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  • Writer's pictureRae Story

Food, Forests + Feelings in Birchfields Park

This was our second art walk to Birchfields Park (linking Rusholme to Longsight), see our Winter into Spring post. It was a great change to arrive and become immersed in the sights, scents and sounds of May. Today we were exploring the Forest Garden for the first time, but we also revisited the Lime Tree Boulevard, the wetlands area, the bridge over the little stream and the woodland walk to notice what had changed in the seasons. We had a great turn out of people and we started with circle meditation to open our senses to our surroundings and begin the session together.

Image by Lima

A forest garden is made-up of mainly perennial plants (that live for more than 2 years) which are productive or useful to each other, to us and to other animals and insects.

The design is based on the way plants grow in a real forest. So, when a Forest Garden is designed, we think about planting in layers, for instance, roots in the ground, ground cover, herbs and flowers, shrubs and bushes, smaller trees, larger trees (up to 7 layers). Plants are often grouped into ‘guilds’ or small patches which might contain a tree or bush, flowers, herbs, ground cover and roots.

Drawing and photo by Rae, photograph far right by Lima

A well-managed forest garden can yield nuts, seeds, fruits, herbs and annual crops. As a forest garden matures, it continues to produce yields year after year, it looks after itself, so it does not require much human input and is naturally productive and sustainable. As this grows as nature intended the plants tend to be strong and resilient, and good planting means that the crops also support one another. The result is a garden that doesn't need lots of tilling, pesticides, fertilisers or chemicals. So it is better for the plants, for the animals and insects and for us too!

Images by Rae

Birchfields Park Forest Garden was established in 2007. Jane Morris kindly explained a bit to me prior to the walk about the principles of this particular forest garden -

It is

  • For everyone!

  • Gardening with Nature

  • and for Foragers

  • Sustainable

  • Ecosystem not an orchard

  • More than just food yields

  • - mulit-functional plants- different plants support each other

  • ‘companion planting’

- for more information we can read about this project in Tomas Remiarz's Forest Garden in Practice. And there are lots of opportunities to get involved in the forest garden activities, or bee walks or litter picking - please see the Friends of Birchfields facebook page for more information.

We experimented with a walking line drawing exercise to get people warmed up putting their pen or pencil on paper and really looking - the instructions were to walk slowly around the outer path of the forest garden and let our pencil follow the line of our eye as we deciphered a line through the forest canopy. It is not an easy task! You have to make choices about how to follow your line at various junctions and you have to adjust your walking speed to your line drawing. We then went on to choose a particular flower or plant or group to draw in our own time:

Artwork (clockwise from top) Rae, Bernadette Ohanrahan, Gillian Wicks, Annette Ebanks, Brian Clewlow, Bernadette Ohanrahan x2, Annette Ebanks, Mr Riding and Rae.

We took a rest in our favourite sunny spot, and Gillian shared an image that she had worked on from the last Birchfields walk, she explained that this word art, included different aspects of her experience and we loved the way the words overlapped just like the plants themselves.

As well as drawing and taking photographs, it was just so energising and enjoyable to be out together in our local park and enjoying the different areas. The light falling through the woodland walk was very special and we noticed yellow irises were in season now not far from where we had seen the yellow daffodils in February. The babble of Gore Brook was much more gentle than after the storms when we were here last so we stayed away and let the little stream of water work its healing power on us all, soothing us into a steady silence as we stood watching the current and listening to its whispers, the air cool and fresh and a definite different feel to the other spaces we passed through. When I asked people how they felt, they said 'calm', 'relaxed', 'soothed', 'happy to try out new things', 'engaged in something', 'mind is focused on something',

Images by Rae

Many thanks again to our friends at Birch Community Centre for sharing their facilities and to Jane Morris for sharing information about the Forest Garden.

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