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My Wilderness Experiment

Composting, wilding and trying something new

Let me tell you about my recent brainwave - a creative, free, and wildlife friendly solution to the huge quantities of dead plants and prunings I've had to clear this winter and spring. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is a fun experiment - so yay!

So what do you do with all the prunings and dead plants that get tidied up in the garden at this time of year? Compost? Give to the council for recycling? Pile in a heap and forget about them? I like to compost as much as possible, but sometimes the incoming barrow-loads are just too massive for me to chop up to compost properly, so I've been going for the 'pile it up in a corner and forget about it' option - that corner being the edge of a big overgrown chunk of garden that we call the 'wilderness'.

An Brief Intro to The Wilderness

The wilderness is an overgrown area that has had a wild ride over the past few years (see my earlier blog post about it here). It's full of pioneer plants and trees - the strong and resilient ones we ironically call 'weeds' - nettles, thistles, brambles, docks, teasels, willows, buddleia...Here's what it tends to look like in the spring and summer...

Trouble is, it's getting harder and harder to even get in there as the nettles and brambles increasingly take over. Only through the winter, when it's a graveyard of plant skeletons, do we get to enter. So here we have this wild and increasingly inaccessible bit of the garden, now with the addition of an enormous, also impenetrable and unusable, 'dumping heap' of dead plant matter.

One answer would be to get a landscaping plan for this area and develop it into 'proper garden'. But we have too much other stuff on the go at the moment, and we also like the idea of having a 'mini wilding project' of sorts, for now anyway.

So, how to deal with the two problems of an overly wild and inaccessible area, and having more plant material than I can process through the compost?

Here's my idea. I have used all the dead plant stuff to create edges to wood chip paths through the wilderness. Low, long piles running along the edges of the pathways, that serve multiple purposes:

  • A repository of compost material (dry, carbon-rich material that I can leave here to compost slowly, and possibly use some in the compost bins if I have too much wet/green material through the summer and need to balance with some dry 'browns'). Arranged like this I can access it and see what I've got much better than in the big heap.

  • Demarkation of the pathways

  • Suppressing weeds at the edges for my paths

  • Lots of habitat for insects and small mammals - I see them as mini 'dead-hedges'

  • A fun maze of paths that winds around and through the wilderness

  • A way of pushing the wild back a bit, but still letting the plants do what they want - the brambles will still be there, but now we'll be able to get to them and keep them in check with regular snips with secateurs.

I am really pleased with how many wins I get from this really easy idea! I hope it'll prove to be effective. I also think that by opening it up a bit we have created a greater diversity of habitats, and are allowing in more light, and so consequently might attract a greater diversity of animal and plant species. Watch this wilderness space!

Willow tree flowers
Flowers on one of the many goat willow trees that have self-seeded all over the wilderness. They flower early in the year so are welcome food source for bees when there’s not much else in flower.

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