SPG Summer Camping Trip to Cornwall: Wildly Brilliant and Towans Forest Garden

Three of us went to explore the demonstration, Permaculture Land Site run by Manda Brookman near St. Ives this year. We are rather belated in relaying the experience, but I guess late is better than never.
The site is on high ground half way between St. Ives and Penzance, so really well situated for exploring that part of Cornwall.

We (Liz, Annie and Heather) spent time with both Manda and her mother and father in law (Alan), who left London inspired by ‘The Good Life’. Alan bought the land in the 1970’s (about 30acres?) as grazing fields which he let re-wild. He started planting many trees and plants – most of which are productive of fruits. There is a National Trust hill opposite the site which we clambered up. It was amazing that you could barely see the two houses hidden in the mostly native woodland below. Alan and his wife very generously spent time with us on Sat. morning, plying us with coffee and biscuits, whilst regaling us with how they developed the area and the difficulties encountered along the way.

Both of Manda’s parents are truly charming people who live completely off grid, as does Manda and her 2 children. Both of the houses that they live in were self-built, and surrounded by what is now woodland. Manda’s Father-In-Law had had to cut down bracken etc. for us pitch our tents. This was true ‘wild camping’ with water fetched from the stream and filtered through a British Berkefeld gravity filter.

Manda won an award for the most sustainable living (South West) in 2016. She aims to address environmental, people and economy issues. This taken from her website: www.permanentlybrilliant.com

“We run a green therapy Wild Tuesday group for members of the community who just need a green boost by spending time outside in the orchard and workshop with us; We run a network for sustainably minded businesses and organisations called Coast ; and we get proper stuck into the mountainish inhumanity (Shakespeare coined that phrase .. prescient bloke, he was) of the refugee crisis with our Million Acts of Sanctuary website: and we’re developing our thinking around positive activism in times of crisis and what makes it happen.”

We met her 2 working pigs who are constantly rotated around the area to clear the next piece of ground needing to be worked on. Manda also encourages ‘Woofers’ who either camp or stay in a little cabin in return for work on the land.

They have a regular stall at the local country market where they sell fruit and vegetables produced for the income they need to buy the extra little things that they cannot produce for themselves, and hence be self-sufficient.

The work on this site is truly inspirational. For anyone who is interested, Manda is happy for you to come to stay on a Woofer style arrangement, or for donation to the site (which is what we did). We can thoroughly recommend the visit.

Towans Forest Garden Visit

Manda had kindly organised for us to visit Raymond Yarwood’s food forest nearby in Hayle – Towans Forest Garden. Over the last 30 years he has developed just one acre to be intensively productive of fruit and vegetables. And what is significant is that he has achieved it on what supposedly had no agricultural value as it was once sand-dunes. Over the 30 years the plants have created rich soil on an area that had previously only provided very sparse grazing.

On his website, Raymond describes his purpose  as follows:

Towans Forest Garden is an ongoing project to restore a plot of land described as “land with extremely severe limitations that cannot be rectified” in the official soil survey of 1979. Started in 1982, the project follows the principle of Permaculture, and uses the techniques of Agroforestry to intensify the production of food on the land.

I would recommend people read Raymond’s website – www.towansforestgarden.co.uk.  It is a treatise on his commitment to Permaculture, and an inspiration.

Raymond is 80 now and told us that 80% of his food comes from his food forest. And what a lively man! He spoke of his alarm at seeing so many neighbours of both his age and younger, being ill with various conditions, and put his good health down to variety and veganism.

To draw a picture, the site is crammed with plant-life, with just a narrow path weaving through it. It has a feel of a forest rather than a garden, the dense planting being crucial. Using the ‘chop and drop’ method he has simply let nature make a good soil. Chickens once roamed the site and kept the green-houses healthy, but now there is only one, and they won’t be replaced. Many of the species he has planted are recommended, researched and available from the Agroforestry Research Trust (www.agroforestry.co.uk) which he has worked with over the years.

I was also so impressed with the number of moths and butterflies present the day we were there. I hadn’t seen so many since growing up in the 50s. Even the dividing privet hedge to the neighbour’s property had several functions (but I can’t remember if one of them was edible, sadly), although he did talk for sometime on the benefits of the privet species, and we were there when it was in flower and so fragrant.

Raymond is a man who notices so much, and at the end of our visit I asked him how he sees himself, as a gardener or a farmer. His reply was decisive – a Natural Farmer.

Heather Slater, Annie Page, Liz Child