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by Rev Shelley Griffiths

AKA Pastor Shells

6th June 2022

It’s that time of the year where laburnums hang their golden lanterns with such Japanese style elegance I marvel at how I went so many years not noticing them. The route from our home in Drefach Felindre to Cwm Caredig is lined with laburnum and fern in such a lush denseness it’s like a film set. We journey in the amber and lime green hues of Spring as they give way to Summer; the vast yellow chandeliers sprinkling their way into the distant fields revealing their presence in hedgerows everywhere here. It’s breath-taking.

All being well, we will be moving from our house in Drefach Felindre soon - I shall miss the walks here - banks that were lined with wild garlic just a few weeks ago are now giving way to wild strawberries. We have an abundance of both cultivated and wild strawberries in our kitchen garden - with very little maintenance they come back year on year and make marvellous ground cover.

We have planted a few cultivated strawberries at Cwm Caredig that we bought for just a few pennies at a plant sale at our local village hall along with comfrey, borage, creeping thyme and several other pretty pollinators that not only attract the bees and help improve the soil but look stunning. I’m excited to see what blooms!

With the help of wonderful volunteers, we have moved some of the stone lying around and created cute little pebble tracks to the stream where we can collect water to keep everything alive when it doesn’t rain. It went an agonisingly long time between decent amounts of rainfall so we have been going from project to project keeping all the baby crops alive and doing happy rain dances when it came. I never understood the ‘rainy day’ hygge mentality until we were grounded by the rain – I found I was so utterly relieved to have a guilt-free cosy day by the fire that I now get it. Sometimes I need a reminder to take the weight off and regenerate.

I live with a few pain related conditions that are definitely worsening with age, so it’s important to rest a bit more than I used to. This is very challenging for me! It’s also dangerous for me to be still for too long; I start hatching new plans for new projects and creative ventures, but isn’t that the wonderful thing about boredom? It begets creativity. Too many people are now glued to their screens in addictive serotonin highs with constant stimulation. People aren’t allowing themselves to experience boredom. To never be left alone with your thoughts is to devolve, not evolve. It’s frightening how many people are now unwilling or unable to access the deeper levels of their psyche or discover new aspects to their minds because they have shut down to the openness required to ‘think outside the box’ or to have their narratives challenged. It takes slowing down to be able to reflect. Stopping altogether might lead to guru type musings, and is perhaps why meditation is so beneficial. It’s why disconnecting from the internet and connecting with nature is so important. By immersing ourselves in nature, we can literally connect to the vast network of life that sits beneath our feet and towers above our heads. With mycelium networks connecting vast forests that communicate and feed each other, just being in Cwm Caredig is to feel as though we are part of a vast breathing, living organ that exists beyond and within us. Realising we are part of an eco system that depends on us not destroying it is crucial to our evolution. And it's crucial we evolve before it's too late. We are at that tipping point. It has never been more urgent to connect with nature and realise our obligations to put things right.

Trees have been found to release chemicals called phytoncides which have an anti-microbial effect on humans. The Japanese government introduced Shinrin-yoku as a national health programme because of this. Basically, forest bathing is good for you! The forest breathes life and cures depression and anxiety. Plus, for me personally, I find birdsong the most healing sound I know. With the sound of babbling brooks and the dappled light of Summer streaming though gaps in the trees, it’s easy to feel like Cwm Caredig is a real Garden of Eden and that the ancient bluebell woods and wildflower meadows are heaven on earth. Wouldn’t it be great if we all got addicted to that instead of our screens!

Gardening and getting your hands into the soil to plant and nurture adds an extra dimension to this sacred earth connection. There’s something ancestral and spiritual about using our hands to plant and harvest and prepare food the way humans did for centuries before technology and convenience consumed us.

And of course there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing things you’ve planted grow and harvesting it straight from garden to plate. Last year we had several meals where we grew all the ingredients, even the herbs! I hope the new owners of our house enjoy the ability to pop into the garden for every meal and gather ingredients. As well as all the perennial fruit and veg we have grown accustomed to gathering, we have also planted broad and runner beans, cauliflowers and onions even though we might not be the ones to harvest them this year. It feels good to leave such an abundance and challenges the notion that we should only be planting things we benefit from personally. Soon we will be planting hundreds of trees we will never see fully mature as Paul and I are too old now, but that shouldn’t stop us planting them. It’s our gift to future generations. Perhaps it’s also my penance for a huge chunk of my life spent not noticing laburnums. What is certain is that it’s our legacy and I’m so utterly delighted to be the custodian and protector of these spaces that nurturing them is so far from the hardship of doing a nine to five job I can hardly believe my luck.

The garden at the new house we are hoping to move to has a lot of ornamental shrubs and mature Japanese maples in a manageably sized terraced garden which I will leave as it is as it is so pretty although I do plan to introduce a herb garden outside the kitchen window. We are focussing on planting edibles at Cwm Caredig and Fferm Heulog and the last three weeks have been primarily all about getting seedlings in the ground, including beans, kale, cauliflower and cabbages.

I have so many dwarf tomato plants that all sprouted from last year’s cherry tomato seed collection (and fermentation) that we are keeping our plant station outside our house very well stocked in those alone. It’s great to feel like I have matured into a green fingered whizz (I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive in my twenties) but my inability to compost plants that someone else could tend and enjoy the fruits of, means all my plant babies rather own me right now. With everything blooming it’s hard to keep up. It makes me all the more grateful when help does arrive. We've had friends and volunteers helping us these past few days, so lots has been achieved, along with a big sigh of relief to see so many things planted.

We have taken to walking the land at Cwm Caredig on every visit; sometimes visiting just to walk the paths that Paul has kept mown and accessible. When we walk, our geriatric dog Tuki now takes so long sniffing everything that it has forced me to slow down and notice more of what is going on around me. The minute white flowers of a sprawling chickweed might have gone unnoticed had I power-marched my way around Cwm Caredig. Or the dainty flowers of the yellow pimpernel nestled in amongst the drooping bluebells that are mostly now all heavy with seed pods might have been missed. Today the delicate pink blooms on Crane’s Bills tucked in roadside verges caught my attention when we walked Tuki along our village public footpaths.

With so many pretty and edible blooms around, including the perfumed elderflower, I can’t help but collect a few and find ways to bring colour and art to food. Last year it was chocolates and cake but as I have given up sugar this year (or am trying to at least) it’s ice cubes to put in summer drinks. It’s a bumper year for elderflower, and branches are weighed down with the volume of the delicate wedding-cake flowers.

Food is such an integral part of how we live that being mindful about how we source it, use it and value it has to change so that we can make kinder choices. It takes unlearning all the things we thought we knew about food and taking a look at what is around us, what is growing seasonally and how we can nourish our bodies at the same time as encouraging nature to thrive. It is perfectly possible to achieve both and without the need of livestock.

As we allow the valley to rewild at Cwm Caredig, meadows have given way to buttercups and dock leaves. Wild grasses of purple and red hues swish in the winds, changing the landscape from the pale pinks and whites of swathes of cuckoo flowers just a couple of weeks ago to warm yellows and reds like a faux-autumn in the vast expanses of rolling pastures. It wasn’t long ago I noticed an abundance of iridescent green dock beetles on the dock leaves springing up everywhere yet now only a fraction remain of the skeletal leaves.

It means other plants get a chance to thrive and so the eco-system redresses the balance and ensures dock leaves don’t take over. The volume of insects attracts more birds and mice and snakes and all the wildlife that eat them, so by just allowing nature to take over (and perhaps helping lightly so that brambles and bracken don’t entirely take over), biodiversity increases and the soil recovers. Things flourish.

It’s a keen reminder of the ‘cause and effect’ of our actions (or inactions), whether that’s in our personal lives or how we influence our surroundings. ‘No Mow May’ saw many people leaving lawns to bees and wild flowers and councils leaving verges to fill with dandelions then ox-eye daisies in a bid to attract pollinating insects. It’s truly marvellous to see what wonders come along when nature is given a chance to recover.

Our choices matter and something as simple as not mowing a lawn can have far reaching benefits people ought to be considering. The extra time that we have by not weeding and mowing means we have more time to just be. Running around trying to earn loads of dosh to pay for gadgets that are dumbing us down is not the answer. Growing edible forest gardens everywhere. Now there's the answer; especially if we can learn how to pull together, overcome our differences and focus on the task at hand which is saving the planet and the many many species that are heading towards extinction. The way that the majority are just carrying on as normal as if none of it affects them or will affect them is sickening. If it wasn't for the healing powers of my daily green bathing, I am not sure I could stay sane in this world of sleepwalking, flesh-eating, devolved humans that defend their choices with poorly rationalised cliches like 'but bacon tho' or 'I couldn't give up cheese'.

My hope is that we can introduce native varieties of edibles that enhance the ecological processes and not interfere with them. So far the raspberries, roses and other flowering and fruiting perennials we’ve planted seem rather happy in the spots I have chosen for them at Cwm Caredig.

Long may the green fingered ‘Gardening Nanna’ phase of my life continue! Don't wait until you're my age to get it and do something; it's not a coincidence that you are here at this crucial point in our civilisation reading this. Consider it a call to arms. Arms-around-trees.

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