I’m not sure who coined the phrase ‘editing the garden’. It is very apt though. I’m gradually adding and deleting plants around the holding; planting trees and encouraging flowers such as orchids and vetch, whilst removing (or trying to) bracken, creeping thistle and selectively docken and buttercups in the garden.
You can tell the untended holdings around here by the rapid overtake of bracken across them. It spreads by fleshy underground runners creeping forward year on year. It doesn’t seem to like very boggy ground or deep shade, but otherwise little seems to stop it. The sheep don’t eat it, although their sharp little hoofs in the spring can knock it back a bit. When we first took on the plot there was a little bracken down by the river, which was slowly creeping into the field. On our northern side as well the bracken encroaches into our boundary. Although grazed by sheep, the owner of the land lives away and the ‘tenant’ does not improve grassland that is not his. I have been turning a problem into a benefit over the last few years. The compost you can make from bracken has a far better texture than any peat free compost that I have managed to find to date. I have heard as well that although it grows on potash poor soil, it is a potash accumulator, thus compost made from it will be relatively rich in potassium. Although I haven’t checked this, I have been using it recently for my potting on projects in combination with a little ash-enriched general garden waste compost.
This year I have been successful in pulling all the bracken on the holding. In order to reduce the vigour of the bracken year on year I physically go round and pull out the bracken stalks. They come off fairly easily, although generally you need two hands (and gloves). This should be done when the leaf is fairly well grown, but in the earlier part of the summer. Bracken spores are supposed to be carcinogenic, so it’s not good practice to spend too much time in amongst it later in the year. Also I guess that it will be feeding the roots all the time, so it is better to stop this as soon as possible. If you pull too early the plant simply shoots up a further load of leaves and carries on. Generally there will be more leaves anyhow, and smaller ones that have been missed. So it is as well to go back around after a week or so to pull this regrowth if possible. Since I started doing this, and despite not managing to do it all every year, the bracken has reduced from being as tall as I am (over 5 feet) to waist height or less.
What I have done this year is be more methodical and I have managed to gather the pulled leaves into a builders sack for recovery up the the garden area to rot down into compost. All the leaves didn’t fit in however, so I’m leaving them to wilt a little in the hope that this will also reduce the weight of the bag, which is rather heavy for me to drag now! If it doesn’t get much lighter, then I may have to decant some of the leaves out and take it up the hill in portions. I’d quite like to be a bit more sufficient in compost next year by this method.