My favourite place

Pear hanging on branch

Pear tree laden with fruit

I like being in forest gardens & living places. You can give it a name (biophilia) if you like. But I just like being there.

I finished weeding in the morning. The geranium has taken well in most places, pungent where I tread too close. In the bed by the yard, I’m puzzled somewhat by clumps of juvenile Ivy, which I don’t really recognise. I pull some up, intent on making space for the Lesser Periwinkle I’ve planted, and then I spot a purple flower on the Ivy. As you probably know, Ivy doesn’t have purple flowers. It’s Greater Periwinkle, rejuvenated after I’d cut back the Blackberry and Nettle. Lesson learned to curb that pulling-up enthusiasm.

In the afternoon, I take the wheelbarrow and spade down past the farmhouse, through a door in the stone wall. The walled paddock, about 30 metres wide and deep, is on a slight slope facing south east, and there’s a brisk easterly blowing on this part cloudy day. Eyeing up the eastern boundary, I wonder what windbreak would suit best? I favour native plants where possible, so it would be a double width, 3 metre high Common Barberry.

Then I start thinking about what a fantastic space it would be for a nut orchard. Hazel, Sweet Chestnut, Walnut, Heartnut, a couple of Stone Pines. And perennial vegetable beds inbetween…

Enough daydreaming, back to the task in hand. I push hard on an old wooden door in the stone wall to the right. There’s some fraying faded baling twine on the handle, probably something extra to pull on if the door jams shut. And down a couple of steep slate steps and into the orchard.

The orchard. The worst of the wind is kept at bay here. What little sun we’ve had has been absorbed into the stone. On the south border is a row of mature Ash and Sycamore trees, and the wind creeps through beneath their lower branches. There is a calm here, as if sacred. There are a couple of dozen fruit trees, mostly apple, a couple of pears. They’re planted quite close together and I wonder about their rootstocks. But, they seem happier enough.

By the wall are half a dozen plastic sacks filled with wood chip. My job is to clear the grass from around the youngest trees and give them a good thick mulch. Competition from grass is one of the biggest reasons for young trees not establishing. That and careless ride-on mowers.

The work is satisfying and there is something indulgent about working somewhere so private and calm. I am in my own world, planning my online course and fretting gently about my upcoming talk on the smaller forest garden. I notice some things too. How the wind whips around the edge of the wall, and I think the mature trees could be underplanted with a windbreak. I notice the unbound spring, near the entrance. Someone has started cutting a channel out of the turf to corral the spring into a stream.

Closeup small orange newt

Newt inadvertently uncovered

And then I see the newt. I have uncovered some nettle and grass, and they are motionless. I think I can detect an air of annoyance but that is probably my overactive anthropomorphism flooding my nervous system. Quickly, I find some wood chip and carefully place it around the bemused newt. I hope it will be okay.*

After a couple of hours, my work is done. It’s time to move on.

* Edit: In my wide-ranging ignorance of wildlife, I originally thought they were a lizard but a reader graciously pointed out my mistake. Thank you Lou!