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Inter Faith visit to Dartington (Delia Law)

posted 5 Jun 2018, 05:10 by Martyn Goss
Earlier this Spring some people from the Devon Earth and Faith Network went to see this forest garden which Martin Crawford, of the Agroforestry Research Trust, had started in 1994.

A forest garden is designed to mimic the structure of a natural forest based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The purpose is to be biologically sustainable, and able to cope with disturbances such as climate change. Also to be productive and, once established, to require low maintenance.

We explored the two acre site with Martin showing us the edible crops, such as sweet cicely (herb has sweet aniseed flavour), wild garlic, Solomon seal, ostrich fern shoots (fiddleheads) and hosta stems (needing roasting first). There were currants and berries of all kinds and carpeting species of rubus (blackberry family) along with ground cover using dwarf  species of bamboo.

 This forest garden is self-fertilising, using nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs, particularly alders, elaeagnus, comfrey, sorrel and coltsfoot.  To avoid using plastic material Martin grows and uses New Zealand flax to tie back plants. Attracting insects and especially bees means including plants, like the lungworts, that bloom early in the season when not many other plants are in flower.  Martin has seen this project flourish and has written several books entitled Creating a forest garden (2010),  Food from your forest garden – a cook book for gardeners (2013), and How to grow your own nuts (2016).

Later in the day we visited the Bee Meadow at Dartington, a more recently founded project. Beehives were made from tree trunks, with openings for the bees to enter and a door for the collection of the honey. Set in a vast meadow wild flower meadow this is an amazing location. Our group stood in the sunshine in the bees meadow to reflect on the day we had shared. We gave thanks to our Creator for the earth and all the blessings that we receive daily from our natural environment. We know how humans gain healing by being interconnected with the plants and animals around us. We humans are interwoven into the web of life and we need to act for the wellbeing of all life. May we all respect and protect our world as we live in God's acre.

“Earth's crammed with heaven,
  And every common bush afire with God,
  But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
  The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

(Elizabeth Barrett-Browning)