As you know I’ve been writing articles for Garden News magazine. This is Article Number Six – about using coppiced products in the garden. Over the next few weeks I’ll post the others up here too with photos of what I’ve been doing in the garden. I’m attempting to make a zero carbon garden, using locally available sustainable materials wherever possible. You can see my recycled rubble wall below. The kitchen garden space I’m working on is only 5 m by 3.5 m so this I’m hoping is inspiration for anyone with a small space, to show you can grow plenty of home grown veg and have a beautiful space to enjoy.
Garden News Article Six – The Pleasures of Sticks
Simple Skills for Simple People: this is what green woodworking organisation Allotment Forestry promise me when I log onto their website for a nose around. Even as I ponder the existential question am I simple, I find myself drawn in. Perhaps it’s their refreshing approach to garden wood work projects – one that will suit anyone who hasn’t touched a hammer since 3rd grade CDT. Or the passion they show for that underrated, humble yet essential garden accessory – the stick.
The stick was once the most important non living feature in all gardens; used to make fencing, gates, furniture, tools, bed edging, terracing, trellis, arbours and numerous other useful garden objects. It created a direct link between garden, gardener and woodland: a useful way for people like us to see beyond the garden gate and take note of the wider environment. Gardeners relied on woodland and woodsmen to provide the tools of the trade: without them gardening would have been impossible. It was a tradition that lasted hundreds of years. Even mid way through the first half of the twentieth century the stick trade formed a valuable part of the local economy.
But it was all swept away in the rush to use modern materials. And as a result we lost something valuable from the craft of gardening: the skill of using those materials that are most readily available to us. We have also lost something of the soul of gardening too. Each stick has its own unique shape, colour and texture. And although you may be only vaguely aware of the difference when you’re sitting or working in your garden there is something about this biodiversity that gives your plot an extra dimension. Like the way a good frame sets off a picture. Non stick gardens just don’t have the same atmosphere. It’s a romantic notion I suppose but deep down I think humans like being in contact with and surrounded by wood.
Now that we can buy any product from any part of the world its hard to see the value in something as ordinary as a stick but the Allotment Forestry website reminds us that no matter which new material or product happens to be in fashion to prop up our peas and beans and provide the infrastructure for our gardens, sticks are a constant. They will always be there for us – as will the ancient skills that enable us to put them to use. I think it’s time to reclaim our heritage and rediscover some of the wisdoms and pleasures that all previous generations of gardeners knew. Join me next time for some simple ideas to get you started.
Green woodworking is the craft of using unseasoned wood cut from hedgerows or coppiced woodlands. It’s perfect for gardeners not keen on carpentry but wishing to work with wood. I found a great plan for a wattle wall and seat on the allotment forestry website that was my second plan B if the dry rubble wall hadn’t worked out (http://www.allotmentforestry.com/fact/rwattle.htm). The Centre for Alternative Technology (<a href=”http://www.cat.org.uk“>www.cat.org.uk – 01654 705981) is running a coppiced products course from the 7th-11th April. Compost Lover has secured a special discount of 10% for anybody who quotes compost lover when they book. They’ll also be running a series of organic and sustainable gardening courses later in the year so check out the website. Try www.greenwoodcentre.org.uk (01952 432769) too.
Compost Lover Tip
Sticks can also be chipped to use as a mulch to suppress weeds or to make a footpath or even added to a normal compost heap (though as it is a carbon rich material you’ll need to put in twice as much nitrogen rich materials to keep your compost heap well balanced). As most domestic power tools are used on average for less than fifteen minutes in their lifetime it makes more ecological sense to hire one for a weekend and prune and chip in one go. Try www.brandontoolhire.co.uk (0870 514 3391) www.jewson.co.uk (0800 539 766) or your local Yellow Pages.
The Green Woodworking Pattern Book by Ray Tabor.