Karuna – permaculture in action

Karuna – permaculture in action

In 2007 (I think), with a group of friends, I visited a place not far from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, UK which was called ‘Karuna’.

Karuna is a land-based permaculture project and forest garden, created by Janta and Merav Wheelhouse, along with their two sons. The Wheelhouse’s had purchased the 19 acres of former sheep grazing fields at auction, selling their previous house in Wales to raise the funds.

They started by planting trees – literally thousands of them, by hand. When I visited, the trees were between 3 and 5 feet tall, but already you could feel the positive change on the land. When I re-visited back in 2012, the difference was staggering – trees were now 10 – 20 feet tall – this was a thriving mini forest!

Merav recording and mapping out the fruit and nut trees at Karuna
Merav recording and mapping out the fruit and nut trees at Karuna. [image from karuna.org.uk]
The surrounding area is a fairly typical agricultural ‘green desert’, being mainly fields of sheep. The local community is very conservative when it comes to new ideas and anything radical, so you can imagine their reaction when the Wheelhouse’s put a ex-showmen’s caravan on the land to enable them to live and work there!

A public footpath crosses part of their land, and at one point, someone had put down a herbicide in an attempt to kill some of the trees. It was impossible to prove who was responsible, so the Wheelhouse’s just had to carry on, repair and replant and hope that common sense would win.

Planning enforcement and appeals became a daily struggle, but after many years of blocking and obstruction, they slowly began to get permission for sheds, polytunnels (things which local farmers have no problem obtaining) and eventually a strawbale, reciprocal roof roundhouse.

There’s still work to be done. Lack of money means jobs take much longer, but they are nearly ‘there’ with the roundhouse. Check out their website at www.karuna.org.uk and please consider helping them in some way.

In the meantime, just look what you can achieve in 10 years – from a green desert to the largest forest garden in the UK!

Talking trees

Talking trees

A few months ago, I saw several posts on social media about how trees communicated with each other. At the time, I didn’t bother to look into it any further, but recently a friend put up a link to a TED talk by Canadian scientist Suzanne Simard (embedded below).

She came from a family closely associated with trees – her grandfather was a logger and when she started work, she also found herself in the logging industry. Fortunately, the relentless destruction caused by intensive logging and clear cutting of forests didn’t rest well with her conscience and she could no longer be a part of it.

She went back to studying and researched a lead into tree to tree communication. She has been able to prove that many species of trees work together, asking for carbon as an example, and other adjacent trees respond by giving it. But not just carbon – many other of the essentials of tree life can be asked for and given in a two-way relationship.

How did I miss this? It’s so amazing, breathtaking and groundbreaking that it should be major news shouldn’t it? As the realisation and extent of what’s happening starts to sink in, it’s really making me think, on a deep level about trees, about nature and about the part humans play, particularly in the destruction and use of trees.

…it’s really making me think, on a deep level about trees, about nature and about the part humans play, particularly in the destruction and use of trees.

Humans have clearcut old growth forests all around the world, and continue to do so right now. Deforestation is not just an issue in the Amazon, it’s an issue in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Borneo, China and so on. When you clearcut, you don’t just kill the trees, you destroy the entire ecosystem that trees are the hub of, so fungi, insects, birds, mammals are decimated often to the point of no return.

And when ‘we’ replant forests, we plant the best thing for humans – cash crops – monocultures of the trees that will grow fastest and tallest and yield the highest profit. No longer do we have the diversity that was once there, and therefore, the mono cultures are prime sites for attack by pests and diseases.

I’m sure I read last week, that Sweden had logged over 95% of its old growth forests (if anyone can verify this, please let me know…). Although we tend to think of Sweden as a country covered in forest, it seems humans have stripped it bare and replanted commercial monocultures. The same is true of Finland according to some of the writing of Finnish philosopher, Pentti Linkola.

So, does the news that trees communicate affect you in any way? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Spirit of wood

Spirit of wood

Part of my job involves working with wood. I generally love it – being creative and making something that is highly visual, useful and that people can appreciate the effort I’ve put in.

I started off doing a lot of the work with hand tools, however over the years I’ve moved over to more power tools. Part of the move has been economic – it takes much less time to produce something using power tools – part of it is also accuracy – a power tool can quickly achieve a perfect cut and getting lines straight and true makes a big difference.

once-she-stoppedBut power tools take you even further away from the essence of wood and from the lessons it can teach us. We become so removed that we might was well work with plastic or concrete. Wood has a heart and soul. Wood teaches us to slow down, to look, to feel, to listen to be intuit.

However, there is as aspect that sits slightly uncomfortably with me. Most of the wood I use was grown outside the UK and is highly engineered. I know little to nothing about the origin of the wood, the landscape, the environment – what, if anything, is being done about re-planting? Was the land clear-cut (disastrous for nature) or were trees picked out to allow recovery time? There’s also the fact that my skills revolve only around using pre-prepared wood. Presented with a ‘tree’, I wouldn’t know what to do.

Getting back to the essence of working with simple, minimal materials is something many crave and this lovely short video of the Stone Dahl family from Wisconsin, USA really whets the appetite! Although from the USA (material availability will be very different from the UK or other places), there is much to learn from what they do and their respect to the tree…

I write because…

I write because…

Actually I don’t write enough – I get caught up in the detail, in the ‘I need to think about that a bit more before I commit to paper or screen‘, and of course I rarely get to that point.

However, I write because there’s a lot inside me that needs a way out, and writing usually is a way for me to make some sense of it all.

Some of thoughts, feelings and ideas are big – so big that I can’t see ‘the woods for the trees’ and it’s hard to get perspective. Writing allows pieces to come out which helps me put things together in a way that I can understand better.

I also write because it’s good to read it back one day. Reading back through some old notebooks a few years ago helped me realise that I had had a very negative view on many issues (including myself). It actually scared me to read some of it back because I didn’t think that was how I was actually feeling at the time, but clearly I was!

But it’s not all bad. Reading old journals brings back feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas, plans and much more that makes my life seem much richer and connected. I can see what ideas and thoughts have persisted and maybe make an effort to concentrate on some things more than others.

I write because it won’t solve all my problems, but it will help me become aware of them.


Image by https://unsplash.com/@alejandroescamilla


Tackling anxiety with herbs

Tackling anxiety with herbs

A couple of years ago, I started to realise that anxiety and depression were getting the better of me. Despite all the ‘living in the moment’ and mindfulness I espouse, sometimes, you get in a deep rut and you need additional help to get out of.

My anxiety was actually starting to have physical effects on me, as well as that, my mood swings sometimes made me not the nicest of people to be around, which affects my loved ones (more than appreciated).

I didn’t want to take prescription drugs, so I sought the advice of a friend who is a herbwife. She asked me to visit my doctor and get blood tests and a check up to make sure that there was nothing physical.

At the check-up, my doctor was very good, and wondered why I didn’t want to take pharmaceutical anti-depressants, but ultimately accepted that I didn’t (he mentioned the option of counselling…). All blood tests were fine so onwards with the herbal approach…

I was given some herbal preparations and some ‘exercises’. The exercises, which I’ll explore later on, are geared towards getting my mind into a more positive place – one of my ‘problems’ is that I have taken a very negative view on some things, and have struggled to see positives. Elements of this blog reflect that – it’s so hard to find the balance between wanting to be informed and not wanting to be overwhelmed or feel helpless with the bad stuff.

Anyway, I’ll write more on a future blog post, for the moment, here’s what I’m working with, herbally speaking.


The herbal preparations are broken down into ‘daily supplements’ and ’emergency’ treatments.

Daily / Herbal Tonic: tincture comprised of 2 parts Vervain (adrenal support), 2 parts Nettle (blood cleanser, adrenal support), 1 part SJW (nervine), 1 part Evening Primrose (for stress with digestive issues), 1 part Motherwort (nervine). Dose 1 tsp 3 times a day.

Daily / Nettle Seed: 1 – 2 tsp each day (on porridge?) for adrenal support.

Emergency treatment 1 – Scullcap: 1 dropperful under the tongue for the ‘screaming habdab’ moments. Bottle to be carried with me at all times. Not to be used more than 3 times a day.

Emergency treatment 2 –“I don’t give a shit” tea: 1 tsp or 1 pinch each of vervain, chamomile and lemon balm. Infuse in just boiled water for 10 minutes, strain and drink. Not more than twice a day. Recommended to be taken after work.

I also get stressed because I over commit and then struggle to get everything done (can’t see the woods for the trees…). Part of this is that I want to please everyone so have difficulty in saying ‘no’.  To help with that, my herbwife asked me to search out some Yarrow (which I have in my garden) and take a piece around with me to help boundary issues (where you stop and other people/things start).

In addition to the herbal medicines, I’ve also been given some things to think about and some journalling tasks – more on that soon…

One of the important things to remember is the importance of tackling the underlying causes. Medicines will give symptomatic relief, and in some cases, being free from the symptoms enables you to move to a ‘better place’.

Please note that I am not suggesting or recommending treatments. Anxiety and depression are complex issues and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Always seek appropriate advice!

Muffled rain on a shed roof

Muffled rain on a shed roof

It’s quarter past midnight in the middle of June and almost Alban Hefin (midsummer / Litha).

The rain is coming down heavily this evening.

For some reason, I’m drawn to walk up the garden to my shed.

My shed is a very special place for me. I insulated it, boarded it, painted it, re-roofed it, repaired it and generally put a lot of myself in it. It’s become an almost spiritual place for me – quiet and peaceful – a retreat if you will, where I can shut out the world, the noise, the phones, internet and all that stuff.

Anyway, as I walk up the garden, I catch a glimpse of something moving near my feet. I stop, somewhat startled! It’s a lovely frog – enjoying the fresh rain.

I continue up the path to my shed. Inside there’s the beautiful sound of muffled rain on the felt roof. Not harsh, like on a caravan or tin roof, but a soft, soothing sound that makes you aware of the rain but not overpowered by it.

It’s a mellow, protective, feminine, almost meditative sound that entrances me and makes me feel connected again to the natural world. Suitably refreshed, I walk the few paces back to the house, saying ‘hello’ as I pass the frog!

Dandelion, how I love thee!

Dandelion, how I love thee!

Dandelions are great plants and great healers. With their long tap roots, they pull up minerals from deep in the soil and make them available in their roots, leaves and flowers.

This video highlights some of the health benefits to using and consuming the dandelion – if you are blessed to have some in your garden, don’t pull them up and discard them and certainly don’t use herbicides. Encourage them and use them to heal yourself.


Dandelion flower image By Greg Hume – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17890515