Written by Joanna Houseman
We spent a lovely few hours this morning in the forest garden at Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn. We went along to review how the garden was progressing one year on after planting and we were pleasantly surprised by the progress. All of the trees have settled in well to their new home and there are buds, leaves and blossoms aplenty, and the fruit bushes and strawberries are also flourishing.
We cleared the grass away from under the trees and shrubs and dressed the earth with some organic material (dry grass) to suppress further grass growth, this is an ongoing job that needs repeating until the canopy of the tree casts enough shade to suppress the grass growth itself.
We left the garlic we had previously planted and also the herbs and herbaceous plants that remain such as borage and comfrey. These plants are all mutually beneficial in many ways and will also offer interesting choices for the food tech pupils when they come to use the garden for their lessons. (You can read more about companion planting garlic and fruit trees here.) We sowed some spinach and broad bean seeds and also some more strawberries and a different variety of borage.
The biggest pleasure was the change to the grass areas between the trees, we counted at least 10 different plants that have appeared including ribwort plantain (plantago lanceolata). Plantain is an amazingly valuable edible and medicinal plant and a great addition to any garden, read more about it here.
It was very interesting to see the contrast between the monoculture of the grass that has been consistently mowed throughout the year and the huge amount of biodiversity appearing in the grass that has been left to its own devices. We spotted some birds in the garden when we first arrived and we also saw bees, ladybirds, centipedes and woodlice enjoying their new home.
Another surprise was a blackberry beginning to grow under one of the trees, the seed for this would undoubtedly have been dropped by a bird visiting the garden. This is an example of how nature begins to follow her natural patterns if left alone. The blackberry bush will naturally spread across the grass suppressing its growth and opening up the soil ready for new tree seedlings to take root. This is how forest land spreads naturally. Once the new trees grow and cast shade the blackberry will continue to spread away from the tree line and so the forest spreads.
We cleared some of the path we laid previously, now largely overgrown with grass once more and broadcast some white clover seeds in the hope their growth will create a carpet and discourage the grass in the future. The clover will also provide valuable flowers for insects and further enrich the soil.
Unfortunately the windbreak of hazel trees did not survive last year’s dry summer and so we are considering an alternative, possibly willow, we need to check whether the soil would be suitable first. Willow can provide us with a variety of educational possibilities and will hopefully grow quickly to provide the natural windbreak the garden needs.
We hope to meet again in the garden very soon to work more on the pathways and hopefully plant the windbreak trees. We will also be planting more herbs and vegetables once the weather has warmed up.
You can read more about forest gardens here!