Following on from my visit to Town Tree Farm nature garden in early Spring, I decided to create a photo-journal about it, visiting every six weeks or so and recording the changes. The trees around this urn sculpture are now in full leaf.
A more spectacular transformation is taking place in the wreckage of the mysterious plants – the chair is much larger than a normal one!
This was the scene in February. In March, a very few tiny green shoots could be seen in these great piles of fallen stems and flowers, but by late May, a whole jungle was springing up!
Below is another clump (without a chair in the way). You could use that image to try and identify it – search programmes struggle to come to terms with the scale. It probably isn’t a West Indian gherkin.
The Nature Garden is a labyrinth rather than a maze. There are only a few places where you can take a wrong turn and get lost, and these are service tracks, only visible in winter. The paths are usually bordered on both sides by water – pool or wide ditch – so when you encounter a family of swans there’s no way around them!
We persuaded them back into the water on the way into the gardens. The male chased us furiously up the lake once the cygnets were safe, but stopped short of following us along the path!
Unluckily for us, they were back when we returned. It was now early evening and they were settled for the night. Why a creature would spend so much effort adapting to life on the water then park its young on a path which must be used by every predator in the district is a mystery to me!
They recognised us; they didn’t like us. We retreated to consider our options. Swans are quite dangerous, but my companion walks with a stick and it was several miles to the road by the other route.
There was a big pile of dead pine brush by the track. Arming ourselves with long branches tipped with large fans of twig, we approached the birds in what we hoped was a confident manner. They hissed and raised their wings, glaring menacingly, but as long as we kept the twigs between us, they couldn’t get to us and we managed to edge past!
In future, we may avoid the Nature Garden on spring evenings! Once the cygnets can fly, the family departs on their travels.
Even though the whole globe has been mapped out and uploaded, adventure can still be found in the details. The Somerset Levels are best explored by cycle or on foot, but there is one bus which crosses them. The number 67, from Wells to Burnham-on-Sea via Wedmore, takes the intrepid traveller right through this iconic countryside to enjoy a couple of hours at the seaside.
A distinctly rural minibus pulls up at Wells Bus Station, down the platform from its sleek, Bristol-bound brethren, and we are off on the ancient trackway to Wedmore. The modern B3139 follows this intricate path, connecting two projections of higher land separating broad expanses of marshland. Building space was limited on this dry ridge; the hamlets are strung along this narrow, twisting country lane, almost submerged in greenery at this time of year.
Exuberant hedges are covered in flowers; creamy elder, clouds of pink-blushed hawthorn, spikes of lilac and chestnut, curves of honeysuckle. Gaps in the foliage reveal little orchards, families of black sheep, contented donkeys. We pass through Yarley, Bleadney and Theale, past ivy-draped stone walls, verges scattered with the white flowers of cow parsley, fields decorated with buttercups, and into Wedmore.
Here, there are elegant town houses, stone built cottages with purple flowers pouring over garden walls, and foxgloves in full bloom. Wedmore, founded by the Saxons, was a busy market town in medieval times. The Market Cross dates back to the 14th century, and there are some other building of historic interest. Wedmore is the home of the infamous Turnip Prize for modern art, and an annual Real Ale festival.
You could plan a few hours wandering around this pleasant area and return to Wells, but we are changing here for Burnham-on-Sea.
Our next driver was a trainee, learning the invisible stops on the route. The passengers cheered when she edged past a horse box on a lane where ‘single track road’ would be a generous designation.
The countryside is more open as we approach the sea, crossing the old tidal marshes on our rocky ridge. Black and white dairy cows, familiar to Glastonbury Festival followers, graze in the summer pastures. Swans resting by willow-hung streams are a reminder that these fields are the domain of waterfowl in winter time.
Another set of villages is linked by this slender road, like beads on a wire. We pass quaint churches, pubs, an aquafarm and an Aikido centre. The bus begins to fill up, mainly with elderly local residents. Sit at the back if you can, as many passengers have walking frames or shopping trollies. There isn’t a bell to ring; call out if you need to get off before the terminus. The other passengers join in until the driver responds!
The gentle rural lane ended at the A38, the main coast road, lined with caravan parks. We detoured through Highbridge and arrived opposite the Old Pier Tavern in Burnham.
It’s a short walk – about two minutes – to the sea front. There’s a typical British seaside sort of building there, housing the Bay View Cafe, a remarkably well stocked Tourist Information centre, and public toilets.
I picked up a leaflet for the Heritage Trail in Burnham, found the main street easily, past the bucket-and-spade shop. There was a Farmers’ Market going on, and the second hand shops were worth a visit; there were coffee shops and cashpoints, icecreams, seaside rock in strange and wonderful flavours, chips and amusement arcades. Everyone was excited about the Food Festival on Saturday; unfortunately the 67 bus doesn’t run at weekends.
Back at the seafront, there was a good view of the Low Lighthouse, Burnham’s iconic landmark. This was built in 1832, and is still operational; the remains of the previous lighthouse are now part of a hotel.
The abandoned jetty speaks of a busier past. Steamships from Wales would arrive here, connecting with the railway service whose tracks used to run right out to the dock; now even the station has gone.
The seawall is high and curved, there are storms in winter. The tide was out, exposing the mudflats. Rippled channels of water were almost invisible on the gleaming surface, swiftly filling up the flat expanse, bringing the sea back to the sandcastles.
Gulls loitered in the seaweed crusted dampness under the pier; it was a quiet day at the beach.
A short one too; the last bus leaves Burnham at one o’clock. Still, I had a good couple of hours at the seaside and a relaxing journey through beautiful countryside – just like being on holiday!
This service got dumped by First Bus, since it wasn’t profitable, and has had to be patched back together by the town and parish councils along its route. It’s the only public transport for the outlying villages. Taking journeys like this is good training for using local buses in unfamiliar countries.
Some key points need to be considered wherever you are.
Timetables may be out of date. Check your return journey, or connections, with the driver before the bus abandons you in the middle of nowhere. Have some useful phrases printed or practised if you’re in a foreign country.
Buses may be early. A rural bus with no passengers waiting is bound to be ahead of schedule at some points on its route. Arrive at the stop in good time.
The bus may be full. A popular journey, such as the last bus back, may be crowded. Have a Plan B; an alternate way of getting back. Plot another bus route if possible, or check local taxi services before leaving.
Testing your personal resilience with small, accessible challenges is a great way to build up your self confidence.
The challenges of growing vegetables continue; a very brief Spring has been swiftly followed by long hot days with no rain. The seedlings, root systems stunted by the unseasonable cold, struggle to gather water from the hard soil.
A greenhouse is becoming essential to cope with this erratic weather. If you plan to assemble your own, read the instructions carefully and proceed slowly. Photos of the demonstration model in the garden centre could prove useful.
Watering the allotment, some miles from where I live, is a daily chore. Mature plants are doing far better than fresh sowings, but I’m still concerned about the meagre amount of food coming up. The Resilience Garden benefits from waste household water and a handy tap.
The role of water in cultivation is highlighted by this drought. The kitchen gardens of old came as much from the availability of used water as from the convenience of having herbs to hand.
Early summer is a time of leisure for the resilience smallholder, of watching the plants grow and enjoying the flowers. Many events, cancelled because of the snow, reinvented themselves. Seedy Sunday became Seedling Sunday…
Somerset Day was celebrated…
…and there was a Graffiti Day at the skateboard park.
We went to try out the archery at Mendip Snowsports Centre, and discovered Frisbee Golf! Although not all the baskets were this deep in woodland, my frisbee always headed for the nearest nettle patch!
The centre offers bushcraft and target shooting, as well as the artificial slopes for snow-related activities. There’s a pleasant cafe and bar; a good place to have a day brushing up your resilience skills.
Networking is an important part of community resilience, a whole section of the Resilience Plan. People need to exchange news after the winter season, when travel can be limited. It’s important to be aware of dangers and opportunities in the local area and beyond.
The concept of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was identified before the internet was developed; we need not be dependent on technology for our world news. Local events, with their travelling pedlars and performers, were once key information nodes, and often more fun!
When Spring finally arrived in Somerset, it came with all the gardening jobs it was just too cold to tackle earlier. May is proving another busy month! The festival of Beltane, marking the start of summer, should be the time when you can relax, stop treading on the soil, and watch your crops grow.
This year, I had three batches of peas fail to come up – though one is starting to show now – which was a disaster, since this is a heritage variety called Telegraph which I’m seed-saving from. The very last seeds were being soaked before planting – something I don’t normally bother with – when I took a day off to attend the May Day festivities in Glastonbury.
The Tuesday market was occupying the Market Cross, so the Morris dancing took place on the newly acquired patio of the Town Hall. Speeches and bardic recitations followed until the Maypole itself was carried down the High Street by the Green Men.
More speeches and announcements followed. I was at the edge of a growing crowd and it felt like the sketch from the ‘Life of Brian’ (‘What did he say?’ ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers, I think’). The procession wended back up the High Street, past the White Spring to Bushy Combe, as described in this post from 2015.
The White Spring is run by a committee of volunteers now, who endeavour to keep it open as much as possible. It’s well worth seeing if you’re in the area!
The Maypole was duly erected following more ceremonies and recitations. I would have preferred blessings on my peas to vague invocations of universal love, but few people appreciate vegetables these days.
It’s a colourful spectacle though; both celebrants and audience take some trouble to dress up for the occasion. The practical aspects, such as untangling the ribbons as the pole goes up, offer plenty of breaks for chatting.
Quite often in previous years, the ribbons ended up tangled in a big clump off to one side of the pole! Now, enough people have got the hang of the right way to weave in and out that they can keep others on the right track – anyone at the ceremony can take a ribbon and join the dance.
This nice tight winding lasted all the way down. During most of the dance, four strong Green Men braced the pole, as it takes a surprising amount of strain from the flimsy ribbons! The completed pole is moved when all is done, and stored until next year when a new pole and ribbons are sourced, since the field is needed for other things.
The Community section of the Resilience Handbook provides advice on organising your own community events. These are a good way to meet neighbours. Even casual acquaintance helps, should you ever need to cope with an emergency together. Make a point of attending local events, if only in a ‘walk-on’ role!
In my father’s day, few men in the newly created suburbia lacked a garden shed. The sharp tools and poisonous chemicals, which were still part of everyday life, allowed a ban on children entering. The shed was a haven of orderly peace.
The men justified its existence by repairing household goods and DIY projects. They could indulge hobbies; many people were still quite skilled at craft work. The consumer culture disposed of the first two functions. Dispirited, the lure of the TV replaced the last. When the neglected shed finally collapsed, decking took its place.
Television, though entertaining, is not much company. Once out of the workplace, retired men find few opportunities to socialise and their health is often affected by loneliness and boredom. Inspired to address this issue, the Men’s Shed movement began in Australia just over ten years ago
Essentially, these are community workshops where a group of people meet up to work on their own projects. Rather than an actual shed, which might not be large enough, many are housed in portacabins or empty buildings. Most members, but not all, are retired men.
The UK Men’s Shed Association was founded in 2013, to provide an umbrella group for the thirty sheds already established. Today, there are over 400 in operation, with another 100 in the planning stages.
The Sheds mainly provide workshop space and tea. They host a wide variety of crafts – wood and metal working, electronics, model-making. Other community organisations soon learned that they could ask for tools to be fixed, or equipment made. Often adapted for disabled access, the Sheds are providing a valuable resource for care services.
The Association’s website has a map showing your nearest UK Shed, and a resource library to help you start one. Street Men’s Shed in Somerset, who hosted the remarkably well attended AGM in the pictures above, take their information stand to local events. Shed days welcome drop-in visitors, though you may need to be a member to use the facilities; there will be a small charge.
The Reskilling section of the Resilience Handbook outlines the importance of keeping craft skills alive. If you’re following the Resilience Plan, you can see how becoming involved with this group will cover everything you need to know in this section and a great deal of the Community section too. Achieving a useful level of resilience isn’t hard – it just requires the sort of gentle steady progress so unfashionable these days.
A community, town or nation which values resilience doesn’t need public campaigns to live a sustainable lifestyle. Everybody understands where their resources come from, and that payment isn’t always to do with money.
The true goal of a resilient community – and this is a long way off – is to be able to survive on its own, with no imports of goods and no exports of waste, for a year. Once you begin working out how this could be possible, it’s clear that we need to start progress to a smaller population. It’s not so hard to keep a form of internet going, even in a low-technology situation.
Perhaps we could finally depart from the city-state model, which always ends in environmental degradation and the obliteration of a once-proud culture.
Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones. If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.
Sometimes things may get more serious. Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer. Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?
Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.
If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services. There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-
Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least. A large flask is also useful. Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.
In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them. Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!
If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag; keep this ready packed and check it once every few months. American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.
On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation! You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.
There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore. There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful. If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.
And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!
Wild garlic, or ramsoms, is growing in profusion now. It can be used in many recipes, added to soups and stews, or washed and munched raw.
Below is the young leaf of a Cuckoopint, or Arum Lily. These often grow in the same patch as wild garlic – weed them out of your own forage area. Pay attention to the leaf veins. They are branched, as opposed to the garlic which has parallel veins like a grass blade. The arrow shape becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature.
If you eat cuckoopint by accident, it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth which can last for several days.
Bluebell comes out a little later, so it’s fairly easy to tell the leaves apart from wild garlic, which will be moving into the flowering stage by then. It occupies the same woodland habitat as the garlic too.
All these leaves vanish completely in the summer, except for the cuckoopint which goes on to produce its vivid orange berry spikes. These are also poisonous to humans. No sign of any of these plants is visible in autumn and winter. However, the edible bulbs of the wild garlic are still there underground.
When learning this plant series, it’s identifying these bulbs which you should concentrate on. Without any other clues, it could be tricky; you need to avoid including cuckoopint or bluebell in your forage.
Establish specimens of each in pots and watch them grow. Dig up some roots and study them. Wash your hands after breaking up the cuckoopint; if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth wearing gloves. Once you have thoroughly learned all three, you are equipped to forage for them in the woods, should you ever need wild food.
In order to protect these important plants, it is illegal to dig them up in the UK without the permission of the landowner. Hence you should grow your own for study.
When you do, you will observe that the tiny first-year roots of all three look much the same – an oval white bulb about the size of a match head. Only gather the larger wild garlic bulbs which have developed the brownish root skin.
Action task 9 in the Food section of the Resilience Assessment requires you to go on a walk to identify edible wild plants. Look for wild garlic in local woods or under trees in parks. Are there more plants which grow in that area, such as daffodils, which you need to be confident of identifying?
The simple questions in the Resilience Handbook encourage you to establish a layer of underpinning knowledge upon which you can build your resilient lifestyle!
The weather in the Summerlands went straight from cold and icy to cold and wet. I planted some onions, but the peas went in the neighbour’s greenhouse to get started, and the potatoes are still chitting in the shed. I found out that you should wait until the soil is roughly the same temperature as the potatoes before planting them. I’m experimenting with new varieties this year, so there should be notes.
The wasabi plants thought they might die, so they flowered again; they haven’t done this since the last snow, seven years ago! There are four pots, all cloned from the same rootstock, and they all flowered at once, even the one kept some miles away at the allotment.
Starting with a scrawny two-year plant from the market, over the years their leaves have become smaller, glossier and tougher. Wasabi are awkward customers in that they like damp but cope badly with slugs; they make up for this by thriving in the cold weather.
I planted out the burdock salvaged from the resilience field. Three plants had shared a pot over the winter, and their calorie-rich roots grew so fast that there was hardly any soil left. I’m hoping to start a breeding colony in the woodland strip.
I’ve written about burdock in ‘Recipes for Resilience’ as it’s a good emergency food source. The root fattens up in the first year, and is used up in the second summer to produce the large flowering stems. This is a good time of year to harvest these roots, but only the spring leaves can be seen.
Growing both these plants in your Resilience Garden enables you to study them in detail, so you won’t dig up the wrong one – note the foxglove is kept in a pot. Feel the leaf textures and observe the shades of green.
Practise identifying them on a forest walk – but don’t dig up wild plants as that’s illegal in the UK unless you have the landowner’s permission and it’s not an endangered species. Take pictures, and return later in the year to see if you were right. It takes a couple of years’ study to really learn a plant.
The dismal, threatening weather meant the planned Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving was filmed for YouTube. None of us were confident about travelling to Lyme Regis, given the weather forecast! Although we didn’t get much snow here in the South, the rain was relentless and there was a lot of water on the roads.
Saturday itself was almost a nice day. I worked on some of the infrastructure projects in the garden, feeling that these should have been finished weeks ago. The plum tree is blossoming with the utmost caution; the bumblebees are about, but I haven’t seen any honey bees yet.
Winter slinks out of the door, turning to snarl “I’ll be back!”, as Spring tiptoes tentatively in.
Earth Hour is an annual event which celebrates a global network committed to creating a sustainable world. It’s organised by the World Wildlife Fund, and began as a ‘lights out’ event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.
The idea is for people, organisations and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights, and other electrical devices, for one hour. The hour begins at 8.30pm local time, so the effect ripples around the world. City landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Shard, participate now, as well as millions of individuals.
Some people organise whole events around the occasion, and one such is Earth Hour Chard where I was booked to talk about Resilience. Their first event had been a magnificent street fair, betrayed by a bitterly cold March wind. They’d hired the Guildhall this time, for a whole day’s programme of activities supported by a cafe, bar and numerous stalls.
I arrived early; the kids’ activities were in full swing. Everyone was busy, so after I unloaded and parked, I took a walk to the museum.
In a county of farming communities, Chard always stood out as a factory town. The textile industry was important, particularly machine made lace for net curtains and clothing. As outlined in the Resilience Handbook, the presence of machinery in the area encouraged a support network of craftspeople. These skills were then available to inventors.
It was in Chard, in 1848, that John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage first showed that engine powered flight was possible. Other major advances credited to the town include the development of articulated artificial limbs and of X-ray photography. Today, it’s the home of the Henry vacuum cleaner.
I strolled down Fore Street, admiring the remaining old countryside architecture, the thatched houses and diamond pane windows, arriving back in time for the judging of the colouring in competition. I hastened over to the Phoenix Hotel; the talks were being held there while the Guildhall was set up for the evening event.
I’d decided to create a new talk, outlining how the Resilience Project came into being through a fusion of Transition’s Energy Descent Action Plan and local emergency planning, with decades of experience in living off-grid thrown in. Jason Hawkes covered ecological footprints and housing; Kate Handley talked on local food.
We packed up in time for the music; a selection of bands often seen at off-grid festivals, compèred by Tracey West, publisher extraordinaire. Simon West manned their Word Forest Organisation stall on the top floor, where the poetry slam was going on.
It was a very entertaining evening, networking and enjoying quality performances. We didn’t turn off the lights in the venue for Earth Hour – a health and safety issue – but at least the people attending had turned theirs off!
Although Chard is poorly served by public transport, it’s worth a visit. I found some charming hotels with reasonable prices, though in the event I stayed with one of the organisers. Check for parking, as this may be a local issue.
Sadly, the nearby Wildlife park at Cricket St Thomas has closed and is now on the Heritage at Risk register.
It’s starting to look like a late Spring here in a thawed, but still shocked, Somerset. Plants are cautiously emerging, but the buds on the trees remain resolutely closed. As their roots are still dormant, you’ve a little time left to plant out saplings. This should be done before late March.
Apples are such a staple food that it’s good to have a tree in your garden. Our estate was built on an old orchard, and a few of the original trees are left. My neighbour has one, left to grow to its full size over several decades.
You don’t necessarily want one that large. Techniques for growing smaller trees have been developed over the centuries since the sweet Chinese apple came over the Silk Road to Europe. Our native crabapple was bitter, but adapted to the climate. The sciences of grafting, pruning and cross breeding were known to ancient cultures.
Today, a vigorous rootstock is grown, then the top part of this tree replaced with a branch from a ‘fruitstock’. The resultant apple tree takes on the shape of the root variety, yet provides fruit from the graft type. You can buy dwarf trees, bearing your favourite apple but staying quite small.
These aren’t cheap, and will be something of a fixture; it can be several years before you get any fruit at all. It’s worth going to a short course with an expert to learn the basics of orchard management and how to apply these to your garden. Knowledge of this kind is a community asset, as described in the Handbook, so I went on a refresher course.
Anthony Ward, our tutor, is the keeper of the Chalice Well orchard in Glastonbury. We were planting some trees in a new field at Brook End Farm, situated where the Levels rise into hillier ground to the east.
You can see the knobbly bit on the trunk from the graft. If you have a pot-bound tree like this, dig your hole square so the roots can spread out easier.
The stake is driven in after the tree is planted. Modern ties allow more movement, as the action of the wind strengthens the roots. The grass is kept away from the trunk with a mulch; a precaution ignored with less valuable trees. For the first few weeks, make sure the sapling neither dries out nor sits in a puddle. Then forget about it till it needs pruning, which is a whole other story.
This is the apple tree in the Resilience Garden. It grew from an apple core hidden in a plant pot by my daughter. Although it produces good red eating apples, it clearly wants to be a very large tree. It’s an example of very bad pruning; I tried to make a ‘goblet’ shape without taking into account the shading from the fence behind. After that, I appreciated the courses more.
The mulch to the right of the tree is the filling from a defunct futon mattress, which I’m covering with a thick layer of leaf mould. I have access to a large pile of this; otherwise I’d use soil exported from the raised beds. The green shoots are wild garlic; they’ll be ready to harvest soon.
Wild Garlic Pesto
2 rounded tablespoons of crushed nuts (50 grams; 2 ounces)
2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and shaken dry (100 grams; 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese – vegans can substitute yeast flakes
a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste
Blend everything together and serve with pasta!
I couldn’t resist adding that recipe, from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘…..wild garlic does make a lovely pesto and it has quite a short season. I grow a lot of it under bushes and in the wild areas, as very reliable spring greens. The nettles are coming up too – vitamins arriving at just the right time!
I’ve been asked to talk about resilience at the Earth Hour event in Chard, Somerset on the 24th March; I’ll be signing Resilience Handbooks too. The daytime events are free, so drop in if you’re in the area!