Manchester Drive Forest Garden Project

The purpose of this blog is to document the development of the forest garden project that I have been setting up at Manchester Drive allotment site in Leigh on Sea, Essex, as well as any other random permacultural (or not) rambling thoughts that might happen to stray from my brain. I hope you enjoy it or better still, feel inspired to start your own edible food forest!

Thursday, August 19, 2010



Monday, January 01, 2007

Earth Writings book launch, Walthamstow 13/1/07

Spiralseed and OrganicLea cordially invite you to the launch of
Graham Burnett

Saturday 13th January 2007,
4pm onwards
The Hornbeam Centre
458 Hoe Street
London E17

(nr the Bakers Arms - 5 minutes walk from Walthamstow Central BR)

This event will be preceded at 2pm by a talk "Introduction to Permaculture" by Mark Warner of 'Naturewise'

All welcome - feel free to forward this post to anybody who you think might be interested!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Margaret McMillan Forest Garden, Crouch Hill

As well as Robert Hart's forest garden, one of the major inspirations for the Manchester Drive project has been the work of Naturewise, a North London based urban Permaculture project based around the Crouch Hill area. As well as running regular permaculture courses Naturewise have set up two urban forest gardens. The first, established around 1993, was at the back of Bowlers Green Community Nursery on a steep slope on public land, the second, created in 1n 1996, is at the Margaret McMillan Nursery School. Heres an ariel shot from Google maps.

I first visited this project shortly after it had been initially planted up some ten years ago, and spent alot of time their during the full Permaculture Design Course I attended in 1997, when all the trees were very small, and it was still possible to grow lots of annual sun loving crops such as tomatoes, mediteranian herbs, etc in the large unfilled spaces in the heavily mulched beds. I've made various visits back there over the intervening years, either as part of Naturewise courses I've taught on or various permaculture gatherings, workdays, etc, and its been fascinating to watch the evolution towards an edible woodland landscape as the shrubs and bushes have spread, the trees have matured and their canopy has gradually closed. One of the main driving forces keeping the project going was the energy of naturewise co-founder Alpay Torgut, so when he moved away to Wales a year or so ago it was sad to see the forest garden slide into a period of neglect. We visited Margaret Mcmillan during the last design course in the summer of 2005 and I have to say it was beginning to look rather sad, with bindweed getting the upper hand and several of the more rampant fruit bushes such as Worcesterberry in severe need of what Robert Hart termed 'editing' in order to prevent their domination over other plants.

However I'm delighted to say that several volunteers, more than ably co-ordinated by the efforts of course graduate Claire White, have quickly restored the garden to an optimum condition, an abundant balance between wild nature and cultivated edible landscape with a host of yields beyond simply the lush salad leaves curently available and promise of berries, currants and fruits as the year moves on. It was a pleasure to spend yesterday afternoon there amongst the blossom and fresh spring growth with excelent company.

In his latest book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren comments that "Successful gardens do not keep expanding. Instead, they provide a surplus of plant stock and knowledge that help to establish new gardens". There is a story that members of East London based food growing project OrganicLea once took cuttings of an unusual currant which they went on to propogate at their own site. The original bush at the Naturewise garden eventually died for some reason. However they were in turn able to re-establish their stock by taking fresh cuttings back from OrganicLea... An example of the truism that if you give something away it will come back to you threefold. Also of the Permaculture principle that 'Everything Cycles'.

Another permaculture principle is that 'the problem is the solution'. In this case the thinned out Worcesterberry that had begun to choke many of the beds in the forest garden had been potted up and were being given away as plant stock. I took two potted bushes (as well as cuttings of their delicious Strawberry Grape and Buffalo Currant) for the Manchester Drive forest garden, where its rampant qualities may be exactly what I need to compete with my endemic brambles and tough grasses...

For more information about the Margaret McMillan forest garden and volunteer workdays see

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April 2nd 2006 part two

More photos from the forest garden today

Newly planted area (beginning of 2006) showing mulched (mainly) wild fruit trees

East to west view across the plot.

Mulched Sunset apple tree (see earlier post)

More daffs!

Sloe blossom

April 2nd 2006 part one

Some images from the forest garden taken today, 2/4/2006

A very unsettled day, verging between sunshine and showers and at times very windy. I had hoped to do some work, mainly pulling up grass to use as mulch around newly planted (Feb) trees, but the grass was not yet long enough, and also the ground was too wet. I did put in a few raspberry canes that I'd dug up from my other allotment, where we had manged to get about half our onion sets in beforehand.

I also mananged to fit in dropping the compost toilet DVCAM master in to my friend Chris Izod of Vidia Productions, who can hopefully put it onto DVD so that I will at last be able to make it more cheaply avavilable in DVD format.

Cherry plum in flower at plot edge

Daffs in flower at last!

Eleagnus and family apple tree originally from my mum's garden

Plot boundary. Note cut bramble used as dead hedging to prevent further bramble incursion from neighbouring plot.

Contorted hazel, originally bought in Chelmsford market

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Love Peckham

Combining elements of both the Guerrilla gardening and benches as public art mentioned in previous postings, I came across this today, linked via Richard's Guerrilla Gardening website and featuring the work of direct activist and street artist/sculptor/wood carver 'VIRUS', who repairs and improves vandalised benches around the SE13 borough. I particularly like the Holly project. You can also get 'Peckham Rock' from the website if you buy a 'I Love Peckham' teeshirt...

Maybe its not exactly forest gardening, but as far as I'm concerned its just another inspiring example of how ordinary people can take control of and improve the urban environment without waiting for 'permssion' from those in authority...

Conference pear

In my last entry I noted that I picked up a Sunset apple from Homebase for a tenner, I've done even better this week by spotting a Conference Pear in Wilkinsons for a fiver! they had lots of other trees as well, including Jonnagold apple, but being limited to a bicycle for transport I could only carry the one, what is more I don't think I've actually got alot more room on the plot for any more trees, even though it does seem a shame to let such a bargain go...

I got down to the plot yesterday morning to plant the pear, it had rained all night, hence hacking out a planting hole in the clay soil with the mattock was like trying to carve into toffee. I also planted a couple of lemon balm plants and some bluebell bulbs that Ron had left out for me, plus cut some willow stems and attempted to replant the willow dome by pushing these straight into the ground. Even if they don't survive it would still be nice to buld some kind of 'twigloo' to either sit in or just to look visually interesting...

By now it was very cold and wet so I came home again. I had the intention of starting to give my 'zone 1' back garden a good post-winter tidy up but it was too miserable. Hopefully the weekend will be a bit better, as I've still hardly had a chance to get down to my 'zone 2/3' 'staples and maincrops' allotment this year...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Impulse buying

Confessions of a consumer junky... Went into town today today to buy some printer ink plus paint for the kids bedroom, and ended up making 3 'impulse' purchases. Am I the ideal happy shopper or what?

Anyway, what i bought was,

1) Picked up an Acoustic Ladyland CD half price in the MVC closing down sale. Despite the very dodgy cover which looks more like it belongs on some late 70s/early 80s rock/new wave album like The Cars or The Knack or something, its on the esteemed Babel Label (who often package their releases with artwork by the brilliant Gee Vaucher, whose been turning in some of her best stuff since those classic CRASS covers and posters). I also saw Acoustic ladyland on the Jools Holland show and was well impressed, and have also seen Seb Rochford play at the local Jazz Club and been knocked out not just by his mad hair but also his stunning drumming. I've only played a bit of the CD, but it sounded like a nice blend of punk and jazz energies...

2) a fab little multitool from QD's that cost me £1.50. Its got a saw, a blade, a bottle opener, plyers, wire cutters, a 'lanyard' (whatever that is...), a great little torch and a 'Philips' screwdriver, but is only about 2 inches long when folded up. It also has its own little cool black pouch and fits unobtrusively into your trouser or jacket pocket without any trouble. I must say that most of my practical needs are met by my ever present 'Camper' Swiss Army Knife, but this seemd like a real bargain and a miracle of modern engineering, even if it is no doubt the product of some Taiwanese sweat shop... I'm afraid I can't resist a multitool, one of my guilty pleasures is having the odd peek at the Victoronix website to see which Swiss Army Knives I totally can't do without. The 'Swiss Memory' with its built in USB data storage utility seems particularly cool, but I know I'll never do anything about actually buying one...

3) (Actually relevant to this Blog!) Went into Homebase to buy the paint and ended up purchasing a Sunset apple tree for a tenner.

Sunset apple is very similar to Cox but much easier to grow. An excellent garden substitute for Cox particularly for regions where Cox can not be grown successfully.
Use: Dessert
Season of Use: Oct-Dec
Colour: Flushed
Flavour: Aromatic
Origin: Kent UK 1918
Pollination Group: C
Self-fertility: Self Fertile

They also had damsons and other apple varieties including 'Discovery' which, I believe, is an old Essex variety, so maybe I'll try and pick up a couple more trees before planting season ends. Not quite in keeping with buying from small and local nurseries I know, but, hey, carriage charges are crippling and at least its 3 or 4 trees taht wouldn't have gotten planted otherwise.

I've got a WLCS committee meeting first thing in the morning (well, 10 o'clock, which to me is 'first thing' when its a sunday...), after that I'll try and get down to manchester Drive and get this apple planted, and maybe even put the mini-multi-tool through its paces and see if it warrants the quid fifty spent on it...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tree planting session

This afternoon I finally got in the rest of the wild fruit stock that I bought from BTCV before Xmas. The full list is;

4 Sea buckthorne
3 Bullaces (wild plum)
2 Bird Cherry
3 Silver birch
2 Guelder rose
5 hazels
5 Rhamanus rose

So hopefully in a couple of years time there will be plenty of wild fruit available for making into wines, jellys and jams. I'd also love to have a go at making birch sap wine (which is partly why I put in the Silver birches, the other reason being that I just like them...). I guess it will be a few years before they reach anywhewre near a size where it would be OK to tap off some sap, but the forest garden was always going to be a slooooow, long term project... Besides if I'd put in some birch treees ten years ago when I first thought it might be a nice idea to make the wine, I might well actually be tapping it this spring, so in ten years time...

It was a beautiful sunny day down at the plot, with a feeling that spring might well be on the way, although further cold snaps are forecast. guess there will be plenty more of these if the gulf stream keeps on slowing down... Lots more little spears of daffodils starting to poke through, and also lots of bird activity. I saw a number of blue tits flying about, as well as the usual magpies and pigeons, also a fairly large yellow bird broke cover on the plot and flew into the trees, too fast to make out what it was clearly, and doesn't seem to be in my 'Birds in Your garden' booklet that I got free from the RSPB (its well worth sending off for this BTW).

The other day Ron told me that the council are thinking of cutting back all of the self-sewn ash at the north of the allotment site before spring arrives as local kids from the housing estate are using them as cover for their various ne'er do well activities. This will mean lots and lots of really nice straight ash poles being available- I've spoken to Adrian of Wholewoods to see if he fancies collecting some, and also maybe organising a green wooodworking course down in Southend later in the year- he's keen, so watch this space!

PS. I also picked up R J Garner's classic 'Grafters Handbook' for £2.45 in 'QD' this weekend! A bargain for sure but what on earth was it doing in the cheapo books section of the bargain basement version of 'Wilkinsons'????