Probably 3500

Haws from our hedges

Haws from our hedges

In truth we didn’t count. We’d ordered a lot of tree seeds online (we are still waiting for a few species to arrive), we’d collected a load of fruit from our hedges and my parents had sent a load of seeds in the post.

Package from Mum and Dad

Package from Mum and Dad, top going clockwise: Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

Earlier this month, with memories of conversations about how cold it was here last year still fresh in our ears, we decided that it was about time we stratified the nuts and seeds that need cold to break their dormancy. We cross referenced the brilliant BTCV guide with Martin Crawford’s excellent “Creating a Forest Garden” book and for the few remaining species that were not covered in either (or where advice was contradictory) we asked Google or managed our risk by splitting the seeds into two (and in once case three) so that we can plant the remaining seeds in 2012. The result by my reckoning is over 3500 tree seeds waiting for a suitably long cold spell to germinate in Spring 2012.

I wonder how many seeds will germinate. I hope a lot. I have everything crossed and have put a call out to the Freecycle community for pots, with any luck we will need thousands.

By the time we come to plant the trees, hopefully in late 2012/13, we should have decided on the best place to plant them. We are so fortunate here, our land ranges from cool river valley to wind swept hillside with everything from dry sun trapped slopes to soggy spring fed wetlands to fire our forest garden imagination. So much fun, can’t wait … just waiting for some snow now …

Planting Willow

We are really eager to plant trees, but also want to observe and get to know the land before we really go ahead and do anything. The thing is we have these ugly agricultural buildings and “kennels” close to our living space that it would be great to simply hide.

One tree species we know we’ll want a lot of is Willow (Salix spp). It is such a brilliant tree. Great for wildlife, basketry, as a windbreak and wood-fuel crop to name just a few uses. So as a hiding tactic Willow was an obvious choice as it is easy to establish, grows quickly, and we can take cuttings from it (next year) if we also want to plant it elsewhere on the land.

The only problem was that willow is generally cut in the Winter. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. As soon as Winter was deemed to have started, we placed our order for 1 foot high willow cuttings.

Willow for basketry

Beautiful Willow for basketry

A few days after they arrived we had planted all 560 stems of mainly Bowles Hybrid but also some beautiful basketry varieties including:

  • Salix triandra – Black Maul
  • Salix daphandoides
  • Salix alba
  • Salix purpurea
  • Salix viminalis

I can’t wait to start experimenting with these colours.

Clearing space for the Willow

Craig clearing space for the Willow

Planting took longer than expected as there was more clearing to do than we originally thought. I’m sure there will be a point where we have found all of the discarded wood, plastic guttering, worn tyres and various bits of farming paraphernalia in the long grass. Pretty much everything that we have found so far has been useful though – even if it’s just to keep other things weighed down.

That’s 561 trees planted now and that makes us very happy.

Our tree Ent

Our tree Ent

Our tree Ent down by the river

(A few days later) We found another way down to the river, much easier than the first way. On the bank is this wonderfully shaggy tree. We immediately decided that this is our beautiful Ent (even though it is growing on the opposite side of the river and therefore not actually on our land). For the life of me I can’t think what kind of tree it is. We’ve been to visit on at least three separate occasions and never have I thought to look at the leaves. There are so many other things to observe. It is covered in moss, there are various types of ferns growing along the branches and lichens abound too. I have never seen a tree like it in the UK!

Looking at this photo again, I suspect it is a Sycamore. Remind me to check the next time we go to the river.

More photos of the Ent on Flickr

River hunting

View across the far-away field

The river is somewhere in amongst those trees

We’ve always known that there is a river along the lower edge of our land, you can see it clearly on the map, but every attempt to find it in those first few days had failed. Half welly walk proved too over-grown, the bottom of sunshine meadow was too steep with slippery rocks covered in waist high brambles and the wood in the far-away field was like walking through a thicket.

Day three (the 3rd of August). We were determined to find our river. We gathered a packed-lunch, flasks of water, loppers, gardening gloves and walking shoes and made an early start towards the far-away field.

It was a glorious summers day. We steadily made our way down through the buzz of bees and arrived in the shade at the edge of the wood. The first hurdle was how to get over the barbed wire topped fence – just that little bit too high for comfortable straddling. Unclasping the barbed wire from the top of the wire netting below we made enough space to squeeze through. Stepping into the wood proper was like walking into a different world. It looked like it hadn’t felt human feet in decades, if not centuries. Wrens darted about the moss covered branches as we clambered over decaying old tree trunks.

Craig with loppers

Careful now!

Craig walked with loppers in front, I followed with camera in his foot steps. It didn’t seem right to create a large swathe of disturbed track through the quiet wood. We could hear the river (you can hear it from pretty much all of the land), but couldn’t see it. The only thing to do was to keep heading down. It was slow going with branches and brambles blocking our path. A trickle of a stream to our right indicated that we were on the right track. It also indicated very sodden soil – not good for our walking shoes.

I don’t know how long we were walking. Time seemed to stand still. The sound of the river grew ever louder, but still remained out of sight. Just how big is it? We couldn’t guess.

River looking downstream

Afon Sylgen looking downstream

Eventually we reached rockier ground. I couldn’t wait any longer. I nipped around Craig and his careful lopping activities. Peering over the edge of a moss-laden rock I could see the rushing water below. It was moving fast, tumbling over rocks. A surprisingly small amount of water considering the noise! Still we weren’t at the water’s edge. It was now a race to see who could find the quickest route to the river bed. I was first, but only because Craig helped me down a particularly large rock and safely onto slippery stonier ground.

We’d made it. It was awesome. We walked along the river chatting about where we’ll put a wildlife watching hide and wondering whether it would get washed away after a torrential downpour. Looking up, the moss, lichen and fern covered branches were incredible, like some kind of Celtic rainforest. We are truly lucky to have this paradise so close.