Tag Archives: Town Tree Farm

Reflections on 2018 – the Year of the Earth Dog

A strange year, which somehow seemed to span two or three, yet provide hardly any time for writing.

I’m sure the dramatic contrast of heavy snow in March with the searing drought of June contributed to this illusion.  It was certainly hard work to grow food, and we’re going to redesign the allotment towards even lower maintenance.

It’s being replaced by more raised beds in the Resilience Garden, to fully utilise the south-facing aspect.  When I worked at outdoor events, this area was paved to store equipment trailers; now the slabs look untidy, so I’m just creating another layer on top.  Our experiences with the allotment validated our use of raised beds in difficult growing areas.  One day town car parks may return to the market gardens they once were.

I completed my photo diary of Towntree Farm in all its seasons.  It’s a pity I couldn’t catch it under snow, but I’d never be able to get there through the lanes!  Now I just have to sort the pictures and decide what to print.  I plan to make an album as a gift to the farmer.

Statue at Towntree farm

Having retired from event services, ambushed by a lack of pension, I supplement earnings from my writings  by cleaning in some of the high-end bed and breakfast places locally.  The sense of ambience developed by arranging festivals is a completely transferable skill.  A room cannot be cleaned properly for a new guest in under an hour – if I can’t have that when travelling, I’d rather go to hostels.

However, there are only a limited number of hours in the day to accomplish this.  Visitors start to leave at ten and new ones will arrive by four o’clock at the latest.  The work should be done by then – many cleaners prefer to be unseen by guests, like invisible fairies!

The nature of the job is thus that one must work six days a week to earn enough to keep a house going at even the most basic level.  A room in a shared house would be easier to manage, but this is part of the resilience agenda where I encounter barriers.  Shared housing is increasingly popular among young people in cities, but not well supported elsewhere.

Despite the hard work and general air of gloom over the latter part of the year, I did manage a couple of short adventures.  My daughter took me to Cardiff to see Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ musical show, which was awesome!

waiting for the show to start war of the worlds dec18
waiting for the show to start

The whole concept is unique, harking back as it does to a book written 120 years ago, and the performers did it justice.  The way in which sound, lighting and special effects can be combined these days would surely delight the original author, whose love of science was well known!

We stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel, which was pleasant and well situated.  We were able to walk from the central station and leave our luggage at the desk, since we were early for check in.  Xmas shopping was in full swing; we picked up novelties like chocolate spanners and giant marshmallow teacakes, which haven’t made it to rural Somerset yet.

A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff
A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff

An excellent buffet breakfast in the morning, and more retail therapy in the big city, before returning to Somerset by train and bus.  I’m using public transport, instead of driving, far more these days – another car on the roads doesn’t seem helpful.

The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs
The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs – very resilient!

There was barely time to repack my bags before I had to head off for a few days in London….but that’s another story

 

When I speak of the plans based on ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ I refer to ‘Level One’.   This is, as described in the Handbook, the very basic level of practical resilience which should be second nature to any citizen, and is easily achievable even today.

The universal understanding of key infrastructure is crucial.  Remote, centralised systems should be moved towards local  management.  We need to become a resilient civilisation, and start the long process now.  There are clear, measurable goals at every level from personal to global.

I’ve refrained from describing further levels until now, collecting feedback on the first stages of the Resilience Project, but I have been exploring them.   The work I’m doing on food security would be about Level Five, I suppose.  It’s embedded in a much deeper lifestyle change though – living as though resilience was already happening.  What would be the same?  How might things change?

Buy ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ from this site, not through Amazon, so that the project actually benefits from your purchase. 

As the song says don’t ‘give all your money to millionaires’!

Next post – Ice and Mirrors

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An Encounter with Swans

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.

Urn sculpture in May

A more spectacular transformation is taking place in the  wreckage of the mysterious plants – the chair is much larger than a normal one!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

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!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

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.

Giant flowers at Town tree in spring

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!

swans guarding young on Town Tree Nature Walk

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.

 

 

 

Town Tree Farm

The Somerset Levels are flat, and barely above sea level.  Most of the land is drained now, to form cattle pastures, but it used to be a mix of swamp, wet woodland and bog.  The value of the latter is now becoming appreciated for its role in flood control.  Towntree Farm is decades ahead of the game!

View of a normal Levels field through one of the trademark horseshoe constructions
View of a normal Levels field through one of the trademark horseshoe constructions

In the 1970s, farmer Chris Burnett began a visionary landscaping project on the family farm.  Starting small, with a pond outside the farmhouse, he used the spoil to form a lawn, then landscaped a neighbouring field in a similar fashion.

Towntree farm

The left over soil made pathways this time, and the pond soon attracted a breeding pair of swans.  Encouraged by this, Chris dug out a seven and a half acre pond, specially designed for water birds.  It’s quite shallow, which allows a good growth of reeds.

towntree lake vista feb18

He planted the new high ground with trees and plants, both wild and cultivated.  Once these became established, hundreds of migratory birds began to visit, and he has hopes of attracting a pair of cranes soon.

In 1987, ‘Capability’ Chris – as he had become known – was persuaded to open the 22 acre Nature Garden to the public.  He celebrated this by making a ‘Peace Arch’ at the entrance from the car park, which is covered with climbing roses in summer.

towntree peace bell feb18

Following the yellow arrows, the curious visitor traverses the winding paths.  It’s not just the peaceful atmosphere and nature that bring people here, though.  The trail is dotted with statues and sculptures, left to gradually merge with the wild.

towntree slab urn

As the path meanders, bordered by ditches, you can see inaccessible alcoves.  Further on, the twists and turns suddenly bring you out into that very clearing!

There are benches made of stone slabs, or of dozens of horseshoes welded together.

I don’t know what the huge dead flowers behind this chair are; I’ll have to return later in the year and see them growing.  Their leaves are the size of umbrellas!

 

The decaying greenhouse lends an apocalyptic air to the place, along with the greening statues.

I’m definitely coming back in the summer for a picnic in those shady groves!  If you’d like to visit Towntree Farm, and marvel at how much difference one man can make, there are instructions here.

 

Compared to a grass pasture of the same size, the Nature Garden clearly holds a lot more water.  This is restrained by the natural features re-created here, protecting land further downstream during times of flood. 

The Towntree Farm project has always been a hobby, laid out simply for the delight in nature.  Using permaculture and forest gardening principles, other such gardens could justify their existence with some financial return.