With Spring in the air our friends the Growillaz were keen to do a spot of Guerrilla Gardening. This usually involves taking over a patch of neglected land with the intention of improving it through planting. All over the world waste-ground, vacant-lots, neglected-plots and dump-sites have been turned into something better and more beautiful; such as a community garden or a veg patch.
But we had something a little different in mind…
Over the winter we’ve been nurturing Damson (Prunus domestica) and Blackthorn (Prunus spinoza) saplings on the allotment with the intention of using them for a Prep Planting project.
The idea of prepping the surrounding area with non-intrusive native fruits and other useful plants and fungi plays a key role in our ‘community survivalist’ strategy – which we shall expand upon in future posts.
We’ve always been rather disappointed that nut and fruit trees, along with other edible/useful layers of flora and fungi, didn’t feature heavily in the Millennium Fund and Forestry Commission’s ‘Millennium Forest’ project, which created thousands of acres of new woodland habitat throughout the UK. With a little forward thinking these woods could have doubled as testing grounds for the kind of forest gardening which may prove vital to communities in an economically poorer, post-peak, climatically uncertain world.
Luckily though you don’t have to be a national institution or major landowner to transform your local area. With a little imagination and knowhow the vast majority of neglected sites in the UK, no matter how industrial or barren they may first appear, can be transformed into a resource for humans and wildlife alike. From road-side verges to supermarket car-parks, the possibilities are endless.
With our blackthorn beginning to bud it was time to act…
We’ve been keeping an eye on several sites over the last year to ensure that they’re not prone to disturbance.Unlike guerrilla gardening, which tends to be highly visible to make a point, Prep Planting is a much stealthier affair. The goals are more long-term, and the best strategy for long-term survival is to be low-key. The idea is to encourage the development of ecologies which are potentially beneficial to future (low-carbon) human communities, but which also offer immediate benefits for existing wildlife (with the future of set aside farmland in jeopardy this is becoming ever more important).
One upside to the economic downturn is that a lot of potentially destructive developments have been put on hold. We found one such site which we’ll be using for future growing and survival workshops. These will be short-term projects because the main body of the site will inevitably be developed sometime in the future. But there is also a sliver of land running parallel to the site which is never touched and is virtually invisible from the nearby road; although it is very unlikely to be developed it has been used as for fly-tipping… which is where the blackthorn comes in!
As well as providing a future crop of sloes for our Sloe Gin, we’re using the blackthorn to make the boundary fence more impenetrable to potential dumpers and vandals.
Today's stick = tomorrow's impenetrable barrier ;-)
We want to make the area more inaccessible because we’ll be planting other beneficial species as time goes on. And we were pleasantly surprised to find out that Mo Nature had similar plans…
Whilst digging we found that there was already a crop of Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) on site. Once widely cultivated this plant has become much rarer in the Doncaster region. Which is a real shame because not only is the fruit a milder, more lemony tasting treat than the Garden Strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa), it also has some great medicinal properties. It is used in the treatment of fever, rheumatism and gout and can apparently be used cosmetically to lighten freckles, soothe sunburn and whiten teeth! The leaves make a great tea substitute, providing a good source of vitamin C and an aid to digestion.
We plan to take cuttings from this site so we can cultivate the plant on the allotment. We will then attempt to (re)introduce wild strawberry to other sites in our region.
As with wild strawberries, wild damsons have also become rarer than they used to be (nationally they’re currently outnumbered 30 to 1 by wild plum trees), so we felt it would be good to ‘encourage’ them in a selection of Doncaster’s many neglected, post-industrial, semi-wild areas.
This was once a busy, highly maintained footpath until they built a major link road next to it. Now it’s largely ignored except for dog walkers and courting couples – i.e. it’s a Prep Planters paradise!
We placed our damsons relatively close to existing trees to ensure that they wouldn’t be disturbed. Once they fruit the damsons can also be used to make a gin based drink – less sugar is needed for Damson Gin as the fruit is much sweeter than sloes – as well as wine and Slivovitz. Spiced damson chutney is another delicious option.
As with the previous site we plan to return and plant other species as time goes on. The steep road verge will make a lovely forest garden – we’ll keep you posted 😉