Finding an orchard in the heart of the city

Our landscapes contain an enormous number of fruit trees. In towns, cities and in the wider countryside, solitary specimens and small clusters abound. Sometimes, these can form a productive continuum – sprawls of diverse and productive trees, around and within areas of human habitation – which represent, to all intents and purposes, an informal and invisible orchard…


Take a look at trees that, although perhaps not originally part of a commercial or domestic orchard, are nevertheless fruiting, supporting wildlife and contributing to the local scene. Consider the role of the orchard in the community and landscape as it now exists and as we now inhabit it, taking a look at the places where orchards used to grow and where relict orchards or orchard fragments remain. While urban orchards are increasingly celebrated, there are also places where tree fruit grows unplanned and unnoticed…


It is important to recognize that the contemporary urban landscape has grown up from, and over, what went before. The familiar streets and the houses we live in cut across an earlier version. Our concept of permanence is in fact just the vision of a modernist of 150 years ago, profiting from the fashionable suburbs and workmen’s cottages of the day. Or, indeed, the modernist of 5 years ago, striving to cram more housing units into less space. But the critical thing is that the houses around us have been built on something: farmland, garden or, sometimes, orchard. And these places once had trees – some of which are still here.


Where the sites of larger traditional orchards have been repurposed, the scattering of remaining trees can cross new boundaries of ownership and use. There might be a few in the grounds of a modern hospital, several in nearby gardens, and an old specimen tree in the park beyond the houses.

Winter Roofs

A patchwork city orchard

The moment you start looking for tree fruit, miraculously it becomes visible. Suddenly there is an old, contorted tree; another is perhaps growing robustly, lushly productive and hidden in plain view. It is quite common to find clusters of trees on allotments, along the hedge of the parking area or next to the central track. These don’t ‘officially’ belong to anyone and may find themselves ignored: an irony of rotting and crushed fruit amongst an otherwise cherished harvest… As the trees become familiar, a conscious connection emerges – a delightful personal secret between you and the landscape. Wayside edibles peep through the familiar undergrowth, sharp, aromatic and fresh….


An excerpt from Naomi Slade’s An Orchard Odyssey




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The links between poverty and environmental degradation

Poverty is linked to environmental degradation. The poor live in the most polluted places, in proximity to industrial areas, close to transport lines, in neighborhoods
poorly serviced in water supply or garbage collection.

One way of apprehending poverty in other than monetary terms would thus be through a description of the environmental conditions of existence. On top of that, it is the poor who primarily suffer the impact of the environmental crisis: in China, warns Environment Minister Zhou Shenxian, “the environment has become a social issue that stimulates social contradictions.” He indicates that in 2004, the country experienced 51,000 conflicts related to the environment. Among them, one counts, for example, dozens of ‘cancer villages’ bordered by chemical factories that shamelessly spew pollutants into the air and water, causing serious disease among their impotent neighbours. Similarly, conflicts connected to the theft of peasants’ lands to feed unbridled real estate speculation are also increasing: 74,000 in 2004 as compared with 58,000 in 2003. Conflict over land appropriation leads to bloody clashes (6 peasants were killed by the police in June 2005, and 20 in December 2005). Those are not events limited solely to China. Real estate conflicts are violent in Brazil (39 murders in 2004). Climate
change is affecting the peasants of the Sahel first. The spread of soy cultivation in Latin America is occurring in large part at the expense of small farmers. Natural catastrophes—floods, hurricanes, tidal waves—strike the poor all the more violently in that
they have fewer means to protect themselves and no insurance for restoration.
“In numerous cases,” the experts of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment observe,

‘it is the poor who suffer from the loss of environmental
services due to the pressure exerted on natural systems
for the benefit of other communities, often in other parts
of the world. For example, dams chiefly benefit the
cities they supply with water and electricity, while rural
residents may lose access to the submerged land and to
fishing. Deforestation in Indonesia or in the Amazon
is partially stimulated by demand for wood, paper, and
agricultural products from regions far distant from the
exploited areas, while it is the indigenous people who
suffer from the disappearance of forest resources. The
impact of climate change will be felt above all in the
poorest parts of the world—for example, as it exacerbates
drought and reduces the agricultural production
of the driest regions—while greenhouse gas emissions
essentially come from rich populations.’
Moreover, agriculture connects poverty and the environmental crisis. At the global level, poverty concerns mostly peasants: two-thirds of those who subsist on a dollar a day or less live in rural areas. The implicit choice of economic powers across the planet is to consider that the question will be settled by the rural exodus, as poor peasants are supposed to be able to fi nd the resources procured by industrial development in the city. The weakness of agricultural policies favours bad land management, erosion of the land, and then its being abandoned. Peasants, in the end, leave their villages. Now, as we have seen, the city is no longer the place for the promised prosperity. The scrawny peasant’s steps are leading him to the destitution of the slums.

But it’s not only the absence of agricultural policies that breeds this situation. Competition in global markets from Northern agribusiness— overequipped and able to produce almost a hundred tons of grain per full-time employee a year at low cost—with farmers lacking adequate resources and producing less than a ton per person per year leads to impoverishment, bankruptcy, and the exodus of the poor farmers. In fact, as agronomist Marc Dufumier notes, “what some call ‘free trade’ is nothing other than putting farmers whose conditions of productivity are extremely unequal into competition.” That imbalance is all the more absurd in that the strong productivity of Northern agriculture is obtained at the price of significant ecological damage—excessive water consumption, the spreading of harmful pesticides, and massive utilization of fertilizers provoking water eutrophication
or pollution by nitrates.

Overall, poverty and the environmental crisis are inseparable. Just as there is a synergy between different ecological crises, there is a synergy between the global environmental crisis and the social crisis: they respond to one another, influence one another, and deteriorate in tandem.


This is an excerpt from Hervé Kempf’s How the Rich are Destroying the Poor


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Climate Change – One Aspect of a Global Crisis

To really capture the gravity of the planetary environmental crisis, it is essential to understand that climate change—often presented in an isolated fashion—does not constitute the totality of the crisis. The various environmental disturbances are, in
reality, aspects of a single crisis; and climate change is only the most visible facet of the same crisis that the rapid disappearance of biodiversity and the generalized pollution of ecosystems also demonstrate.

For example, the construction of a highway and its subsequent use will simultaneously impair biodiversity (by fragmenting the ecosystem it crosses), pollute the environment (through emissions of such atmospheric pollutants as nitrogen oxide and particulates, as well as gas spills), and increase carbon-gas emissions by stimulating the traffic of cars and lorries. At the same time, the excess carbon-gas waste leads to an increase in its absorption by the oceans, acidifying them and weakening the ability of coral and plankton to manufacture their calcareous envelope. If nothing changes, the organisms that have a shell of the mineral known as ‘aragonite’ will have disappeared from the southern oceans by 2030, with harmful consequences to those species that eat them, such as whales and salmon.

In another example of interaction, climate change should favour the spread of vectors of disease beyond their original ecosystems. For example, malaria-bearing mosquitoes will move toward the countries of the Northern Hemisphere. It should also stimulate the erosion of biodiversity: a scientific study published in 2004 estimated that climate change would lead to the disappearance of 35 percent of living species. Although this is probably exaggerated, the study nonetheless suggests the vigour of the connection between the two phenomena. Conversely, the factors involved in biodiversity destruction frequently affect climate change: close to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. More generally, the crisis in biodiversity weakens the biosphere’s ability to dampen or check greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently it exacerbates their impact.

So we must abandon the idea of separate crises that may be solvable independently of one another. That idea serves special interests only, for example, the nuclear-power lobby, which uses climate change to promote its industry. On the contrary, we must think about the synergy of these crises—their interrelations, their interactions—and accept an unpleasant fact: this synergy is currently working toward a worsening of our state of affairs, with a destructive power that nothing available can temper right now.


An excerpt from Hervé Kempf’s book How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth



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Why should you learn how to store garden produce?

I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of self-sufficiency, and have always hated waste, so as a keen vegetable grower it was only natural that I explored the overlooked art of storage.

To some extent it is a lost art. These days you can go to the supermarket any day of the week and buy produce from many different countries. In the past, effective storage was a matter of life and death: if your potatoes rotted, your family would go hungry – possibly starve.
I have also always felt ridiculous buying vegetables or fruit that have been flown halfway round the world when I had been growing a surplus of the same ones myself only a few months earlier. Plus there are so many other benefits from eating your own produce year round:

1. A huge sense of satisfaction – of self-reliance – that you alone can meet the most important need of your family.smiley-1876329_1920

2. Home-grown fruit and vegetables are far cheaper than shop-bought (if not free) – and you will have healthy exercise growing them. Why pay expensive gym fees and work out in a sweaty windowless room when the Green Gym is right outside your own back door, or down on the allotment? It is also said that gardeners live longer because they are always looking forward to the next season – of growing, harvesting and

3. What are you eating? You have little chance of knowing what chemicals or genetic modification have been used on produce you buy from a shop. At least you know how your own fruit and veg have been raised – and if you’re an organic gardener like me (which I thoroughly recommend), you’ll know your produce couldn’t be safer, for both you and the environment.agriculture-1867744_1920

4. Eating food you have produced in your own garden is by far the most environmentally sound way of doing things: no unnecessary packaging, no transport pollution, no encouragement of vast monocrops and so


5. You can create your own by-products: storage may simply be a result of your desire to create a specific product or ingredient such as cider or dried mushroomsapple-1962747_1920

6. Pleasure! Some storage activities: stringing onions, making wine, concocting chutneys, are pleasurable in themselves – and the end products are definitely for enjoyment.onion-2060157_1920

Learn How to Store Your Garden Produce with Piers Warren’s practical guide.


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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

A remarkable journey of survival and resilience, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating shows how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence and deepen our appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

The following is an extract from the first chapter of this incredible story of a friendship between a critically-ill woman and… a snail.

Distant sound of an ambulance siren. Distant sound of doctors talking. My eyelids heavy as boulders. I try to open them to a slit, just for a few seconds, but they close against my will. All I can do is breathe.

The doctors will know how to fix me. They will stop this. I keep breathing. What if my breath stops? I need to sleep, but I am afraid to sleep. I try to watch over myself; if I go to sleep, I may never wake up again…

When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats and whens and their impossibly distant kin how. The search is exhaustive; the answers, elusive. Sometimes my mind went blank and listless; at other times it was flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness and intolerable loss.

Given the ease with which health infuses life with meaning and purpose, it is shocking how swiftly illness steals away those certainties. It was all I could do to get through each moment, and each moment felt like an endless hour, yet days slipped silently past. Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.
I had been moved to a studio apartment where I could receive the care I needed. My own farmhouse, some fifty miles away, was closed up. I did not know if or when I’d ever make it home again.

In early spring, a friend went for a walk in the woods and, glancing down at the path, saw a snail. Picking it up, she held it gingerly in the palm of her hand and carried it back toward the studio where I was convalescing. She noticed some field violets on the edge of the lawn. Finding a trowel, she dug a few up, then planted them in a terracotta pot and placed the snail beneath their leaves. She brought the pot into the studio and put it by my bedside.
“I found a snail in the woods. I brought it back and it’s right here beneath the violets.”
“You did? Why did you bring it in?”
“I don’t know. I thought you might enjoy it.”
“Is it alive?”
She picked up the brown acorn-sized shell and looked at it.
“I think it is.”
Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility — especially for a snail, something so uncalled for — was overwhelming.
My friend hugged me, said goodbye and drove off.

These field violets in the pot at my bedside were fresh and full of life, unlike the usual cut flowers brought by other friends. Those lasted just a few days, leaving murky, smelly vase water. In my twenties I had earned my living as a gardener, so I was glad to have this bit of garden right by my bed. I could even water the violets with my drinking glass.
But what about this snail? What would I do with it? As tiny as it was, it had been going about its day when it was picked up. What right did my friend and I have to disrupt its life? Though I couldn’t imagine what kind of life a snail might lead.

I didn’t remember ever having noticed any snails on my countless hikes in the woods. Perhaps, I thought, looking at the nondescript brown creature, it was precisely because they were so inconspicuous. For the rest of the day the snail stayed inside its shell, and I was too worn out from my friend’s visit to give it another thought…”

Find out what happened next…

Elizabeth Tova Bailey The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

National Outdoor Book Awards – Natural History Literature – 2010

Books for Better Life – Inspirational Memoir – 2011

William Saroyan International Prize for Writing – Non-fiction – 2012

“This slim, thoughtful book is a miniature masterpiece.– The Independent

Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail copy

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Get inspired for Earth Day

Are you all excited to celebrate Earth Day on 22nd April? Here are some quotes from our favourite authors to remind you why it’s so important to celebrate and protect our Earth this year.


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For your chance to win a free copy of Garden Awakening visit our Twitter page before 22 April 2017.

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5 reasons why cycling to work is a great choice

5. Cycling keeps you healthy

Regular cyclists add over two years to their life expectancy and are 50% less likely to experience depression. It keeps you slim and fit: just an hour of cycling at a moderate pace burns 400 calories. cycling-148956_1280


4. Cycling means a less polluted journey

Research shows that car occupants are exposed to 2-3 times the level of pollution of cyclists. This is because your car’s ventilation system sucks in the toxic emissions from the exhaust of the vehicle in front.




3. Cycling saves you money

The costs of running a car or buying a season ticket are enough to make anyone’s eyes water. Invest in a bike once, and your transport is free for the next few years.



2. Cycling is quicker and offers more flexibility

Neither train delays nor traffic jams affect you when you’re cycling. You can leave home knowing exactly when you will arrive at your destination.


  1. Cycling is fun!

Remember how much fun kids have when they first learn how to cycle? You can have just as much fun cycling when you grow up. Just give it a go!


For more tips on how to start cycling to work, check out Rory McMullan’s guide Cycling to Work


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