Monday, 21 June 2021

Mulberries, mulch and rainy days - Week 3 - ESC Project

Over the last few weeks we have been experiencing very wet weather with lower than average temperatures for this time of year, and so the ripening of the berries seemed to somehow creep up on us. The ducks let us know that the Mulberries were ready as they always enjoy the fallen fruit and start hanging around underneath the tree, although there's always much more than they can eat. We recently lifted the majestic old Mulberry - Morus sp. tree in the home garden, as it's lower boughs were making it tricky to walk around and the plants underneath weren't receiving enough light.

Morus alba, lifted and thinned

Lifting involves removing the lower branches of the trees to above head height in order to access around the tree and provide more light and air flow under the canopy. All of the pruned material is chopped into smaller pieces and applied to the surface under the shrubs and surrounding plants.



A young Pear tree framed by a Fig - Ficus carica on the right. Both trees seem quite happy in the understory of the Mulberry tree and you can see more details of this polyculture in the graphic below.


If you would like to learn how to design and manage polycultures such as these, take a look at our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.


Mulberry are excellent plants for use in polycultures. They are tolerant of partial shade so suitable in the edges of an under storey of a larger tree, are not very nutrient demanding or competitive. They tolerate pruning very well and can be used for chop and drop plants grown between fruit trees or in hedgerows. If fruit production is priority they can be given a position in full sun and although they grow tall and wide, by lifting the lower branches as described above you can accommodate a range of productive and useful plants underneath them. For more on this incredible tree see our Essential Guide to probably everything you need to know about Growing Mulberry


The first crop of Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry are ready. These fruits form on the unpruned canes from last year. The pruned canes will produce fruit around late September 


The Ribes nigrum cv - Blackcurrants coming along nicely this year. They seem to be reliable heavy croppers. We may need to replace one or two of the plants in the coming few years, as the yields will likely taper off as the plant matures to around 10 - 15 years old.




Standard breakfast in June


With the wet weather, the race is on to weed and mulch the areas around the trees and shrubs in all the gardens before the summer heat and dry weather begins. The size of some of the leaves this year has been remarkable, perhaps even rivaling the leaves of the Paulownia tree, and the first prize goes to Heracleum sphondylium - Hogweed.

Hogweed is a Biennial/perennial growing to 1.8 m high and in USDA hardiness zones 4 - 8.   It's easily grown, and the leaves grow densely together.  Once in flower the bees and other beneficial organisms start to arrive in high numbers, which is why we tend to leave some plants in the garden, unless they are impacting surrounding plants growth or productivity, and then they can be used as mulch in the garden.

Heracleum sphondylium - Hogweed in flower, an excellent plant for invertebrate diversity


Adding the Hogweed leaves to Zeno, a productive annual polyculture

Another native biennial plant, Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa growing in the home garden. A very useful mulch plant with gigantic leaves that grow back very quickly after a cut.


The Mallow - Malus spp. flowers are in full bloom, adding a splash of cheer and attracting much interest from a range of beneficial organisms, including hoverflies, moths, bees and some beetles.  


The ESC team have been away camping at Wake Up festival this week, where they planned to make a presentation of the project and the ESC initiative in general. Hopefully, they didn't get too wet and enjoyed the experience :)



We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Sunday, 20 June 2021

Eastern Walkabout - Plants in the City - Istanbul

Having postponed our annual polyculture study and courses for this season due to ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions and the general anxiety around traveling, this summer I've decided to head east on a walkabout. After spending pretty much the last 14 months in Shipka,  it's great to get out and about again. I'm going to write a few posts during the journey, mainly about plants I come across in different places but also about some upcoming projects we're working on that I'm aiming to complete on my travels. 

My first stop is Istanbul and during this post, we'll look at some of the wall plants of Istanbul, some great gardens I've visited here and at some street plantings (good and bad examples) from around the city that caught my attention. 


Wall Plants of Istanbul

One of the striking features of Istanbul is the tall stone walls that are seemingly everywhere across the city, especially so in the ancient parts of the city and of course the famous city defense walls that are in some places 1000's of years old.  What makes the walls even more striking is the array of different plants that have found a home on these vertical surfaces amid the hustle and bustle of humans. Even for those uninitiated by the majesty of plants, it's a great look. 


The plants seem to prefer the older walls where a lime mortar has been used and that are exposed to light and rain but there is a range of different species that colonize walls in hot dry spots and even shady north-facing walls.  By far the most common species I came across was  Parietaria judaica , a member of Urticaceae, the same family as stinging nettle. It seems to thrive on all the walls regardless of microclimatic factors. 

Parietaria judaica dominating a south-facing/sea-facing wall in semi-shade of mature street trees.

We have a species of this plant, probably Parietaria officinalis, that voluntarily grow in our gardens in Shipka. It's a herbaceous perennial and makes a great biomass plant seemingly unbothered by 2 or 3 cuts each season. It will spread around the garden within 3 years if left unchecked. I've had to dig a few plants up in the past and noticed that the pigs really enjoyed eating the roots and shoots of the plant.

Ficus carica cv. - Fig grows all over the city. The seeds are probably dispersed via bird droppings and they find their way into every nook and cranny. This is one plant mentioned here that will probably cause a considerable amount of damage to the walls as the woody roots systems widen within the cracks pushing the rocks apart and destabilizing the structure. 


What I think is snapdragon Antirrhinum sp. on the left and Centranthus ruber on the right in full flower. The absence of insects on the flowers and all over the city is very noticeable compared to the flurry of activity pretty much always visible in our gardens and around Shipka but if you wait around long enough a few winged insects do visit. Many of these are insect-pollinated plants so presumably, the work of propagation is getting done.


Another feature of the walls are plants cascading down from the top of the wall. Ivy appears to be the wild volunteer plant but often Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia Creeper and Wisteria sinensis - Chinese wisteria has been planted and it's not unusual to see Vitis vinifera cv. - Grapevines in quieter streets. 


This section of the 200-year-old garden wall of Yildiz Park has been freshly mortared with what looks like cement but has quickly be colonized by Ficus carica cv. - Fig and Cymbalaria muralis- Ivy-leaved toadflax. 

Along with the wall plants, all plants seem to be highly valued throughout the city and you'll find a wide diversity of trees growing where they possibly can and some great gardens in the leafy residential areas. Planters are often introduced outside of buildings for small trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and climbers and do a great job to soften the old buildings and creating an unforgettable vibe of antiquity. 


If you would like to know more about the wall plants of Istanbul, I found a great study, based on the walls on the Anatolian side of Istanbul that reports 81 species of plants observed from 33 different families. You can find that study here

Yildiz Park


Yıldız Park, in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, has been preserved as a forest for private hunting grounds for the Ottoman Sultans from the late 18th century. During the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the grounds became a park when he decided to move from Dolmabahçe to the Yıldız Palace.  Many of the trees in the park, although most young specimens are typical of the native forestry in this area, the dominant tree species being Oak -  Quercus spp., probably Q.robur, Q.petraea, and Q.frainetto.

I only explored the southern part of the garden and what was most striking was the beautiful stone pathways that meander around the woodland/park on the hills

The park, still being largely forested, is a great place to observe shade and semi shade-tolerant understory plants One thing that struck me as soon as I entered the park (from the eastern central gate) was a patch of Levisticum officinale - Lovage growing in the almost closed canopy of the oaks. You can see the yellow stems of the plants, already gone to seed, on the slopes in the below photo 

It was the first time I've met Teucrium fruticans - Bush Germander , a member of the mint family and native to the western and central Mediterranean. Growing to 1 m tall by 4 m wide, it is a spreading evergreen shrub with arching velvety white shoots, glossy aromatic leaves, and pale blue flowers that are attractive to bees in summer. It's often used as hedging and had been planted alongside a pathway in the park. According to the internet, it's virtually disease-free and deer resistant. It does require mild winters (USDA hardiness zones: 8-10)

Some other great things about the park are a series of cascading ponds and a treetop walk that crosses the hills and puts you up into the tree canopies. A wonderful perspective!


Street Plantings 


Sunday is officially closed in Istanbul (pandemic lockdown thing) so I ended up wandering around and got a bit lost in the backstreets of Levent but I did stumble across some great plants, some really well placed, others not so. For example, this Delosperma cooperi (I think) was providing the perfect evergreen ground cover in a raised roadside beds outside an apartment block.


I found a great example of a polyculture hedge, mostly Laurus nobilis - Bay Tree, with some Oleander interspersed and Wisteria (a nitrogen-fixing climber) 


It was a beautiful hedge, evergreen, aromatic, and lush but the location was not ideal. The plants were planted in the center of a 1.5m wide bed, probably 10 -12 years ago, and are encroaching on the pavement  It may require biannual trimming to keep the access clear and the hedge will need topping at some point in the near future.  Considering the hedge was 100 m long, that's a hefty amount of yearly maintenance.  Great for the city arborists, not so great for the city budget and, twice a year trimming will likely be a bit too stressful for the plants, but I'm not sure.

Plenty of Gleditsia triacanthos Honey Locust  and  Morus alba - White Mulberry planted and, self-seeded around the city 

Gleditsia triacanthos Honey Locust  and  Morus alba - White Mulberry 


This broadleaved Ivy (not sure of the species) makes excellent ground cover

As a side note, I wrote most of this blog at a great little Çay Shop called Caynik, in Mecidiye and have just found out the owner of the shop grows four cultivars of Camellia sinensis,  some of which makes it's way into their tea mixes, specifically a White tea that features young or minimally processed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Tons of support species on the Menu at Caynik in Mecidiye

 It's a lovely little shop, great tea, totally recommend it, if you're in the area. Location here.

That's all for now. For news on what's going on in Shipka, Sophie has just started an ECS project with a group of volunteers that you can read more about here and here. Dylan is taking on the main garden and nursery maintenance duties this season and Archie will be handling the seed orders and helping Dylan with the nursery. I'll be joining them again at the very latest by the Autumn, in time to prepare this season's nursery orders. 


Would you like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity? If so join us on our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course next spring. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens, and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Monday, 14 June 2021

Roses, Cherries & Walking in the Wild - Week 2 - ESC - The Polyculture Project

It's been a bumper year for cherries in our region, but there are big differences around the country depending on local weather patterns. We usually enter a somewhat tropical weather cycle at this time of year with hot, sunny spells quickly interrupted with heavy downpours, which are difficult to predict and can really affect the cherries. Firstly, the fruit sugar content becomes markedly reduced after frequent heavy rainfall, and secondly, the fruit can split and quickly start to decompose. So while we just managed to harvest our main crop before the first heavy rain, other people around the country haven't been so lucky. Slight variations in ripening times depending on microclimates and elevation also play a part. 

This year with the help of our ESC volunteers, we've made some cherry compote, and also some jam. Cherry compote, along with Cornelian Cherry syrup made from the fruits of Cornus mas was one of the first things we learned to process when we arrived in Bulgaria over 15 years ago now, from a special lady named Ivanka. 

Cherry stems saved for drying and making tea

Sophie & Dylan making Cornelian Cherry with Ivanka back in 2007

We've been sampling quite a few cherries from trees that we encounter on our walks. This week together with the ESC team, we walked out towards the west of Shipka to collect some herbs for drying as we're planning to make some ointments and tea blends this year. One of the wonderful things about living in Bulgaria is the abundance of herbs and medicinal plants that grow at this time of year. We set out to where there is a well-established Chamomile patch locally.




We think the plant growing in abundance around our house is Matricaria recutita - German Chamomile. as opposed to Chamaemelum nobile - Roman Chamomile. See a previous post that Paul wrote on how to tell the difference between the two. We also collected some petals from Rosa canina and intended to collect some Elderflowers, but as the sky turned an ominous shade of grey we decided to call it a day!


Marco & Ruxandra

In response to the warm temperatures and high rainfall, the native plants in all the gardens are growing vigorously. The plants are predominantly grasses and herbaceous climbers, and the next few weeks will be busy as we weed and mulch the trees using a chop and drop method, as well as topping up the mulch with some straw in time for a potentially long dry season.

Rushar & Tara chopping and dropping the biomass around the trees in one of our gardens, Phronesis 

Tara making a doughnut shape around one of the Zanthoxylum piperitum trees. These trees should be much taller and more mature in growth by now, but the unfenced location has left them vulnerable to hungry herbivores both wild and domestic.


When thinking about designing a polyculture, it's very helpful to define the overall intended function of the garden. The primary purpose of Phronesis is to produce round wood for fence posts, light construction wood, and stakes and pole wood for the market garden crops. The secondary purpose is to provide fruits and nuts in the under story and a range of habitat to support wildlife.  The goals of this design were to encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity and to utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden.



Dylan & Archie took the group into the mountains and diverted the mountain stream water into the garden pond, which was almost empty. The main water channel into the garden needed some digging out, after which the pond filled up and started overflowing into the pathways, irrigating the garden in the process.


Markus getting stuck in!

One of the trees in the upper canopy of Phronesis is Alnus cordata - Italian Alder, a truly remarkable tree. In the below image you can see a 7 or 8-year-old specimen growing in the home garden. The tree takes a natural conical shape which is useful in a garden scale forest garden as they do not take up too much space in the canopy area. We lift the lower limbs to allow light in the lower layers and can easily grow an number of fruiting shrubs and herbs under the trees  It also fixes nitrogen, is fast-growing, and drought tolerant so a firm favourite.


Can anyone else can see a tree man with a large hernia?!

The Rose harvest continues usually until the end of June and some of our fellow villagers were only to happy to have six extra pairs of hands. The plant is Rosa damascenca - Damask Rose, and the blooms are harvested early in the morning by the sackful, and sent to a distillery to start the process of extracting the oil, a product that is currently more valuable than gold. This region is known as The Valley of the Roses, and most of the world's beauty products contain Rose oil that originated from these very fields.





Special thanks to Ruhsar, Ruxandra and Tara for their beautiful photos, many of which have been used in this post :)
 
Some of you may know that we've started this year's Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course, but there's still time to join if you would like to take part. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Support Our Project 




If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Donate directly to our project via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com
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