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  • Benjamin William Pope

Green is for growth!

Getting close and personal with the green green grass, whilst digging holes for fence posts. At 110cm deep they have proven quite a challenge, though interesting as I get to explore the soil strata in more detail ...definitely clay!

Being a gardener, perhaps it is no surprise that my favourite colour is green. As spring leaps forward to summer, there is an abundance of this colour. Like a green tidal wave, it swells and rises from the soil below, showcasing some of the most vibrant, electrifying and energetic greens to be seen. Whether walking in the garden, countryside or a community green space, it’s hard to ignore the energy that comes with the abundant and vigorous growth of spring!

In the field, the grass is already growing lush and the sheep are due to arrive with their new bouncing lambs in tow. After a long winter and cold start to spring, I have managed to plant forty-seven new trees and three thickets of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). The buds have now burst and soft foliage adorns the once naked stems. It’s my first growing season and seeing these plants come to life fills me with hope for the future. Though this young growth is reassuring, it is delicate and I find myself racing around to protect it from grazing mouths, both domestic and wild.

Another big step forward is the construction of the first growing area, where I will grow much of the fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. The primary task was to erect a tall perimeter fence to prevent grazers from enjoying the crops grown within. Glimmering silver on sunny days, the fence is a little unsightly at present. However, I am assured it has a life span of over 30 years and I have already planted hops (Humulus ‘Fuggles’ and ‘Magnum’), clematis (C. tangutica) and honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’) to cover some of it. Later this year I am going give it a miscanthus skirt, that will disguise the fence further whilst supplying me with an annual source of mulch material. Within the growing area I am going for the conventional layout of four quadrants, divided by central crossing paths and framed with an outer one. My plan for this year is to convert two of the four growing beds, turning the heavy pasture into suitable planting ground using the no dig method of laying cardboard and compost. Whilst it is said to smother all weeds, I have some doubts about the vigorous pasture and creeping thistle. The gardener in me recognises this may take more than one season, so it stands to reason for this first year I will grow vigorous crops that should outcompete any regrowth. I’ve chosen ornamental and culinary squashes and pumpkins, along with sweetcorn, all of which I will give to local establishments come harvest. I can’t resist a flower (or twenty), so I will add Amaranthus, Heleniums and Helichrysum to the mix, along with various herbaceous stock plants that I hope to bulk up for future use.

Not all of the growing is undertaken within the field. Back at home I have my nursery (a grand name for a very humble growing area), where I am bringing on various trees and shrubs. I like to buy these plants relatively small (not just for the cost saving) and then grow them on for a year or two in containers before planting out. Experience has taught me, this greatly improves the establishment, ensuring the plants have vigorous and active root systems, (not pot bound) whilst being large enough to outcompete growth from their new neighbours.

A slight set back has been our first theft, which I’m sure won’t be the last. Arriving one morning to find a neatly tied off waterpipe where the drinking trough should be, has simply served as a reminder that there are those about who are happy to take what is not theirs. It’s a valuable lesson that I shall take going forward, when panning how best to organise the site and construct facilities. Contemplating my journey so far, it would appear growth comes in many forms: in the ideas and plans for future development, in the connections built within the local community, within ourselves and our relationships with others, and of course in the glorious green plants around us.

Large corner posts with bracing struts and cables were installed, before secondary posts were positioned along the fence line. In time these will act as plant supports for climbers that will be used for cutting, but for now they shine bright. A wooden gate provides access to the growing area and a support to lean on when dreaming about beds of flowers and vegetables.

Whilst trees burst into growth, new hops scramble up their jute strings. The Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) begins the year with soft pink tips as the trilobed leaves, open, having white flowers in late spring, following great autumn colour and bright red berries that persist into winter.

The sun sets on another day ...tired, satisfied and super excited for what the future holds!


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