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As part of my work on the Hedgelaying In Ontario’s Landscape project I have set up the Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN) to teach a range of traditional skills such as green wood-working (slojd), basket weaving, dry stone walking and of course hedgelaying. The idea is to use these skills to connect people to the landscape and to each other. I’ll be posting here soon about the thinking behind this approach but in the meantime Paul Kingsnorth’s wife Navjyoat has written this piece on why working with your hands- and teaching kids to do so is really important, especially in this digital age.

Home Edgeucated

(With thanks to our great friend, artist and T’ai Chi teacher Caroline Ross)

Since the summer, the children and I have continued to learn about evolution and prehistory of humankind. We have spent a lot of time discovering how hand tools were made and how they were developed and refined over a long period of time. By the Upper Palaeolithic, the making of microlithic and composite tools had become a diverse set of incredibly fine, precise skills and using those tools would have required similar hand proficiency.

Using hands while still living in the trees, becoming bipedal beings and then using and making tools, have been considered important markers (and possible conveyors) of our big primate brain evolution*, enabling us to become creatively human, and importantly helped to bond us socially through this shared hand-work.

Haptic perception is the scientific name given to the human ability to experience and interpret…

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Yesterday I continued with the work of planting up the hedgerow at Mount Wolfe Farm that we had begun at the Fall Farm Fest when we launched the Hedgerow Rite (blog on that coming soon!)

Its great to spend some time with these plants, most of which are new to me at least at the species level,  even as they are in their final stages of decline and shut down for the winter. I have been tutored by Sarah’s mum Sheilagh Crandall who runs the Msplants of Caledon gardening company on my plant ID, but following the FFF planting on a sunny Autumn afternoon (Oct 30) I made a concerted effort to get to know my hedge shrubs the best way I knew how- drawing them. Now I’m not going to win any awards as a scientific illustrator but walking the circumference of a leaf with the tip of the pencil and  marking the position of buds and lentils on a twig help my shabby memory retain details of differences and similarities. The next step will be learning the stories of these plants, their history, mythology and uses.

 

Back in the UK I would have three books that for me are indispensable in this botanical befriending:

The level of botanical detail contained in the first two is outstanding. I don’t find picture books very useful in IDing plants, especially if all you have to go by is a twig!. Richard Mabey’s book is a wonderful and comprehensive guide to the history, myths and stories behind the plants which help to bring alive the relationships which we have with native flora.

I haven’t yet found any Canadian equivalents of these three (suggestions gratefully received!), although I have only been here full time since May! So I relied heavily on online research for the details including websites including:

With the Front 10 Acres Hedgerow and the Bowl Hedgerow planted by the TRCA there is now 330 metres of new ‘Canadian Hedgerow’ at Mount Wolfe Farm but its going to be a few years before it looks anything like a hedgerow! So in order to visualise what it may look like I put together this photo-collage of the species in the Spring and Autumn, with a closer look at the berries and nuts (well nut, since only American Hazelnut produces them in our hedgerows)- see top of page.

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I’ll be writing a forthcoming blog about the uses, history and folklore of these plants, a la Richard Mabey so watch out for that!

 

 

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Sarah is very excited about our new hedgerow

Its Autumn! Its Fall! Its Hedge-Time!

I love this time of year as the leaves lose their chlorophyll pigment and the anthocyanins and carotenoids reveal a harvest of ochre, carnelian, caramel, crimson, and ruby.

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Perhaps its my conservation background that makes me feel its a time to tinker, or maybe its just a revealed human trait that we are called to interact with the world around us. I’m led towards autumn walks and to woodland work and of course to hedges..

The Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape project is organising the planting of  three new hedgerows  and finishing off an existing site this autumn and the first one is now complete. On Wednesday and Thursday this week a team from the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) came to plant up the second hedge at Mount Wolfe Farm, our site for demonstrating how a managed hedge can transform a landscape and provide many benefits for landowners, farmers and the community.

Farm Manager Sarah and I started preping for the arrival of the TRCA on Monday by bush-hogging, ploughing and tilling a strip up along the ‘Bowl’. We were concerned at first that the job would be hard but the plough made short work and soon we were admiring the rich crumbly soil our new plants were going to call home.

 

There had been a slight snowfall when the TRCA arrived on Wednesday morning and the 7-strong team were all bundled up against the cold. They quickly began to unload the plants consisting of American Hazelnut Corlus americana (300), Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea (300), Chokecherry Prunus virginiana (300),  Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa (150) and Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatica (150). Their previous job had been planting fill on a development site, so seeing the prepared ground and almost stoneless soil really made their day! I wanted them to get a real sense of the excitement of the novelty of this hedge-planting they were undertaken so at the first break for coffee I gave them a quick talk about hedgerows, the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape project and the workshops available under the Ontario Rural Skills Network we have started on the Farm. Sarah was on hand to mention the CSA programme at Mount Wolfe too.

“This is your hedge” I told them. ” As you plant this hedge you will have thoughts,ideas and memories that arise that will be woven into its structure. I had in my head the upcoming  Fall Farm Fest on Saturday 27th where I launched a more formal way to bind these stories into the hedge which I’m calling  The Hedgerow Rite (more on this soon). In the mean time I left out a pad for the team to share any thoughts, ideas and “offerings” they had during the planting. I also left out a small basket filled with pieces of paper, which i encouraged them to use to share private thoughts and wishes by burying them beneath the hedge as they planted.

“Its snowed as we planted, wondering if it will be a cold winter this year”- Meggie

“I usually enjoy planting hedges but this preparation is excellent. Knowing the trees and shrubs are going to love soil. I hope i can see this in 10 years!” – Ryan

“Cool project. thanks for having us”- Will

“I was excited to find out the crew were planing here because I have visited the farm before. I will for sure have to come back in a few years and see how the hedge is progressing. thank you!”- Colleen

“Love this place! Beautiful farm! Thank you so much for your warm welcome!”- Gavin

“Thank you for the tea and coffee, so nice!” -Meggie (?)

“If there is a hedge competition there should a planting competition and if there isn’t we should invent it”- Ryan (?)

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The hedge is planted along what was originally planned as a fence line. The 10cm diameter pine posts had long since rotted however and my visiting godkids Fraser and Sophie had great fun knocking them down to make way for the hedge. Now the hedge would ascend the hill creating a green-way between it and the adjacent  mixed woodland of Cold Creek, it would then curve around the base of the hill and along the upper path across the top of the bowl. The purpose of the hedge here serves at least four purposes:

(i) Aesthetic- providing  a new and exciting experience for  the family, CSA members and visitors as they walk up the green-way, with the grassy bowl and hill revealed through 5m gaps. From the bowl, the hedge will provide a ‘skirt’ to the tall white and red pines behind creating a dense and thick structure with flowers, berries and rich foliage during autumn.

(ii) Cultural- this hedge together with another planted in 2017 and being finished off at the Fall Farm Fest help demonstrate the Crandall Family’s commitment to the shared experience of land-based stewardship and community participation. New stories are being made in the landscape, bound together with the old.

(iii) Biodiversity– this dense well-manged hedgerow will provide many habitats for small birds and mammals and shelter from the sun for shade tolerant butterflies in the green lane.

(iv) Living Fence-the farm hopes in the future to bring in seasonal conservation grazing for the management of the grasslands in the bowl  The hedge will eventually be a stock-proof barrier to livestock.

Thank you Christina, Ryan, Will, Meggie, Colleen, Gavin, and all involved in planting. Thanks to Elizabeth Celanowicz ,TRCA Planting & Stewardship Project Manager, for funding and organising the plants for us. Do come back and visit your hedge.

Coming soon..The Hedgerow Rite in full…

 

“I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”
– Walt Whitman

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Thanksgiving Weekend (6th October 2017) visitors to the Open Day at Mount Wolfe Farm in Caledon, Ontario were able to take part in a first for the farm, for the town of Caledon, and who knows maybe for Ontario and Canada as well: the planting of a hedgerow with hedgelaying in mind. Volunteers walked down from the Shed past the greenhouse and through a gateway of two black walnut stumps. Here at the bottom of a gentle slope the farm manager Sarah had ploughed a 100m strip ready for planting. Earlier that day I set out the plants that have been kindly donated by Toronto Area Conservation Authority (TRCA) to form two staggered rows of plants. Rows are 40cm apart and each plant will be 30cm apart, a density of five plants a metre. We only had 2 plants every metre but the rest will be delivered in the spring when the hedge will be finished.

The volunteers took to their task energetically and with enthusiasm. I’m used to planting 30-40cm whips which can be slipped in with a T-cut using a spade; these potted plants required a bit more digging to contain the roots before being heeled in. Although the plant species we are using for the Mount Wolfe hedge are different species from those we would plant in the UK, they are broadly similar. We have hazel, albeit the American hazelnut Corylus Americana; Grey Dogwood Cornus racemose; and a Prunus-Chokeberry Prunus virginiana- which although doesn’t look as fierce as Blackthorn Prunus spinosa sounds like it might perform a similar function in the hedge to provide dense, stock-proof growth. We are also planting a couple of Viburnums: NannyBerry Viburnum lentago and Arrowwood V. dentatum, which are similar to the Guelder Rose V.opulus and Wayfaring Tree V. lantana we might plant in a hedge in the UK. This list is topped off by Serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis, Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa and Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatic. A list of potentially suitable hedge species was developed last year when my colleague Nigel Adams visited the TRCA plant nursery with Ralph Toniger (see link below).

These plants have been chosen for their mast-producing qualities, so the hedge fits in with Mount Wolfe Farm’s food producing ethos. The location of the hedge has also been chosen to zone part of the farm which its owners the Crandall Sisters and next generation farm manager Sarah are hoping to designate as an open space, a commons, for the use and benefit of local residents, a novel land-use approach in a landscape of privately-owned properties.

In advance of the hedge planting I delivered a talk on hedgerows in the same Shed that almost one year to the day Nigel Adams, Jef Gielen and I found ourselves delivering talks followed by a hedge laying demonstration as part of the University of Waterloo’s Partnership project Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Greenebelt. You can read about that trip in 2016 in my earlier blog HERE and an update on the growth of the hedge in my visit in Spring 2017 HERE. It feels fantastic to be part of the first hedge planting event envisaged by that partnership last year. My talk was sandwiched between Professor Stephen Quilley who gave an overview of the aims of the HOG project in developing social resilience and Debbe Crandall of Mount Wolfe who gave a fascinating insight into the development of the Crandall family farm and the importance of the hedgerow project to regional and community planning.

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Two more hedge planting events on different sites with very different aims and visions are planned which, it is hoped, will form case studies to showcase the varied contexts hedgerows can be used in and the different ‘services’ hedges can provide: from the food and zoning focus of the Mount Wolf hedges, to the provision of habitat and landscape connectivity and even to services such as natural flood management, prevention of soil erosion and stock management.

The novelty bought by these hedges is that they are being planted with long-term management in mind. Species are being selected for their shrub-like qualities and their ability to respond with new vigorous growth when coppiced. Hedges may be trimmed on a 2-3 year rotation but all will need to be rejuvenated- cut at the base to encourage new growth- to keep a thick canopy from the ground up.

Hedgelaying has developed throughout Europe as a way of rejuvenating hedgerows but this management technique has been developed locally and hedges now provide a more aesthetic and social component than perhaps the first hedgelayers intended. There are now over 30 hedge-laying styles in Britain alone.

What will an Ontarion Hedgelaying style look like I wonder? We are at the beginning of finding out.

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Check out my YouTube video.

Many thanks to Sarah D, Debbe, Sheilagh, Marce and Sarah C for putting me up- and putting up with me-at Mount Wolfe. Thanks also to Prof Quilley and PHD candidate Perin Ruttonsha at The University of Waterloo for continuing to involve me in this fascinating project. This blog is dedicated to Nigel and Jef who couldn’t be with me this time.

Learn more about hedgerows and how they are managed at Hedgelink and the National Hedgelaying Society

Monarch

Way back in the mists of time I completed a short school project on the Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus.  Young Jim had read an article in a magazine with a picture of a tree dressed from root to branch in thousands of Monarchs. He learned about the incredible migration of this beautiful butterfly up and down Central and Northern America. He cut out the picture and stuck it in my exercise book, migrating the text into my own enraptured shorthand. Forty years later I drive a golf cart up onto Mount Wolfe Forest Farm in Ontario to feed the chickens and dancing about me between patches of Milkweed, their favorite larval food plant, are those same Monarchs. These butterflies are in trouble across their range, the overuse of herbicides and intensive farming practices implicated in the loss of breeding habitat which threatens to destabilize this epic migration.

Its 10 months since I undertook my own migration across the Atlantic to Mount Wolfe Forest Farm as a guest of the University of Waterloo to advise, with my Hedgelink colleague Nigel Adams and Dutch hedge-layer Jef Gielen, on a 3 year project ‘Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Greenbelt: A Multi-Criteria Assessment of Social-Ecological Innovation and Novel Ecosystems’; You can read about that first visit here. ‘Hedgerows’ in Ontario are generally fencerows or shelter belts found on marginal land where no, or very little, management is practiced and shrubby scrub inevitably gives way to trees. European-style hedgerow management, including the act of rejuvenation called hedge-laying, isn’t practiced widely (or at all?) in Canada.  The University of Waterloo and partners are exploring the promotion of hedgerows- or living fences if you prefer -for the variety of ecological services they can provide-– biodiversity, soil protection, water ( and snow?)management, wood fuel, food; but also the social-ecological benefits arising from the interaction between man and this feature of the natural environment such as sense of place, skill development and health and wellbeing. A sense of urgency informs this work as the inevitable expansion of Toronto into green-belt land requires forward thinking and the incorporation of a novel ecosystems (see Hobbs_et_al-2006-Global_Ecology_and_Biogeography ) approach into regional and local planning.

Both of the hedgerows Nigel and Jef layed back in September, with a help from this blogger, have survived the winter and are thriving. Initial worries that the pleacher (the hedge plant after it has been partially cut at base and layed over) would break or die underneath the snow have not been realized. The hedge at Mount Wolfe is mostly white ash with a hawthorn species and high-bush cranberry (Viburnum americana, a subspecies of my own hedgerow favourite Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus).

The success of these demonstration “hedgerows” and meetings last year are now being built upon with plans to begin planting hedgerows at two locations in the Caledon area north in the Green belt North of Toronto. On my recent trip bacto Ontarion in July I joined the project partners-The University of Waterloo, Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Albion Hills Community Farm, Mount Wolfe Forest Farm and Caledon Town Council– to firm up plans for an Autumn…sorry, Fall….planting program.. The plants for these first hedgerows in the scheme will be provided by TRCA from their own stocks; the exact composition is yet to be decided but initial conversations between Nigel and TRCAs Ralph Toninger have come up with an outline planting list. We are also aided by PHD student Perin Ruttonsha’s discovery of a 1938 publication Hedges, Screen & Windbreaks Their Uses, Selection and Care by Donald Wyman. The desire is to not be too prescriptive however but to see what works, both ecologically and sociologically: these hedgerows must evolve from the landscape and express its individuality.

For the success of Monarchs and Canadian hedgerows migration is crucial factor. In this year when Canada controversially celebrates celebrates 150 years since its confederation, we remember that it was founded on migration but failed, and continues to fail, to recognize the nations that existed before. When equality and justice for indigenous people is still far short of where it should be, we must be wary of a direct migration of what is on the face of it a clearly European approach to land management-a cultural ‘hedge-emony’ if you like. However we also must be careful not to disregard the functional role hedgerows can provide in the managed landscape as well as the ability they have to reflect the individual sense of place envisioned in the hearts and minds of those resident in the landscape Oreszczyn and Lane (2000).   Indeed, hedges may have existed in many cultures across the world as dead hedges used for corralling livestock the world before Europeans developed their own particular style of management (sensu Nigel Adams!)

Infamously, hedgerows are remembered in the UK as facilitators of landscape enclosure and disenfranchisement. However until post-1940s mechanization took hold Britain’s network  of hedges provided hedgelaying work for people through the autumn and winter, so supporting rural economy and society. Now in a modern landscape where habitat fragmentation is a dominant structuring process, hedgerows can provide connectivity and green infrastructure.

In this project we have a possibility to focus on the connective and rejuvenating aspects of hedges to bring communities together; to heal a landscape and reimagine hedgerows as facilitators for creating new inclusive rural and urban identities and even incomes and livelihoods. I look forward to helping shape this new story.

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