredible planet!

 As Uncle John O'Donohue put it -

"The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival."

If we can learn to humbly work within the natural rhythm of things, our patience will be rewarded a thousand fold with bountiful crops of peace, harmony and happiness - making the luscious fruits that follow just a delicious bonus!

Enjoy taking your time.....

The process of getting varieties back on their own roots also requires patience,

Own Root Fruit Trees will be available here by 2019.








Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Land of Abundance - Forest Gardening and Foraging Course

"Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds us to the fact that we are already at the feast!" - John O'Donohue. 

Me and my friends are creating a very special weekend coming very soon, on the 1st and 2nd October!

Please find more details about the weekend at Land of Abundance Course Information


A wonderful weekend to learn about forest garden design, foraging and cooking with our lovely Tasha from the Peasant's Lunchbox travelling cafe.

We have just 13 places left. 

Please email me 
charlielechat@yahoo.co.uk if you'd like more information
Thanks for everybody who came to make this event such a great success! We had a marvelous weekend, exploring Sagara's beautiful garden, learning how to make perennial vegetable beds, foraging for goodies in every corner and turning them into delectable dishes!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Plants For A Future Need Volunteers!

For the past five or so years I've been going down to help Addy Fern on the beautiful Plants for A Future Land near Lostwithiel in Cornwall. Though I'd like to be able to help more I can usually only make it down there once or twice a year at most.

When I visited last year in October I was very saddened to understand from Addy that I was the first volunteer to arrive for the entire season. She desperately needed more help.

The book is still heralded today as a breakthrough work
 Many people seem surprised when I tell them of the amazing site, still growing strong... everything seems to have gone so quiet since Ken's book was published in 1997 that folk seem to assume that the project had been abandoned. Yet the 25 acre site, on which planting began in the 80s must be one of the oldest living examples of a forest garden approach in Europe - it just needs more help on the ground from more volunteers. A warm welcome awaits you, and there is so much to learn there.

So if you'd like to offer some of your time to help this amazing project, please follow this link to Ken's amazing new website which includes his new tropical plant database.

http://plantsforafuture.theferns.info/volunteering/



The entire site is full of exotic wonders like these Crataegus Pedicellata Berries in the autumn


Monday, 28 March 2016

Rosebay Willow Herb Recipe Challenge!

Calling All Foragers !

Sometimes the more intense and complex flavours of wild food can provide us with a wonderful opportunity to get creative in the kitchen, a challenge to find way of tempering and taming them into something altogether more congenial. Often we come across something that is produced in such abundance that we wish, if only there were some way to make them more palatable.... what a feast we'd have!


One such plant that has been bugging me for years is Rosebay Willow Herb or Fireweed - with two latin names too - Epilobium
Angustifolium or Chamerion Angustifolium.

Down here in Devon it remains a fairly inconspicuous creature until June, when suddenly huge swathes of hedge row are set alight by dazzling pink beacons on six foot flower spikes, the shy plants now boldly revealing the whereabouts of their colonies.

 It's only then that I tend to ponder what a fantastic potential this plant has a vegetable - but it's already too late... The season for harvesting the young tender shoots in Late March - April has long gone and now all that's on offer is the rather unappetising tough bitter leaves, and the fiddly pith of the flower stalks that makes a sweet, but far from substantial nibble.

So that's why at this time of year we need to be at the ready! Scouring the way sides with eager eyes, waiting for those elusive first dark purple and green spears to emerge out of the darkness, full of the vitality and vigour that they'll hopefully impart on us if we're quick enough to catch them at their best.

Although these slender shoots are much less tough and bitter than the fully grown plant, they can still be very variable. The sweetest part of the stem is apparently the white part from just under the ground - which makes me think perhaps if we blanched whole shoots like chicory, they could turn much softer and sweeter...

Some plants seem to provide shoots which are sweet enough to eat raw, whilst others will need boiling in water to be acceptable. If you still find them too bitter like this, don't give up... here is a great trick for all bitter plants to temper the flavour - soak them in salt water for half an hour before draining and cooking - it can make a big difference!

There are also reports of recipes for preserving the shoots in pickles and brines, which may make them a whole lot tastier and would make a welcome source of greens the following winter. 

**Update! I tried this in 2016 and indeed my pickled Rosebay, Goji berry and Ox-Eye Daisy shoots made a very welcome nibble in November, when less and less wild greens are available outside. Give it a try!

But my challenge to you, my fellow foragers, is to invent the best recipe you can for this very underestimated plant! Be adventurous and if you can be bothered to write to me to share your successes or failures - I'd be most delighted!

My second idea, perhaps just for the real plant geeks out there is to try to breed a more appetising strain of Rosebay. If you have a colony (which will probably all be of one kind) that you think is particularly sweet and pleasant to eat, then please let me know - or even better, send me a piece of root to grow on myself! It may sound a bit mad, but remember we have our ancestors to thank for breeding carrots that are plumper than pencils and lettuces that don't poison us! There are many, many more vegetables that we could breed to make fit for the conventional kitchen garden.

I'd be delighted to hear any feedback at all from these ideas - please just email charlielechat@yahoo.co.uk

Oh - and trawling the internet, I just found that in Alaska, Fireweed is an extremely popular foraged food, where they often use the flowers to make ice cream and jelly! See this great website for more:

http://www.anchoragepress.com/food-drink/cooking-fireweed-blossoms

Happy Foraging All :) 

Charlie

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Permaculture Mind

"In the Beginner's Mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." - Suzuki Roshi

The Great 20th Century Zen Master Suzuki Roshi advised that the secret of Zen practice and indeed of life, is to rediscover your "Beginner's Mind" - that fresh, innocent place inside us where we see everything anew, like a child, as clear as day, a place that is quiet and empty, and yet full of wisdom.

This view certainly stands in stark contrast to conventional wisdom - that it is necessary to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge to feel qualified to act wisely, Suzuki advocates the exact reverse! First lose all learnt knowledge, then act through your innate knowing.

Krisnamurti once said: 'The day you teach a child the name bird, the child will never see that bird again.' 

And hasn't Permaculture demonstrated this point over and over again so perfectly?

Many of the most inspiring and influential figures in permaculture didn't learn their knowledge from anyone else, and they sure didn't have a PDC certificate. Pioneers such as Masanobu Fukuoka, Robert Hart and Sepp Holzer had very little to do with the permaculture movement. Instead, they realised the flaws of their conventional education and did something courageous that nobody had ever taught them to do - they trusted in themselves. With faith in their own inner wisdom they designed brave new ways to work in harmony with nature to grow food through their own inspired methods.

These guys have done some formidable ground work for us all. Yet I hope that with the growing popularity of permaculture, the movement won't fall prey to the models of education that has so deadened and dulled our society into the very sticky mess we find ourselves in... for the most part our faithless schooling seems to have only smothered the once dancing flames of our child like inner brilliance into a damp squib of an ember - an ember that so yearns for Faith, Passion and Encouragement to Spark it back into Luminosity and Life.

One of the greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison was apparently regularly beaten at school by his teachers for being so dim, yet when his Mother took him out of this fearful environment and gave him the love and nurturing he needed, he developed into the man who literally illuminated the world over night  with his invention of the light bulb, amongst hundreds of others.

The key, surely, if we are to truly learn from these great teachers is not to learn from what they did, but how. In Fukuoka's seminal work 'The One Straw Revolution' he actually gives his reader's head surprisingly little practical information to feed on, compared to what he offers to nourish the Heart. He knew that the practical details of his methods were comparatively irrelevant to the limitless well of wisdom that's inside each one of us

 Fukuoka doesn't just offer us a fish, not even the net - but instead turns us towards our own inner golden thread, from where we can weave net upon net, empowering us to reap a bountiful harvest, no matter what our circumstances.

So when it comes to permaculture, let us not get too caught up on acquiring endless information, knowledge and qualifications from the outside world, but instead look in-side with integrity, to discover the true treasures of intuition, and insight, our innate instinct, and inspiration that will guide our steps toward real innovation and ingenuity, a wiser way of living and therefore a wiser way of farming.


Instead of searching in a book for knowledge, Fukuoka looked up to the Heavens.



Sunday, 24 January 2016

Forest Garden Plants Nursery 2016


The Forest Garden Plants Nursery will be really starting next winter. But this year I do still have a number of plants available for sale.
 
Trees : Blue Sausage Tree, Cherry Plums, Wild Hazels and Oaks, and Gingko Biloba Seedlings.

Cuttings of : Brandt Grape Vine, Ben Nevis Blackcurrant

Ground Layer Plants:

Wild Strawberries, Oregano, Day Lillies, Vietnamese Coriander, Babington's Leek,  Siberian / Pink Purslane, Oca, Lemon Balm, Perennial Wild Kale, Lemon Grass.

Please just email if you'd be interested in any of the above, prices are by donation, but the order must be of over £10 to make it worth it!

Please just send me an email to charlielechat@yahoo.co.uk

Many thanks,

Charlie

My first nursery project - Solomon's Seals, growing with Blue Sausage Tree seedlings, and Siberian Purslane in flower.


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Forest Garden Designer - Available to Hire

A Garden that is not only beautiful, but edible, and ecological too.
Symbiosis in action - the Day Lilly, a delicious edible flower, provides nectar for a visiting hoverfly, which in turn predate insect pests. It's just one example of the astonishing mutually beneficial relationships that make a forest garden flourish.
Over the past seven years I've been studying, researching, designing, and creating edible forest gardens. I've helped out in many permaculture projects, learning from experienced masters in sustainable horticulture, and in the past two years I've been employed to design forest gardens professionally. Now I'm looking for exciting new opportunities in the field.

Forest Gardens are self sustaining ecosystems of mainly perennial plants, which should provide the gardener with a beautiful space and an abundance of food, and potentially materials and herbal medicine too, whilst also serving as a wildlife sanctuary, and a ecological recovery zone, where carbon can be sequestered and soil can be revitalised.

If you have a space where you'd like to create a forest garden, or if you already have a project you just need some advice with, I'd be delighted to help you. If the project inspires me, I'm willing to travel right across Europe to work.

 I can provide excellent references and examples of my existing work...

Even after one year the forest garden can be looking this beautiful and abundant! Here in October, the garden is alight with a multitude of edible flowering plants, which were planted the preceding spring. Raspberries, blueberries, currants, beans, salads and globe artichokes are being harvested too, just a few months after planting.

The only thing that stood here before were the fruit trees.

In the years to follow, the array of edible perennials will proliferate, providing a very rich and varied menu for the gardener to enjoy every day.

Forest Gardening is my passion and it's what I love doing, getting paid just feels like a bonus - I will even consider working for inspiring charitable causes free of charge. So please don't hesitate to get in touch regardless of your budget, I will do my best to help.

The best way to contact me is via email at - charlielechat@yahoo.co.uk

Thankyou for reading and I look forward to hearing from you,

Charlie

A Forest Garden can also provide a wonderful, quiet place to take rest.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

UK Autumn Harvest Survey 2015

......So, what can we really grow in the UK?

Thankyou to the excellent urban foraging website https://urbanharvestuk.wordpress.com/ for posting up photos of loquats growing in North London! One of my favourite fruits...


 As always at this time of year, I invite growers from all over the UK to contribute their own success stories of the past growing season to share with the rest of the permaculture and horticultural community. With so many new crops being trialled in new places, let us share our experiences of which plants and varieties have done really well, and also if there's anything you've been growing that's been less than fruitful, that information could be really useful too.

In Devon we had a decent first half of the growing season, dry with lots of sun, with a much cooler and wetter August than we'd usually expect.


Despite a cool late summer though, I harvested my first ripe Siberian Kiwis! I was very excited to find in late October that the fruits had suddenly gone soft and juicy and were absolutely delicious to eat! My vine is the cultivar 'Issai' which is self fertile, although I will get many more fruits when my male vine starts flowering, hopefully next year.
 
If anyone else has had any luck growing hardy kiwis, please write in.

Diospyrus Kaki in the Paris Botanical Gardens, November 2015
On a tour with Martin Crawford recently, he stated that though true oriental persimmons or 'Kaki' only ripen in the UK in the best summers, hybrids between the Kaki and the American Persimmon can reliably set fruit in most years!

 The cultivar 'Nikita's Gift' is an example of this hybrid 'diospyros kaki x virginiana' - has anybody else have any good crops to report? It'd certainly make a tempting tree for many of us to try planting if it can reliably promise good crops of these exotic fruits each year!

What about Goji Berries, Chilean Guavas, Japanese Bitter Oranges, Kumquats, Chilean Hazels....... there are so many plants I'd love to gather more information about in context to growing in our very special cool temperate climate, to share with all.
Poncitus Trifoliata - Japanese Bitter Orange or Trifoliate Orange is reputed to be hardy and can set fruit in the UK

Please add a comment at the bottom of the page or email me at charlielechat@yahoo.co.uk if you can contribute any of your own experiences of growing unusual crops in the UK.