Landscape Workshop weekend

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  • May 21, 2016
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Last weekend we held the first of a series of Landscape Workshop, led by visiting tutor Hayley Anderson, through which we be developing a forest-garden within the campus and its environs.
Participant Sarah Parker describes the weekend below (full blog post here).

Set in 130 hectres of woodland, Hooke Park is home to the Architectural Association (AA’s) woodland campus, where for the last three decades, architects and students have been designing and making the buildings on the site using experimental timber construction techniques and rural architecture. This historic rural landscape provides an alternative to urban-based architecture schools and provides a unique place for learning. The ambitions of the landscape match that of the architecture.

To embrace this context the aims of AA’s landscape masterplan is to create an edible forest garden through the site with a combination of nut and fruit trees with herbs, salads and vegetables below. Eventually a pond and swale system will be introduced.

Indigenous cultures have a history of forest gardening. Unlike conventional cultivation which relies on pesticides and fertilisers, forest gardening is based on replicating evolutionary woodland ecosystems where food production and land management uses the principle of succession with vegetation building up in layers from grassland to the forest canopy.

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Soil is a living organism. The problem with the clay loam on the campus is that it has been compacted by 30 years of construction, so is very low in nutrients. Rather than dig the soil over, grasses mixes with self-seeding pioneer plants such as dock and dandelion (green manure) have been planted to improve soil health. The next step is to make the soil more fertile with manure and compost.

Led by Hayley Anderson, tutor, architect, horticulturalist and designer of the Hooke forest garden, the first task ADP volunteers had to do was to prepare the ground around the Big Shed so that planting could take place in the future. One group was tasked with preparing seed beds, and the other with constructing super-composts based on layers of green compost and locally sourced cow manure.

Constructed on foundations of branches to let air circulate, ADP volunteers constructed ‘compost lasagne’ stacks where ‘green’ nettles, ‘brown’ manure and sawdust (from the sawmill on site) were laid on top of each other in layers. In six months the stack will have rotted down creating rich organic matter that will nourish the soil.

The whole approach the AA is taking is based on permaculture – working with, rather than against nature. It’s a slow process, and Hayley and her team will not see the fruits of their labour for at least another 20 years.

The campus landscape is being used as a learning tool showcasing an alternative way of growing crops. Hooke wants to introduce a variety of different plants, fruit trees and perennials, which will complement the kitchen garden and provide “gatherer” type crops. With predictions of higher rainfall in the winter and less in the summer, there is also a shift away from pure native species mixes to growing species that grow well in climate change scenarios such as mid-European or Asian climates.

Hooke’s Estate and Development Manager Jez Ralph whose background is in forestry, joined for part of the weekend. His interest in ruralism and the future of farming, forestry and rural social-economics added another dimension to the weekend.