Mar 31, 2008

Sustainability in England

Sustainability........ This is one of the subjects that i was interested in seeing and learning about while abroad. So what is it? There a multiple ways to desribe it such as it is a way to make the most of the land but making sure that the land is in good, or better condition in the following years to come. It is a way to think about our own, and others' current and long-term needs and improving our quality of life while leaving the environment as we would hope to find it.
This can be done in many ways such as buying local seasonal food(fruits and vegetables are fresher and tastier at farmers markets) which in turn the money goes back into the local economy, making the home more energy efficient, using fuels from renewable sources and cutting down on the use of cars. So what does this all have to do with England?
Behind Great Dixter you have woodlands called the 4Acre Shore. This an ancient woodland with its forest floor that is covered with the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa). It is known that it is an undisturbed ancient woodland forest because the wood anemones grow so slowly (only 3cm a year) and the ground is just carpeted with them. So what do these woods have to do with sustainability?
The woods here a full of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) that normally have a large single trunk and grow up to be handsome and sinewy trees. These trees do not get to mature that way though. They are part of a coppiced woodland which is an important traditional woodland management technique.
Once the Hornbeams become mature, the trees are harvested for their wood- to be burned in the fireplaces of many homes here. The stumps are left in the ground where multiple stems are then allowed to regrow from that one cut tree. You would let this regrow for the traditional 13 years before you are able to cut from the same area of the woods again. Typically you have 13 different sections in the woods to rotate through so you are never depleting the one section of wood before you have to. Above you will see how these thin trees all grow from one area.
This is not only good for the fireplace but it also creates a unique habitat and biodiversity. It is known that alot of British flowering plants, mammals and insects flourish in this rotational system. Some rare species of flora and fauna are only found in woodlands using the rotational coppicing systems. The wood below is what you would use to start your fires and keep them burning. Hornbeam wood burns very bright fires too. Another way to try to be sustainable is to eat seasonally. Mark, Aaron and I decided we would try to do this. We have already had wild garlic soup which Aaron picks in the mornings and cooks up for dinner- delicious and full of vitamins and minerals. So we decided to get a little more daring. After getting a Wild Food Cookbook we thought we would try Stinging Nettle soup and tea. It is a horrible feeling to touch this plant- my hand stung for 3 days after grabbing it unkowingly while weeding. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is commonly found throughout the British Isles. These are the proper tools for collecting..... It is best to collect when the shoots are no more than a few centimeters high. These plants contain iron, increase hemoglobin in the blood, improves circulation, purifies the system and has a good general toning effect on the body. It is also known to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels too. The soup itself consisted of onion, potatoes, 2 gloved handfuls of nettle heads, olive oil, salt/pepper, chicken stock and cream. The soup was very good and think i will be eating it again. The tea on the other hand was not so good......... It tasted like dishwater but if made again i might have a glass.

I find these new ways of thinking about sustainability, for me at least, to be very exciting. I know i may not have the access to woodlands when i get home but will try other ways to continue this way of life.

Meanwhile, back at Great Dixter, the pot displays are beginning to take off. The displays of pots get rotated in and out depending on what is in bloom. The front door always looks like a color bomb went off.......... This weeks star is the vine called Tropaeolum tricolorum.


  1. As always James another entertaining entry. Your photo of the coppiced woodland appears to have been taken in some mystical forest that may be harboring devious little garden gnomes or spritely fairies. Be wary of where you step, I have heard that an injured woodland creature as such is quick to cast nasty spells on the assailant. Keep up the good work.

  2. Very nice blog work also. As a Master Gardener coordinator, I will keep reading your posts.You have given yourself an incredible opportunity! Hugs to Siobhan, who grew up across the street from me (dona).