Friday 27 October 2023


Nobody made a greater mistake than she
who did nothing because she could do only a little

Edwina Burke

We settled into a small farmstead in March 1997. Soon after, Javi appeared as a university drop out from Spain. He gave not two tosses about the Latin names of plants and their biochemistry but rather wanted to plant trees and, later, hug them; as well as growing a few veggies for soup and running a few chooks for eggs. Living in a rather salubrious suburb of Madrid didn't obviously give him elbow room to embrace The Good Life. We were looking for an au pair to help with two small kids and Javi manifested himself to be that person. After several months he returned to Spain and as I drove him to the airport I said "Thanks, you've been good for us, you've made a difference to how this project is going to go forward" and he replied "Thanks you've been good for me, you've made a difference too".  It had been a mighty year for acorns, and Javi had sprouted a few dozen of them in tetrapak milk cartons. One of the last things he did was fence off an oblong in the top garden and plant these saplings out. Several years after that, the treelets were +2m tall, and we had John the Digger grub them up (backhoe sure beats digging them up with a pick and shovel) and we replanted them in two corners of the fields. They are kinda mighty now. The one we left in place in the garden is several meters tall and 1 metre round in the bole at knee-level. 

Ten years after Javi left, the economy collapsed and we acquired a few hundred bargain basement hardwood trees. We fenced off an acre [0.4 ha.] of the field called Crowe's and planted them out. Over the next two winters we filled out the square with commercial whips of Scot's Pinus sylvestris, larch Larix europaeus, ash Fraxinus excelsior and more oak Quercus robur. Our tree-making apprenticeship with Javi was paying off. Planting all those trees was one of the best things we've done over the last 30 years and the only aspect of our lives which will still be available /visible /useful in the year 2123. Who knows but a Canticle for Leibowitz monk will be writing about Ther is a wode called Crowe.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best is today. My correspondent P has recently picked up the plant today baton in one of the most salubrious suburbs of Boston MA. The difference between Madrid and Boston is that the richest suburbs of the latter have significant chunks of real estate which are free of proles houses and a strong sense developing amenity for those wealthy enough (or were early adopters of the American dream before house-prices became silly enough) to retain a toe-hold within the Salubricity limits.

One of these spacious oases is The Wright-Locke Farm which was prised from the hands of the Massachusett people by a legal finagle in ~1638 and became the property of John Wright, whose descendants sold the title to Josiah Locke in 1800. 100 years ago, the Lockes were farming and warehousing Blue Hubbard squash [yumm yumm as L]. The Town of Winchester purchased the farm buildings and 20 acres =~ 8½ hectares (for €14 million!) and set up the non-profit Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy WLFC. 

More recently, a group of levellers GIY activists called Grow Local for the Planet have partnered with WLFC to kick-start a Miyawaki micro-forest near the Wright-Locke farm pond. They measure their tract in sq.ft. (to make it sound bigger?) but have ~6,000 sq.ft to play with. That's 10x bigger than the foot-print of our house - and nearly 4x the size of our polytunnel but . . . it's still only 5% of a hectare which is the unit which real farmers and foresters use. But as the header quote says: nobody saved the planet or saved the soul of a troubled post-industrial state by sitting their fat arse ass on the sofa moaning about the air-con.

James Lovelock's late-in-life ideal was to stop mowing and grazing the land to ensure that native, locally adapted, plants made a natural succession - grass and 'erbs . . . bushes and shrubs . . . birch and aspen . . . oak or beech mix climax forest. Why, it would only take 100-200 years. But the good people of Winchester haven't got time for that. Their project Win Fast Forest, is going to plant a lot of teeny-tiny shrubs and tree whips representing a few dozen different native species in a well-mulched soil.

Whoa! starting tomorrow Sat 28th Oct 2023 at 09:00hrs. hut! hut! people of Greater Boston: become the boots on the ground, gloves on the hand, ecowarrior that you always wanted to be. After the fireworks of the launch what Win Fast Forest really needs is the follow through to keep the plot weeded during the Spring and Summer months for the next tuthree years. Otherwise the project will be a eeeeew! riot of nettles Urtica dioica; reeds Phragmites australis; purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and barberry Berberis vulgaris. By 2027, this month's Miyawaki planting will be strong enough and shady enough to hold its own without intensive human intervention.

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