When I moved to Corn Helyg in July 2010 I felt a calling to plant trees, lots of them!
The 6 acre field that came with our cottage was inhabited by sheep and
when the sheep left five months later for pastures new, we were left with a compacted (and in some places) a very waterlogged piece of land.
As I slowly engaged with the empty field, I tried to image how the land used to be in ancient times and started to dream of a dense forest with Ravens calling overhead.
The reality however, was a hard, course pasture under my feet and heavily flayed hedgerows coupled with feelings of urgency… a land screaming out to be healed.
Today, nearly six years on, my partner Richard and I (with some help from our children) have planted over 5000 trees. Our trees are mostly Welsh native woodland trees, a high percentage of wild fruit and nuts to aid future wild plant projects. We have also planted new hedgerows where old ones have been grubbed out and willow fedges that act as wind breaks.
As time has moved on, the once tired and sick land where a monoculture reigned has now shifted into an amazing and diverse polyculture of “forest gardens”, Welsh fruit orchards, a large pond, an edible car park and pockets of organic vegetable beds… a truly self-sustaining eco-system which is full of life.
Planting so many trees has indeed changed the landscape considerably and people often ask curiously why we did it. Well apart from having a passion for trees, we now have so many new species of birds and other wonderful creatures visiting the land such as yellow hammers, lizards, bats and newts. We have many owls that like to hunt in the tussocks which have formed in between the trees and on the small areas of land we left untouched. Our trees attract a huge amount insects and honey bees. Some trees such as Willow and Oak are home to over 300 different species of insects.
The trees and the surrounding wild plants are also integral to my wild-crafting workshops and the ingredients for the many fruit leathers and other hedgerow goodies I make.
We have an abundance of future fuel for our wood burner and the ash is used around our fruit trees. The willow is used for creating structures and for weaving into baskets and also biochar we create is used in our thermophilic hotbox composters. Moreover, we are currently looking at biochar as possible protection for our Ash trees as I have heard that it may help to prevent Ash die-back which is currently affecting many Ash trees in Europe.
The other day we had to pollard an old Crack Willow as it was literally cracking down the middle and just from one tree we have filled an entire wood store. The tree will grow back but we hope into the style of the Whomping Willow as seen in Harry Potter… You see those wonderful trees also increase my creative juices and inspire me to write children’s books too!
Over the past years, I have come to understand the importance of observation and how the land, when left alone, knows exactly how to heal herself and if you really listen, she readily shares her medicine with you.
There is a real sense of communication between the trees and the surrounding land. Observing the bare ground as she slowly recovers herself with a green skin is a wonderful sight to behold. The wild succession of plants, such as thistles that arrive soon after tree planting or land disturbance, restores and re-mineralises the soil to a beautiful crumbly friable material ready for the next species to colonise and continue with the ongoing health of the soil.
I also find that the more time I spent with my trees, the calmer and grounded I become. Then we also have the whispers from the hedgerows! A whispering of stories offered to me… to take and to weave into fables and songs.
Engaging with trees also brings to light the many food realms that flow through in and around them. These kingdoms can be seen not only from the nourishment they provide us with in terms of food and medicine (leaves, nuts, berries and bark) but a whole host more regarding our holistic wellbeing.
Within the soil, there is an amazing network of mycelium that connects with the surrounding life-forces and which gives us edible fungi too which in itself is a powerful food source. We can also give thanks for the good bacteria in supporting the fermentation of our fruits, a wild alchemy we stumbled upon in ancient times for wine making and sauerkraut.
The elemental food such as sun, wind and rain that we receive when we wander through the woods is so good for us. Our barefoot contact with the soil or just engaging with the wildness of trees!
Trees also give us a sense of community as they are social beings, they love human contact, and those who hug trees know this! As they naturally sway in the breeze and sing their songs through the chatter of their leaves, they fill us with a sense of happiness, inspire us to move and dance and sing and deepen our spirituality, this is our experiential food given to us by trees.
I believe we are all born with a sense of purpose and mine is to plant trees and tell the world how wonderful they are!
Blessed be the blessed Tree!