Reclaiming the Lawn

Finding space to grow vegetables, flowers and medicine on the lawn would have been impossible if I would have approached the landlord through criticism of the lawn, saying that the whole patch should be garden. 

I would have ignored the desire of the kids who live here to play, sit and throw frisbees. 

Instead I took posts from black locust thrown from an ice storm last year and marked out a garden that fits with the current design and occupies a boundary between the lawn and the four lane road. 

The garden was then woven, with the landlords, using leftover willow from making baskets and fences, seed collected in my wanders, and compost from the back yard. 

This small space is now yeiding scarlet runner beans, calendula, red clover, winter squash, self seeded tomatoes and borage from last year, Swiss chard and arugula. 

The garden around the Siberian crabapple planted in every lawn when these houses were built over 50 years ago has sage, Wild Ginger, oregano and native woodland strawberry. 

Maybe in the fall I will place another woven bed taking up another patch of the lawn, foot by foot, until it is all garden. 

portfolio, 2014

Winter Solstice Basketry

Grown on the site of Evergreen Brickworks since its opening in 2010 from plants which regenerate annually and are cut late in the spring. the red osier dogwood is an important food source for birds and the black willow can grow up to 12′ a year. Both are native species are planted to begin natural restoration of the the five acre redeveloped industrial pad.
Often these plantings are originally grown in nurseries who focus on maximum yield since plant growth is tied to profit, and so they are flooded with fertilizers. These are then planted out, and the odd original shape obtained by the greenhouse growth of the plant stays with it as it matures, and therefore the shape of this plant as we now recognize it is misleading. dogwoods and willows have evolved to be stimulated by cutting/burning especially when the leaves have fallen and the energy of the plant is stored under the snow, in its roots. the form of a coppice stump, as it grows straight long shoots, is a beautiful thing to behold. often trimmed by beaver and muskrat, these long shoots are ideal material for basketry, and so are a living free renewable resource, who’s value can be added to immensely when planted close to an environmental center like the Evergreen Brick Works has become.

see the video of youth harvesting the black willow:

by planting species which have the highest yield of environmental and economic functions, we can work towards rekindling understanding of the role of ‘coppice’ plants and trees in responsible urban business practices of the future.
through experimentation in the pilot brickworks artist residency program, the dogwood and willow baskets will annually be available for sale in the Evergreen Garden Market for the holiday season, under the name: Winter Solstice Basketry.

tunneling into school

what? why would anyone want to tunnel back into school. well i have no idea, but in the past six years have been investigating how to build living tunnels in school grounds and gardens and have learned a thing or two about willow tunneling.

tis the season…..the season where the trees drop their leaves and go to sleep for the winter. the essential life energy is then held underground, and any alterations to the branches will little be felt. that is why working with willow is winter work. i’ve found that willow cut while the leaves are out ‘out of season’ have a 15-40% success rate when transplanting as cuttings. that 40% is only won through flooding the plants every two days in their first year. willows transplanted in late fall early spring while they are dormant has an >85% success rate, as long as they are cared for, kept damp-through mulching, soaker hoses, etc- and there are no air pockets which frost out the underground life of the cutting and turn black. if they have made it through the trials of year one, they will likely thrive and produce abundant off shoots which can then be harvested to make crafts, transplant, make sculptures or as a rooting hormone when soaked in water.

you’ve probably never thought about it, but there is a set of codified rules for what is safe to install in school grounds. in canada there are rules set forth by the Canadian Standards association, and include much of what you might expect: choking hazards and the like. as we love to do with rules, they are broken into categories and made specific; measurements and testing tools for hip, head and limb entrapment, a delightful series of rules about protrusions, and many standards for materials, surfacing and grade. the simplest method for avoiding these figurative headaches is to use asphalt, grass, and chain link fencing. by far the most challenging route to designing these spaces is to take irregular and decomposing natural materials like wood, plants and trees. this is precisely what heidi campbell and evergreen do ( alongside them i have learned a few tricks: try and design living structures whose woven cells ae over 9″ x 9″. this means no one will get trapped. anything sticking out-protruding-has to be cut so that its length does not exceed its width.

upon first hearing these rules i assumed that a living tunnel should be fully woven, so that no one will get stuck. as it turns out, children love to test structural stability, so no matter my attempts at designing without nails, anything woven with green material, once seasoned and shrunk, allowed the little hands to tear them apart (if left to their own devices; arguably you could direct their overabundant enthusiasm to rebuilding and tying the archways…). in the most recent design, the tunnel pictured in the film below has been planted with potted willow (since sometimes it is hard to get folks to water plants at school, especially in summer) and left to establish for a year before being woven into a diamond pattern. these loose branches cannot trap anyone, and are re-enforced by simple willow archways. moreover, the living branches do not shrink, and the diamond pattern allows the plants to ‘fill’ in, rather than left to grow straight up into trees. the condensed lesson here is: simplify and focus on designing the living elements to do the work, rather than spending time weaving as if its a basket.

tips for living willow structures: 

1-dormant! tis the season-make sure you confine willow cutting and transplanting to when the leaves have fallen.

2-choose cuttings from your local clime-plants will do better if already adjusted to soil/weather conditions.

3-no air pockets-ensure that bare root cuttings have no air pockets which can hold frost. jump on them.

4-place cuttings 8″ in the ground.

5-weed suppression-ensure that for 6″ minimum all around the cutting weeds are suppressed with black plastic/fabric/mulch.

6-rule of thumb-ensure that cuttings are larger than a normal adults thumb, seems to help them succeed (help me overwrite the sexist origin of this phrase).

7-water water water. every dry day in the first year. get the kids to do it-watering can chain.

Tips for Living Tunnels in Schools: 

1-involve kids-little hands can move mulch, make willow rope-every task is a teachable moment, you know, sense of ownership, cultivating stewardship ethic and empathy for living things.

2-simplify design-use archways to give form, but leave weave until 2nd year.

3-use a diamond pattern created by two 30 degree angles, bound with a willow whip in square lashing pattern, so willow fills cells created.

4-all cells created must be smaller than 3″ larger than 9″-to make sure no one gets stuck.

5-use potted material-existing roots will help success in first stressful year at school-the school ground can be a rough place for a plant.

6-arrange maintenance-ensure your artist/contractor visits twice a year.

7-find local knowledge to teach teachers; how to source, harvest, plant, weave and make rope-create curricular connections.

8-try and secure your own funding-or find local permaculture practitioners and see if someone will barter for baked goods.

9-as with the previous list-water water water! more water won’t hurt, but less can kill. 😛

arrr….coming soon…the pirate survival boat @evergreenbrickworks

choose your direction wisely... choose your direction wisely…

pirates will be popping up and learning about the floods in the don valley in the children’s garden at evergreen brickworks this coming spring. will they learn how to survive pirates? or will the pirates teach them high sea survival….time will tell.

knot march 2013

s of dundas, w side of ossington

s of dundas, w side of ossington

What happens to the knots now?!? Maybe trim the growth bonsai style? Make liTtle insects and animals with the green stems? Make geometric shapes?

knot in the window of belong at the brickworks.

knot in the window of belong at the brickworks.

sitting at cafe belong, trying to sprout.

sitting at cafe belong, trying to sprout.