Chairman's Report, Autumn 2011

As I write this we are having summer, for the second time this year!  The fiirst time was in April, then we had autumn, then we had frost in June; the only season we have not had is spring; even April did not bring its showers sweet to poerce the drought of March.  Yesterday's SOG's visit was to the Greenwood Trust in Ironbridge, and the country around there is brown and dry, even dryer than Milford, and it is dust dry here.  We may yet get a third summer, because although the 'experts' have been calling this recent spell of sunshine and Indian Summer, in fact it is a bit early for that.  Traditionally it is Saint Luke's Little Summer, which is around his feast day on October 18th.


The cold winter and dry summer has at least reduced our slug population and we have had the best potato crop ever.  The tubers are large, there are lots of them, the flavour is superb and (oh bliss!) hardly any slug damage and NO blight.  Also I have not started the mower since the 8th August.  This is good if you do not like mowing but bad if you like lawn clippings for mulch and compost.

Sogs members were asked to grow vegetable plants for the Plant Fair at Attingham Park in May and as usual, the response was terrific.  There were masses of the best organic vegetable plants that you have ever seen.  We shared the profits 50/50 with the National Trust and everyone (including our treasurer) declared themselves well satisfied with the result.  The event was held in the walled garden and that is a treat in itself; if you have not seen it, then do make the effort; you will be glad that you did.

Sogs members were asked to grow plants in containers for our stall in the Severn Marquee at the Flower Show in August and once again the response was terrific.  There were masses of the best organic plants that you have ever seen.  If you were not able to get to the Flower Show then look at Marian's flicker page for some great photos; follow the link from this website.

The summer programme this year was a well blanced mix of the intellectual and the practical.  Becuase of family commitments I missed half of it (some say that I am half missing anyway) so I look forward to seeing you through the winter and hearing about your visits that I was absent from.  But also I want to hear what you thought about all the visits, and all about your garden and all about your own garden visits and all abour your gardening ideas for the next year and all about anything to do with gardening.  Enthusiasm is always attractive by anenthusiastic organic gardener is a lovesome thing indeed.                                                                               Peter


Retting, rippling, scotching, hackling, stooks and shives  – what’s all that about? Maralyn reveals all.


Thanks to 'seed' funding from SOGS to kick-start the project whilst I waited, successfully , for the Arts Coouncil Funding, this project is growing and growing,  SOGS are such good gardeners!  Eighteen SOGS  grew flax, along with Friends of the Ditherington Flaxmill/Maltings*, Nature Tots at Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Shrewsbury Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, allotment holders and others.  Sixty packets of seeds were distributed, and over forty stooks of flax, all varying sizes and thicknesses, were returned for retting.  Some of you also retted your own.  Retting is the rotting process to break down the pectin to expose the  fibres, and takes up a lot of lawn!  I now have five stooks drying in my garage ready for the next stage.  It seems that flax needs a good garden soil, with no manure as it grows too strong and forks, and sunny, damp conditions.

In June I visited Flaxland, a farm diversification in Gloucestershire, that is interested in the sustainability of flax.  They make flax canoes and coracles. When flax, linum usitatisimum, is grown for oil, the straw is burnt, so not very sustainable.  With flax grown for linen all the plant can be used.  The fibre for clothing, bedding, rope, etc; the seeds to eat; the husks for cattle cake; and the shives, ( the bits that come off in the preparation process) for animal bedding.  And if it is grown locally, there are very few road miles.   Here I learnt the process of rippling, to remove the seeds, breaking, scutching and hackling expose and comb out the fibres.  As this is hard work, Frank has now passed his apprenticeship, and making tools so that we can process our own.  Demonstrations at the Flaxmill proved really successful, as people can magically find the fibres themselves, and see it spun.

In preparation for the project, I learnt to spin flax last Christmas.  Having been spinning various fibres for thirty five years, I had never spun flax. We have just had a wonderful weekend workshop with Riita Sinkkonen-Davies, whose grandparents grew and processed flax in Finland, and is a well-known linen spinner and weaver in Pembrokeshire.  The twelve spinners diligently separated line from tow, (long and short fibres) dressed their distaffs, mixed fibres and generally spun a few yarns!  And some of them donated their spun yarn for the project.

Which brings me to what this project is about. We hope to produce enough linen to be woven into the Flaxmill Tapestry.  The process has been recorded by growers and others, and a DVD will accompany the Tapestry to show the process and people involved.  And we will be in schools inspiring a new generation to Grow Their Own!

And the future? So much interest and enthusiasm for growing the wonderful, delicate blue flowers. This is exciting, both for the future of the Ditherington Flaxmill/Maltings, and for sustainability.  You never know what will happen when you have an idea! 

*Ditherington Flaxmill/Maltings in Shrewbury is the first ever iron-framed building in the world, and is in the process of renovation.


Shrewsbury Flower Show, August 2011

We did not make a show garden this year, but we put on a wonderful show of Sogs’ plant expertise and ingenuity at the space normally occupied by our information stall in the Severn Marquee. Although summer was hardly summery, and, despite lots of cloud, we had had hardly any rain, you managed to produce beautiful flowers and vegetables grown in an intriguing assortment of containers.   (See pictures at top and bottom of this page)


Forwarded from Karuna _ an article by Vanessa Spedding, a writer and permaculture apprentice.

Solving the world's problems in a forest garden

Since permaculture started off in Australia in the 70s, forest gardening has taken off in warmer climates. In temperate climates, though, it's still in its research stage, with just a handful of well-established pilots scattered around the UK and a growing number of newer sites. I was lucky enough to go on a weekend-long forest gardening course this summer at one of the more established sites: the Karuna permaculture project near Church Stretton in Shropshire.

Long-time permaculture teacher and forest gardening expert Chris Evans of Designed Visions ran the course, assisted by Jess Clynewood, one of the team behind the Coed Hills forest garden in South Wales. Between the two of them they delivered an experience that was eye-opening, fascinating and highly instructive. Theory sessions on the seven levels of a woodland, guild planting, design methodology and species selection were interspersed with practical classes on mulching, planting and fruit tree grafting. But what really made the experience come alive was the fact that we were surrounded by forest gardening in practice - eight acres of it to be precise, evolving in real time all around us in a stunning elevated setting overlooking the dramatic South Shropshire landscape.


Pioneering spirits Janta and Merav Wheelhouse are the inspiration, the engine and the determination behind Karuna. Determined to transform a patch of dreary rough grazing into a haven of wildlife, beauty, fertility, variety and of course food and fuel, they bought the land and started work in 2005, since when they have planted some 8,500 trees as well as countless other plants and shrubs. The majority of these are native forestry trees for shelter, wildlife and soil retention; many more form part of a forest garden system that includes fruit and nut trees, nitrogen fixers (such as alder and broom), coppice trees, bushes for food, wildlife and the soil (such as sea buckthorn, currant and jostaberry), herbs in profusion for food and pest control (such as mint and welsh onion), mulch crops (like comfrey and tansy) and of course ground cover plants, including the familiar strawberry, among myriad others.

The planting is done according to a time-planned design so there is always a range of plots with different themes at different stages of development, each deliberately planned yet with the wonderful appearance of chaotic abundance. Delve into the thicket and you get an assault on the senses that is visual, textural and aromatic and with the intriguing knowledge that any number of the leaves, berries or flowers is edible or useful in some way. It's not often the hunter-gatherer in us gets quite such an intense fix.

But no pudding is proven until it's eaten, to mangle a well-worn saying. Another big upside of the course was the food provided by our hosts, which gave us the opportunity to eat our landscape as well as to learn about it. I am a compulsive consumer of salads and vegetables but the meals here took me into another realm. There were leaves I didn't recognise, mountains of them, sprinkled with petals and seeds in a combination that delivered tastes from a different dimension. Not being industrially produced, prematurely harvested, sprayed, refrigerated or packaged, but simply picked from the plants and presented meant that every harmonic of every flavour was available for the delectation, hinting at a much richer and more sustaining nutrient balance than can be had from any shop-bought produce.

The lessons to be gained from forest gardening are deep and wide; it's not just about growing and eating but also about nurturing, learning, committing, connecting and belonging. At Karuna, Janta and Merav provide a portal into another world of possibilities, and their passion is clear

"Karuna is about many things," said Janta. "On one hand it's a recycling project: we've recycled a bit of land that was given over to monoculture for many years and we are restoring it to a more natural, diverse state. On the other hand we are showing alternative ways to provide food security and fuel; we are raising awareness; and, through the permaculture courses we run here, we are helping to bring people closer to nature." And there is a deeper side. Asked about his vision for Karuna, Janta's response was "Karuna is the vision. It's all about change, but positive change. Karuna is an evolving expression of my spiritual vision for a better world." Merav's thoughts reveal an unaffected alignment with these values.   "I like Karuna to be a place of inspiration and beauty, a model for liveing sustainably and simply", she said.

Both acknowledge that living simply is not proving to be so easy: there is still some local resistance to their low-impact, low-consumption, land-based way of life. But the growing interest in their project, the role model they provide for others, and their warmth and generosity of spirit mean that they will surely prevail, and the world will be a richer place for it.


Merav's thoughts reveal an unaffected alignment with these values. "I like Karuna to be a place of inspiration and beauty, a model for living sustainably and simply," she said.



Since permaculture started off in Australia in the 70s, forest gardening has taken off in warmer climates. In temperate climates, though, it's still in its research stage, with just a handful of well-established pilots scattered around the UK and a growing number of newer sites. I was lucky enough to go on a weekend-long forest gardening course this summer at one of the more established sites: the Karuna permaculture project near Church Stretton in Shropshire.













































Shrewsbury Show

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