Archive for the ‘Plants for Life series 2012’ Category

On Making Space for Nature with Sustainable Bungay

This post was first published on 24th September 2014 under the title ‘Mark Watson on Making Space for Flowers’ as part of the “Making Space for Nature” theme on the Transition Network website.

IMG_1158“Did you grow all those yourself?”, a young woman asked me last week at Transition Town Tooting’s 7th Foodival.

She was pointing to a wicker basket filled with the aromatic lemon balm, rosemary, anise hyssop, marjoram and a dozen or so more herbs and flowers I was preparing tea from at the event:

“A lot of them I grew at home in Suffolk, some are wild plants and others are from gardens here in Tooting, including the Community Garden up the road.”

She looked suprised, almost shocked. “My only reference for that kind of thing are the supermarket shelves,” she said.

In that moment I realised many things all at once: that events like the Foodival show how we can come together and regain autonomy over what we eat (and drink); that you never know who will walk in the door and get switched on by something they’ve never considered before; that making space for nature goes beyond the world of nature reserves, wildlife documentaries or even pilgrimages into the wilderness. I realised that an intrinsic engagement with the living world is what I’ve been showing and teaching in the last six years since I became part of the Transition movement; and that Transition has offered me a role where I can use my knowledge and skills to bring plants and people together in a dynamic and inspiring way.

Bungay is a small rural market town of 5000 people on the river Waveney in north-east Suffolk, surrounded by conventionally farmed agricultural land. The common idea that people in rural areas are automatically more connected with nature can be misleading. Wherever we live now much of the time is spent in artificial spaces: in front of computers, television screens, in our minds and indoors.

When I consider Sustainable Bungay, the Transition group where I’ve been most active since 2008, I see that (re)connection with living systems and considering the planet is implicit in everything we do, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days to a cycle ride down to the pub by the locks of the Waveney at Autumn equinox. The very first Transition event I led was a Spring Tonic Walk introducing people from Bungay and Transition Norwich to dandelions, cleavers and nettles, the medicine plants growing in the neighbourhood.

Voilet-adorned prunes detailOur monthly community kitchen, Happy Mondays is now in its fourth year. A meal for 50 people, most of it locally sourced, is prepared from scratch in under three hours and features everything from nettle pesto and bittercress salad to puddings with foraged sweet violets or blackberries from the common.

Bungay Community Bees was formed in 2009 in response to the global pollinator crisis. There are now more than a dozen beehives in orchards and gardens in and around the town. The group has also created a purpose-built apiary (an observation shed with a hand-crafted glass hive) in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. In the summer schoolchildren from the region come to visit the bees and go on nature walks where they learn about flowers and pollinators.

College farm apiary

Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out. Nature needs a breathing space!

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A natural breathing space is among the many things that Bungay Community Library Garden offers. In 2009 a subgroup from Sustainable Bungay teamed up with the town library, organised an Introduction to Permaculture course with Graham Burnett and worked with local builders, gardeners, tree surgeons and group members to transform the unused brick courtyard with one jasmine and a honeysuckle into a flourishing community garden with raised beds, fruit trees, flowers and herbs.

BCLG 13.7.2014

Each year since its opening in 2010, the garden’s central bed showcases a different theme: plants for bees in 2011, plants as medicine in 2012, an edible bed in 2013 and this year dyes and textiles. This way people can get a feel for just how multi-faceted plants are and just how interwoven they are in our human lives. In many cases the categories change but the plants stay the same. The calendula you made a tea from in 2012, you tossed into a salad in 2013 and dyed a scarf with the following year!

The person curating the garden each year organises events around the theme. In the Plants for Life series I ran in 2012 focusing on health and wellbeing, there were monthly talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers, on everything from biodynamic growing to walking with weeds to the medicinal properties of homemade wine! I also ran ‘plant surgeries’ during the summer where people could come and ask questions about the project and the plants and exchange their knowledge too.

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The garden has become a focal point for many of Sustainable Bungay’s activities from steering group meetings in the summer to seed and produce swaps, Abundance exchanges of foraged fruit, and apple pressings. It is also the starting point for the wellbeing walks begun by the Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group last year.

The idea behind the walks was to explore local places together to encourage wellbeing and a sense of belonging. How that might increase personal, and particularly community, resilience, help combat the desire to be somewhere else and so encourage lower use of fossil fuels. Many people reported that simply by taking part in the collective walks brought an experience of wellbeing in itself.

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There is more. Recently a group called NR35 (‘Natural Resources’ 35) based on the local postcode, began to explore “how to use our skills, knowledge and labour to generate an income by sustainably managing/harvesting the resources which are wildly abundant around our rural market town.” The results include the harvesting of fruit and vegetable gluts, some of which are supplied to local restaurants and grocers and a communal firewood store. Last spring a small group of us learned how to make a dead hedge with local tree surgeon Paul Jackson. It took just a morning but I remember practically everything Paul taught us.

So what I’m saying here is that making space for nature can start right outside our doors, and in the places we find ourselves. That it’s not always the big exotic landscapes abroad where Nature is to be encountered. We need to discover the natural world where we are and engage with it, because it’s the natural world that makes sense of everything in the end.

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In 2015 it will be my turn again to curate the theme at Bungay Community Library garden, and the focus will be on ‘Helpful Herbs’ of all kinds. Lavender and rosemary are settling into bed, with thyme, St. Johns Wort, sweet cicely and others already there. And I’m working with a team on some exciting events. I’m also planning to map the project as part of a group helping to shape a new Transition Diploma, a collaboration between Gaia University and the Transition Network. Oh, and to make it into a Transition livelihood!

Meanwhile here is a picture from a plant walk around Bury St Edmunds I led in June this year with Sustainable Bury. The caption would probably go something like this:

“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without people sitting on walls looking at Hoary Willowherb!”

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Mark Watson is co-chair of Sustainable Bungay, a Transition Initiative in Suffolk, UK. Mark teaches groups and individuals to reconnect with nature through plants in the places they live. Details about his talks, walks and workshops can be found on Mark in Flowers.

Images: Talking plants and teas at Tooting Foodival, September 2014 by Chris from NappyValleyNet; Wild sweet violets adorn Happy Monday pudding by Josiah Meldrum; School visit to Bungay Community Bees’ observation hive by Elinor McDowell; Preparing the beds, 2010, Bungay Community Library garden (MW); the garden flourishes, summer 2014; Walking with Weeds, Plants for Life, 2012 (MW); 1st Wellbeing walk by the Waveney, 2013 by Charlotte Du Cann; Throwing our arms up under the cherry trees, April 2014 (CDC); Of walls and hoary willowherb in Bury St Edmunds, 2014 by Karen Cannard

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Midsummer Wildflowers and Plant Oils – plus Plant Families at Green Drinks

Everyone is welcome to our 6th Plants for Life 2012 event, a demonstration of how to make wildflower and plant oils and an introduction to plant ‘simples’ by Rose Titchiner, followed by an (almost) midsummer visit to Outney Common. (Please note: We were planning to visit nearby Falcon Meadow, but this was mown this week and there are no plants to see at the moment.)

We will meet at 20 Ditchingham Dam (the continuation of Bridge Street), Bungay, at 2.45pm (please note this month’s event is not at the library) for the demonstration and tea. This will be followed by the visit to Outney Common (a short drive) for those interested in seeing the midsummer wild plants in flower there.

If you are coming by car, please carshare if you can and note that there is no parking in Bridge Street and only limited parking in Ditchingham Dam. Close by are Trinity Street and Broad Street which have plenty of parking spaces.

Walk down Bridge Street and over the bridge. You will come to a sign for Ditchingham and Norwich on the left. No. 20 is directly opposite this sign, the first house on the left down a gravel driveway (the pale yellow Victorian lodge cottage).

The event is free and donations are happily received.

Rose has worked with plants all her life, is an experienced grower and farmer as well as a lover of wildflowers and makes many plant remedies at home. Recently she has been working with Bungay Community Bees to promote bee-friendly gardens and farms with the Get Your Garden Buzzing project.

At this months’ Green Drinks at the Green Dragon, Tuesday 19th June at 7.30pm, Mark Watson will introduce the theme of Plant Families and talk briefly about the many roles plants play in our lives and life on earth. This will be followed by an exploratory and interactive discussion around the theme. Everyone welcome, do join us.

Mark is the organiser of the Plants for Life 2012 series of talks, walks and workshops and curator of the Plant Medicine bed this year at Bungay Library Community Garden. He has worked with plants for many years and also designed this poster.

For all enquiries and information on this event or the Plants for Life series as a whole, contact: Mark Watson 01502 722419, email: markintransition@hotmail.co.uk or check this website http://www.sustainablebungay.com

Plants for Life 2012 with Sustainable Bungay

 

Plants for Life #10 – ‘For Medicinal Purposes’ Winemaking Session – Review

For our 10th Plants for Life event last Sunday, Winemaking – For Medicinal Purposes, Nick Watts invited a dozen of us to his house for a practical demonstration of how to make fruit wine, in this case (sic) from raspberries.

Nick’s front room was filled with people,  funnels, demi-john’s with deep red liquid and when you opened the door of any one of the cupboards you would discover a large container filled with a fermenting fluid. One demi-john contains enough for 6 bottles of wine at 750cl per bottle. Nick calculated he had about 80 bottles of wine fermenting at the moment.

First we took a look at some of the medicinal qualities of  raspberries. I’d been aware of the raspberry leaf  as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and childbirth and have used it along with yarrow to make a salve for piles. But for me raspberry fruits were always a delicious sign of high to late summer, picked fresh or bought from a roadside stall, and eaten long before they made it home to be turned into anything else culinary, let alone medicinal.

Raspberries, in fact, are incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Eating them can help boost a poor appetite and they are useful in arthritis. See Hedgerow Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal,  for an excellent chapter on the many virtues and uses of  the raspberry, both leaf and fruit, with some great herbal recipes.

Penelope Ody in her book 100 great natural remedies has a simple recipe for raspberry vinegar: Soak 500g fresh raspberries in wine vinegar for 2 weeks, strain thick red liquid into a bottle and use in cough syrups, as a throat gargle or add to salad dressings.

Nick took us through the winemaking process in three stages, starting off a new wine and then using ones “I’d prepared a bit earlier.” He was keen to point out he was not an expert, having started about three years ago, but had really got into it and was happy to share what he knows with people.

This was the essence of not only this session but also a main impulse behind the whole Plants for Life project, and indeed Sustainable Bungay as a group and the wider Transition ‘movement’: If Nick could make so much and such decent wine (not to mention his delicious dandelion and burdock beer) from home and allotment-grown and foraged fruit by just doing it and immersing himself in it, then anyone with sufficient interest and initiative could. Watching Nick describe the process and go through it physically with a friendly group of people was absorbing and instructive, as well as good fun. It was a true skill-share.

What follows below is not necessarily the whole story, but what I learnt from Sunday’s session.

STEP ONE
In a big bucket with 3lb raspberries (you can choose your own fruit, almost any will do), Nick poured on 5pts of water and added a teaspoonful of pectin enzyme to prevent ‘pectin haze’. He then mashed the raspberries with a wooden spoon and covered the liquid with a tea towel (very important esp. in summer to keep insects out).

This is left for two days.

STEP TWO 2 DAYS LATER
Add to the bucket between 1kg and 11/4 kg of sugar (preferably fair trade/organic, white) dissolved in 2 pts water off the boil. Add 1 tsp dried yeast with a little sugar all dissolved in some of the fruit liquid in the bucket.

It’s the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol and the more sugar the sweeter the wine. Nick uses less (1kg) as he likes a drier wine.

This liquid is then stirred 2-3 times a day over the next four days, and the process is called ‘fermenting on the must’.

STEP THREE 4 DAYS LATER
This is the messy bit, where you strain all the liquid through a muslin sieve, before funnelling it into the demi-johns and putting an airlock on it. This is then left to ferment for between 3 and 18 months until there are no longer any bubbles to be seen in the airlock. During the fermenting process a stable temperature is important. Nick doesn’t worry too much about whether it’s warm or cool, just that there is as little fluctuation as possible.

STEP FOUR 3-18 MONTHS later
Decant into bottles and leave for 1-2 years depending on the fruit. Raspberries need less time than elderberries, for example.

After the demonstration, Nick invited everyone to taste some of the wines he’s made. My favourite was the dry and fragrant Elderflower and Rosehip. I took half a bottle home and tried a glass with a dash of elderflower cordial – for medicinal purposes only, of course. And it was the perfect antidote to the recent gloomy days of continual rain and lessening light.

Photos: Raspberry wine fermenting in demi-johns; Nick instructing; Mashing the raspberries; Straining the liquid; Cheers on a rainy day (Mark Watson)

Additional Comments on Original Post:

By Nick: Submitted on 2012/10/25 at 3:47 pm

Soon after we finished I realised the following omissions not mentioned at the time (you will remember that I forgot to add one or two things during the demonstration but at least realised them very quickly)

STEP ONE – the fruit should be crushed with a potato masher or similar implement before adding the water. Even the semi-frozen raspberries I was using could have been defrosted with a little of the boiling water and crushed before adding the remainder.

And a couple of clarifications to your instructions Mark, if I may:

STEP TWO – important to let the liquid cool to room temperature before adding yeast mixture.

STEP FOUR – some wines can be drunk almost as soon as fermentation stops, raspberry being one of them. Others (e.g. damson, sloe) will improve for bottling for a year or more.

It was really good fun, thanks Mark for organising and everyone who came.

By markinflowers: Submitted on 2012/10/25 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for clarifying here Nick. I really enjoyed the session. Let’s do some more!

Plants for Life #9 – Autumn Berry Tonics and Tinctures – 23rd September, 3pm

Do join Plants for Life in Bungay Library on September 23rd at 3pm, as we take a look at (at least) three of the native, local trees and bushes which provide berries as medicine and food.

We’ll be talking about hawthorn, elder and sea buckthorn specifically and demonstrating how to make berry tinctures, but if you have any herbal tips or knowledge you’d like to share with people about berries and fruits, come along and join in.

This is the 9th in this year’s series of talks, walks and workshops on plants as medicine – the sessions are open to anyone and everyone, whether you know anything about the subject or not. Look forward to seeing you there. Mark Watson

Plants for Life 2012 – a Sustainable Bungay project

All enquiries: Mark Watson 01502 722419 or email markintransition@hotmail.co.uk

Plants for Life – The First Six Months and What’s Coming Up this Summer

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The Plants for Life series of walks, talks and workshops on plant medicine continues to gather pace. In April we Walked with Weeds around Bungay and explored their medicinal qualities. In May, Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, authors of Hedgerow Medicine, brought herbal tinctures, plant syrups and huge knowledge to a packed library as well as an elderflower water with the most incredible aroma. And in June we learned how to make wild plant oils and ointments of plantain and St. Johns wort with Rose Titchiner, visited Outney Common for wildflowers and discussed plant families at Green Drinks. So far there have been between a dozen and forty people at the Sunday sessions.

These events are a great way to meet up with other people interested in finding out more about plants and the medicine they bring. They also provide a space for anyone to share their own knowledge of and direct experience with the plants. It’s all about paying attention to the earth’s living systems, and fostering well-being on an individual, collective and planetary level by connecting with those systems.

In the Wild Plant Oils session a woman described how eating feverfew leaves at the onset of a migraine worked for her every time without fail. You can read this fact in a hundred herbals but when you hear it from someone with firsthand experience it brings the whole thing alive.

Back at the library after Walking With the Weeds, we drank a fresh Wild Green tea Charlotte had prepared whilst we were out, and which someone afterwards told me was a total revelation! And a Japanese friend wrote saying how much she enjoyed the afternoon and wished us “Good luck, Weeds Professors!”

You can also read a short article I wrote about Plants for Life in the well-being section of the preview issue of the new Transition Free Press (p.13). Printed copies are available from Bungay Library (along with the latest Sustainable Bungay newsletter).

Plants for Life this Summer

Here is what we have planned for the summer. This coming Sunday 15th July Plants for Life meets Bungay Community Bees at the second Bungay Bee Hive Day, when I will lead a Bee & Flower Walk around town at 12.15pm, starting at the marquee on Castle Meadow and including a visit to the Plant Medicine bed at Bungay Library.

Bee and Flower Walk 2 (MA)

Last year twenty five of us explored a meadow, alleyways, wastegrounds, Margaret’s garden, a car park and the community garden – all in the centre of town and within the space of an hour. For the full (and full-on) programme of this year’s Bee Hive day click HERE.

 

52FlowersShake, Rattle and Roll with 52 Flowers

On Sunday 5th August don’t miss Sustainable Bungay author Charlotte Du Cann as she takes a radical look at medicine plants with a reading from her just-published book 52 Flowers That Shook My World – A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press, 2012). Charlotte will also be doing a bee-focused reading from 52 Flowers at Bungay Bee Hive Day, 15th July at 2pm.

And on September 23rd at the Equinox and as the season turns we’ll be learning about (and sampling) some Autumn Berry Tonics.

Both the August and September sessions are at the library at 3pm

The Plant Medicine Bed

Burdock library

And the Plant Medicine Bed in the Library Community Garden? On my latest visit, Friday 6th July the elecampane and burdock were giant, the vervain growing tall, the thyme tumbling over the wall of the bed. The self-heal was coming into flower and the buddleia preparing for its 2012 blooming. We’ll be looking at and talking about Burdock, amongst other plants on the Bee and Flower walk next Sunday.

Everyone is welcome at all Plants for Life events. If you want to know more about plants as medicine or share what you know, come along. There is no charge but donations are happily received.

NB: I will be at the library garden most Fridays during the summer between 1 and 3pm for a ‘plant surgery’ and to talk about the Plants for Life project and events. Come and say hello.

IMG_8687 low res-350x263So far I’ve been joined by Carol Stone, permaculturist, wild bee lover and co-ordinator of no less than forty six community food projects in Devon, on a visit to Norfolk with her partner Nigel. And Christian and Fairy, recently back from a year in South America and finding their feet again in Suffolk. Fairy gave me a hand tidying some of the ox-eye daisies which had been bashed around a bit by the recent winds and rain, and we spoke about everything from Ecuador to Elecampane to confronting  mass negative assumptions about getting older.

I also removed armies of slugs and snails and transported them to a nearby wasteground and spoke with Richard about slug pubs, though we haven’t got round to making them yet!

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For all info on Plants for Life events and the Plant Medicine Bed 2012 at Bungay Library, contact Mark Watson: 01502 722419, markintransition@hotmail.co.uk, or check this website for regular updates.

Images: Outney Common wildflower walk, June 2012; Josiah gets into legumes with Great British Beans at midsummer’s Green Drinks; at the Wild Plant Oils workshop with Rose, June 2012; Bee and Flower Walk Bungay Bee Hive Day July 2011*; 52 Flowers That Shook My World by Charlotte Du Cann – cover; Burdock! July 2012; discussing Burdock with Richard, July 2012; WIth Christian and Fairy, Summer 2012. All images from Mark Watson except * from Muhammad Amin

Because the worlds are round… and wavy

For the Summer Solstice and 24 Hours of Possibility I stayed offline and concentrated on connecting with the living systems of the earth, beginning with a visit to the beach at four in the morning to see the sunrise half an hour later.

It sounds like the simplest thing in the world to just remain offline for twenty four hours. The truth is I can’t remember the last time I had an internet-free day. Much of Transition communications is a web-based business. Just the previous day I’d been emailing and tweeting everyone in Sustainable Bungay about Green Drinks that evening and updating a post on the website about it. I went to the Green Dragon with a host of flowers in jars to speak about plant families for the second Plants for Life event in three days.

It was a misty dawn just off the sunrise coast here in Suffolk and I settled for sensing the moment of the sun coming up over the sea rather than seeing it. It can be just as exciting, that moment when you FEEL it and become aware of other senses than the visual at play.

But the coast was clear, the tide was out and the sea was calm! And here’s what it looked like a few minutes after the sun rose.
The photograph gives only the merest impression of the stillness and the quiet fullness of everything. No one else was around. The tide was out. The wind was occasional and light. I stilled my thoughts and tuned in with my feet on the ground. Everything felt big and wide and yes, if I had to put it in words, filled with possibility. My body felt relaxed and alert all at once. The sun seemed like a being, something like a person.

Back home

I set about making a midsummer birthday herbal drink for Charlotte to take on her journey to the Transition Tin Village at the Sunrise festival later that day. It was some time before seven, the sun well risen and the whole garden alive and shining with its mix of wild and cultivated plants and bushes. Plant and flower time can be a very different experience from clock time and when I glanced again at the kitchen clock it was way past nine o’ clock!

By then I had gathered 47 different plants for the midsummer herbal cocktail, and they were infusing in the teapot. You could smell them throughout the house: a whole array of mints, English and Japanese mugwort, elder, heartsease and marigold flowers, two types of fennel, lovage (one small leaf!), anise hyssop, giant mexican hyssop, lemon balm, salad burnet, southernwood, lemon verbena, two sages, chia, epazote (very small leaf!), lavender, vervain, alecost, plantain, white deadnettle… and twenty-odd more. I added some fresh organic lemon juice and some fruit syrup (we’d run out of honey, which tastes better, but the syrup was okay) et voila!

When I asked Charlotte to guess what plants were in the drink, she named at least twenty five that I hadn’t put in along with the ones that were there!
Now it was time for the tortilla, or Spanish omelette, all local eggs, potatoes and onions, Norfolk tomatoes and homegrown parsley, basil and Greek oregano. The birthday, solstice and cross-country journey food and drink were prepared.
So when Simon arrived from Norwich with two friends just after midday to pick Charlotte up for their shared car journey to Somerset, I thought, now I’ll do my reconnecting with the living systems.
Then realised I’d been doing it all morning.
One thing that struck me during these 24 screen-free, pixel-free hours of possibility: How wavy the living world is. And how round.

Photos: Summer Solstice Foxgloves at sunrise, Southwold; Talking plant families at Green Drinks, Bungay June 2012; Summer Solstice Sunrise, Southwold June 2012; Garden Shining, June 2012; midsummer birthday 47 herbs for infusion; mostly local Spanish tortilla (all by MW)

First published on the Transition Norwich Blog – This Low Carbon Life and the Transition Social Reporting Project on 22nd June 2012

 

Adopt a Herb with Dan Wheals – Plants for Life Sunday 18 March 3pm at Bungay Library

For the third of our monthly Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops, we welcome medical herbalist and Suffolk Coastal’s Community Environmental Action Advisor, Dan Wheals, who’ll show us practical and creative ways we can adopt one particular herb and find out all about it.

Active within the local and regional Transition movement, Dan will also be speaking about Transition herbalism, how everyone can increase well-being and resilience by growing and working with plants in a time of limited resources and energy constraints.

Do come and join us on Sunday 18th March at Bungay Library, Wharton Street at 3pm. We look forward to seeing you there. Read the write-ups of the first two vibrant plant talks: in January – Connecting with our Roots, and February – Growing Organic Herbs. Let’s keep planting seeds and talking plants!

For any and all enquiries about the Plants for Life events and the Plant Medicine bed 2012 at Bungay Library Community garden, call Mark Watson on 01502 722419 or email markintransition@hotmail.co.uk