After a month of digging and preparing the ground and realising that I was now within the period of time when it was recommended that seeds be sown I spent a few hours between the showers sowing seeds. This is the first time I have tried to cultivate wildflower seeds so I am treatung it as an experiment. I am using two different seed mixes purchased from Boston Seeds. The first in the Butterfly Bee Mix of 26 species augmented by Cornflower Annuals and Yellow Rattle.
The second mix I used is designed for heavy clay soils which is what underlies the field.I used this mix at the lower end of the field which tends to be wetter and it contains 22 species. I will be watching to see how these different mixes perform and which species do best in this type of soil.
POST #4 PATHWAYS TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
POST #3 PATHWAYS TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Trying to achieve something significant usually comes at a cost that can be measure in many different ways. As part of my personal inquiry I want to explore the nature of the costs when working for nature.
For the past month I have been digging up part of a field in order to expose the clay rich soil into which I am sowing wildflower seed. I reached the point this week when the timing for sowing seeds (late March) was right so I hurridly completed the final areas for ground preparation and sowed a mix of seeds containing about 20 wildflower species.
Earlier in the week I attended a webinar given by horticulturalist/water scientist Janet Manningwho emphasised the importance of soil texture and structure for water retention. I followed some of her advice. Before sowing I broke the clay, added some compost and sharp sand, raked it and then scattered seed before pressing them into the soil by gently treading on them. As I turned the clay over I exposed nuerous earth worms which remined me that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.
Looking back over the month or so I have been digging this patch and reflecting on the physical effort I had put in the saying ‘no gain without pain’ came into my head, which might easily have been adapted to ‘no gain without commitment, effort and perseverance’ to capture what is actually involved when working for nature. And yes there was a bit of physical pain as well as I picked up several minor injuries as I went about by work. Working for nature involves being able to carry out the work ie having the strength, mobility and agility necessary to accomplish the tasks and also and the desire to undertake the work and maintain effort over a period of time encouraged by a belief that the effort will be worthwhile and a vision of the effects and benefits for nature that our efforts will achieve – in my case the production of several hundred square metres of wildflowers that will help a larger population of insect pollinators to flourish, if I hadn’t undertaken the work. As I surveyed the effects of my digging and sowing I realised that what I was feeling at this moment was a sense of wellbeing of fulfillment as my efforts and beliefs merged with and the aesthetic appeal of the new patterns for new life I had created in this place.
I am not alone in appreciating the health benefits of working for and with nature. A wealth of studies has demonstrated that nature experience is associated with psychological well-being.
“The forms of association include evidence that links nature experience with increased positive affect; happiness and subjective wellbeing; positive social interactions, cohesion, and engagement; a sense of meaning and purpose in life; improved manageability of life tasks; and decreases in mental distress, such as negative affect. In addition, with longitudinal studies, as well as natural and controlled experiments, nature experience has been shown to positively affect various aspects of cognitive function, memory and attention, impulse inhibition, and children’s school performance, as well as imagination and creativity.” (1). I will be paying attention to some of this research as my inquiry unfolds.
1)Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective Gregory N. Bratman, Christopher B. Anderson, Marc G. Berman, Bobby Cochran, Sjerp de Vries, Jon Flanders, Carl Folke, Howard Frumkin, James J. Gross, Terry Hartig, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Ming Kuo, Joshua J. Lawler, Phillip S. Levin, Therese Lindahl, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Richard Mitchell, Zhiyun Ouyang, Jenny Roe, Lynn Scarlett, Jeffrey R. Smith, Matilda van den Bosch, Benedict W. Wheeler, Mathew P. White, Hua Zheng, and Gretchen C. Daily Sci. Adv., 5 (7), eaax0903 Available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aax0903
POST #2 PATHWAYS TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
The weather during last two weeks has been quite odd… we have had mild sunny spring weather with temperatures in the miod teens and freezing (- 4C) wet weather with snow and deep frosts and today is blowing a gale. Mostly the weather has not been conducive to getting outside and so my preparations for my wildflower meadow has not progressed as much as I had hoped. Nevertheless I have made a little progress by digging another 40 sq m.
Quite a bit of my time has been spent in the woods where we have had around 8 ash trees taken down that were potential threats to neighbouring properties. Consequently, there is a mass of logs and branches to stack, clear and burn so quite a lot of effort has gone into this.
Its quite disturbing participating in the partial destruction of a woodland whose trees are over 150 years old but the ash trees are infected with a virus that causes the tree to die and they posed a threat to my neighbours and their homes. It’s hard to justify that I am helping nature by felling such mature trees but in this case I would argue its about creating a safer environment within which people can co-exist with nature without fear of being crushed by deseased trees.
The one benefit from this destructive act has been to let more light into this long neglected patch of woodland. It is now much lighter and I can see the potential for more wildflowers to grow if I can keep the brambles down. It reminds me that destruction and regeneration go hand in hand: when we change the environment new possibilities emerge.
The interesting feature of this area is that it is often waterlogged with surface water draining through it and forming natural, albeit transient ponds. There is a shallow drainage channel that meanders like a miniature river valley and the trees and ground are covered in dark green moss. At this time of the year with plenty of rain, the channel feeds a small boggy wetland area with a natural beauty that I wanted to preserve and help to enhance the biodiversity of this area.
I began clearing the logs and branches from tree felling. I used the logs to create edges to a new path and the smaller branches were burnt. Larger branches and logs were stacked to form woodpiles for insects and provide shelter for small animals. It doesn’t sound like very much but there was many hours of effort clearing, stacking, burning and path laying.
I read a blog post by Christian Wahl which seemed to make a lot of sense in the context of trying to regenerate this neglected patch of ancient woodland.
“What makes us human has evolved in intimate reciprocity with the environments our human ancestors found themselves in. The animals and plants we shared ecosystems with have honed our senses, shaped our abilities, and helped us to become who and what we are. Reconnecting with our innate love for life in all its forms lies at the heart of creating a more regenerative human presence on Earth.” The full post can be found here https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/the-passionate-love-of-life-and-of-all-that-is-alive-af18e142df9
POST #1 PATHWAYS TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
I am starting a new lifewide learning inquiry called Pathways to a More Sustainable Future. It will run from April to September and I am using my Garden Notes blog to curate the way I help, nature and the environment and what I learn from the experience. In this first post I set out an ambition that provides the focus for my pathway to a more sustainable regenerative future.
The question of what inspires us and why? interests me. To take on a new project that I know will be time consuming, require a lot of physical or mental effort and be costly requires a special sort of motivation. In October 2022 I participated in a webinar offered by Surrey Wildlife Trust. One of the contributors Louis Harrington-Edmans, a conservation Officer with Buglife, gave a talk on B-Lines – short for biodiversity lines.
He explained that since the 1950s we have witnessed a rapid decline in the populations of pollinating insects and wildflower meadows. This loss of biodiversity can be directly linked to the intensification of agriculture and increased use of pesticides and herbicides, and urbanisation. B-Lines are an emerging solution to try to reverse this decline in biodiversity by creating a UK network of 3km wide corridors in which new wildflower habitats are being created to help pollinating insects flourish. In fact my local B-line lies within the Surrey Hills and its southern boundary runs a few metres my house!
My immediate thought was I can get involved in this and make a contribution. I love wild flowers and for the last three years we have not mown a big area of our garden to let the wildflowers grow – which they do in profusion. Here was a good reason to expand what we were already doing in the interests of nature. But I could also see how other people would think that this is a good idea and would want to contribute so I put the idea to my co-volunteers in the RE-Betchworth action for nature, the environment and sustainability group and they also thoout it was a good idea so we formed a small team to take it forward. This is how one thing leads to another!
In my previous post I described a pathway I had constructed in the woods. With the B-line idea in mind I added some sides and filled them with soil and compost and planted 250 wild garlic and 250 bluebell bulbs and ina few weeks I will sow woodland wildflower seeds.
I have now started a second B-Line project which will take most of March to complete to turn a strip of the paddock into a wildflower meadow. I began a week ago by digging up some turf with my grandson and stacking the turf into a low mound. I began a week ago by digging up some turf with my grandson and stacking the turf into a low mound. It really is ‘back breaking’ work and progress is very slow. Two things sustain me. The first is the thought and feeling of what this will eventually look like when the seeds I sow grow into wildflowers. I think that what I am doing will be worthwhile both at an aesthetic level and at a practical and scientific level in terms of helping nature. The second thing relates to creativity… as I dig up the turf to expose the subsoil, what seemed at first to be random diggings began to morph into a pattern with intentionality and having established a pattern my mind and body are engaged in extending the pattern. After several days of slogging I can begin to see how what I am doing will look when it is completed, with curved pathways, bare soil for the wildflowers and a couple of flowering cherry trees which I will place on the mounds. As I was digging I decided to add two small trees in memory of my first wife and my second wife’s husband both of whom died 23 years ago. In doing this I realise I am adding new layers of meaning to this patch of land.
This is the first entry of my Pathways diary that will record my actions for nature and their effects on me and nature.
In March 2023 I began an experiential inquiry called Pathways to a Sustainable Future and many of my posts between March-September were written for this project.
Diary Starts Here