The Orange Tip

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Tag: woodland

Evening gardening in Central London

Woodland bed 18.04.19

Early evening very much the best time of day – and the best kind of light – to enjoy the Museum’s front gardens. Particularly the woodland bed, designed by Dan Pearson Studio,  where in spring Narcissus runs alongside sulphuric epimedium and bright white Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’, borrowing the haze above the Thames for a backdrop.

The Wood Beyond

 

Parkdale, Toronto

Parkdale, Toronto

A recent written commission took me across the water to the cities of Toronto and Detroit. Although the two occupy separate countries, they share their regional territory with an ancient woodland: the Carolinian forest. Much of this once sprawling and prolific disiduous wood has sadly been lost, 90% in fact. Originally spreading across America, climbing North-West from the Carolinas into southern Ontario, Canada, sadly now only pockets can be found: those baring the original broadleafed footprint of the true Carolinian forest.

Having undertaken the otherwise strictly-urban commission in prime-time, fully swung, brightly glowing autumn, making a few dashed escapades into the surrounding woods was something I couldn’t have resisted. More images on the AWAY page.

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Working in the Wood

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Back in the woods again. The paths have held quite well, edged with the fallen or cut branches from last year’s tree work. Although the boundaried areas of copse have subsequently been afforded uninhibited (and un-trampled) freedom of growth, it is now necessary to clear back the bramble before it has a chance to take over.

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

Splitting our little wood up into five sections, I’ve been slowly digging up the thorny blanket by the roots and amassing them at the centre of the copse, ready for a bonfire next week.

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Bramble pile for burning

Bramble pile for burning

As with the work last winter, I’ve loved spending a solid block of time devoted to this section of the garden; probably my favourite place to be at this time of year. The birds in the canopy are a hive of constant activity, preparing new nests and scoping out material with which to construct them. On the copse floor, flowers of snowdrop and winter aconite are now in full flower, lighting up the ground as beacons for awakening bumble bees.

Snowdrops in flower (

Snowdrops in flower (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Arum leaves under large English oak

Arum leaves under large English oak

One plant I’ve always ensured gets a good footing in the wood is burdock. Around four years ago I found a small clump, having presumably made its way over the park wall via wind or wing (or more likely, attached to a squirrel), in full spread beside one of our ash trees. Ever fond of its shrub-like form and broad, rhubarb-esque leaves, I’ve made sure each year to gather and redistribute the seed, collecting directly from the dried heads that remain at the top of dead stems over winter. Taking note of the plant’s edible qualities from the wildflower bible that is Richard Mabey’s, Flora Britannica, I even once dug up some of the burdock’s roots and had a go at stir frying them. Nothing special..I’m not going to lie. Flora Britannica is very much a book worth having to prop up anyone’s interest in the history of our British wild flowers though.

Burdock seed heads (Arctium sp.)

Burdock seed heads (Arctium minus)

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Burdock seeds released

Burdock seeds released from capsule

'Flora Britannica', by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Flora Britannica by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Robin’s House In the Country

Robin Nest
Camouflaged in the garden copse.

Time In The Wood

LogsNine trees came down during the fierce winds of the last couple of months. All but one of them were robinia; a north American woodland tree of which we have a great number at the garden. The pros of robinia are that it’s a great, grand tree; stunning blossom in early summer, fantastic for wildlife (I’m forever stopping to watch nuthatches and woodpeckers scour their fissures for insects) and they grow very quickly. The problem with them however, as so many now frustrated London borough councils are experiencing, is that they are shallow rooted, weigh a great deal and are prone to snapping.

Having finally finished the never ending autumn and early winter jobs around the garden (mostly involving aggravating but useful machines like pressure washers and hedge trimmers) I’ve been at last able to get stuck into the woodland and begin returning it to form.

In early summer the fairly open canopy means lots of wildflowers; alkanet, cow parsley, greater celandine, campian etc all flourish to form a dense and beautiful lower story of up to 1.5 meters. With this in mind I’m aiming to create new paths that weave among them, clean and chop the trees that have come down, fell any leaning with intent to fall and then process the wood into lengths, habitat and firewood for next year.

Wood summer

Pathway summerAll brash wood I’m leaving in large piles to rot down and provide shelter for wildlife (also a much simpler option than shifting it all.. which there really isn’t any need for anyway). There isn’t yet a purpose in mind for the log lengths, however I didn’t want to convert all the good material into firewood and so they’ll remain in the wood until purpose arrives.

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Hazel Coppice

20130520-162037.jpg(Iain Loasby in Furzefield Wood, Potters Bar)

During the first two months of the year I spent some time away from the garden indulging my long held interest in woodland management. Although most of the work I’m currently engaged with tends to align more closely with flowers, my first love has always been trees.

When studying at the botanical gardens of Wales some years ago I used to spend the hours before and after class shivering in the hillside Towy valley woods, doing my best to read branches for buds; learning my ash from sycamore in their exposed winter simplicity.

Trees of our more or less native, deciduous woodlands were, and still are, to me the most interesting and intriguing of all the multi-floral habitats; so much so for their repetition in coalition. For any inexperienced horticulturist the wood is a good place to begin learning as reoccurring identification material is so helpfully repeated; you quickly build up a reliable basis of character recognition in order to accurately differentiate between the species.

I have, therefore, a great envy of those who are fortunate enough to be able to give much of their attention to working in woodlands. During those months I spent time both reading up (Edward Thomas, John Collis, Richard Jefferies as well as a re-read of the hailed practical handbook by Cris Starr) and in the woods themselves with a handful of people to whom they are a livelihood or devoted hobby. Within woodland work in general, a particular dimension I was keen to experience more of was coppice management.

Iain Loasby is a coppice worker based in London. For some years now he has been spending his winters relieving borough councils of their public woodland ‘clearance’ responsibilities through managing hazel copses. Where good material, once cut, would usually have been chipped or burned, Iain is putting it to use, converting it into anything from fence poles and pea sticks to charcoal and firewood. Not only does this mean product in place of waste, but also a restoration of the ecologically supportive cycle that used to be carried out in woodlands for centuries.

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20130520-162345.jpgI met Iain in Furzefield wood up near Potters Bar for a day’s coppicing in January. He showed me the process (in the most basic terms) from cutting to product sorting and cleaning. We were working in a sectioned-off corner of the wood; 1 part of a 7-section rotation Iain had mapped out. Hazel stools are coppiced once every 7 years and therefore once established and carefully managed, a rotation like this will supply a decent haul each year.

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20130520-202658.jpg(Back in January – using a billhook to cut hazel poles away from the stool and sorting into products)

Now in spring and with vigorously shooting sweet peas and runner beans in the garden needing supporting, I went back to Furzefield to see how Iain had got on with the rest of the area. The timing couldn’t have been better; the bluebells were approaching their peak and everywhere above new leaves were emerging in light yellows and greens. You couldn’t doubt the positive ecological effect that the coppicing process brings to this particular environment. Removing the dense understory of hazel poles lets much needed light down onto the wood floor, allowing the exposed flora to once again proliferate. Rotating this action through the woodland therefore creates a diversity in habitat; moving from one area to the next over a slow succession of winters, new shoots re-growing from old stools. It’s an exciting and invigorating experience to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum on the same site, and to see first-hand how productive, above all else, this old practice still remains. Driving back down to the garden with my bean poles and pea sticks in the back of the truck I felt a great admiration for past generations of coppice workers. Much like farmers of the old wheat field meadows; their back-breaking practices often so entwined within nature as to forget the conservational qualities that result.

Iain’s coppice products are available from his website at: www.rivenwoodcoppice.com

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Early in the Wood

Yesterday morning I got to the garden early to finish some paperwork in the shed. Tired after a busy weekend away camping along the Pembrokeshire coast, and finding it hard to concentrate, I decided to have a look at how things were going up in the small patch of woodland at the top end of the garden. A regular walk around the garden is an important practice and helps you keep everything in perspective, however, like so many gardeners, I often end up finding an excuse not to do it and turn my attention to some other job that needs doing. So it was nice to put aside a bit of time just to wonder about and take things in again.

The morning light was bright, showing through all the various greens and there was even a very slight frost lingering on the wood floor. It felt surprisingly Autumnal walking along the paths. I noticed quite a few changes that had taken place quietly in my absence- mushrooms on the chippings, brand new fox holes and fruits developing for the first time on the young sweet chestnuts. Overhead in the robinias a pair of crows were calling to each other, along with a solitary magpie from behind the old wall; all projecting the familiar sounds of Autumn, even more so once the trees lose their leaves and the sound is reverberated further. A pair of nuthatches were also scrambling up and down one of the taller black locusts; for a non-migratory bird it’s funny how they seem to disappear completely after Spring each year and return to view in the Autumn. Can’t imagine where they go.

Black Locusts, Black Sky

Robinias make up the predominance of the trees in the woodland. Not a favourite of mine, nor a native, but a great source for wildlife. The blossom in late spring is a spectacle, like enormous beams of bright white, and its deeply fissured bark houses many insects, attracting nuthatches and woodpeckers. I often hear them calling in the canopy.

The Woodside Butterbur

Came across a long stream of butterbur running down the hill to the garden on a thin strip of woodland glade. It is Petesites, but not certain of the species. It’s early flowering too, particularly for this time of year, but a great sight along the roadside, straddling the equatorial divide. It almost acts as a lure, or a promise of things to be discovered and stumbled upon deeper in the woods. Butterbur is more than an enchantment too, herbally speaking. The plant has a long history as an all-round revitaliser, used to treat migraines, muscle pain and fever. Its scent is enticing at first, quickly becoming sickly, like that of a sweet shop.