One thing I hope to do more of this year, is be more creative with the products from the garden. After my work in the coppice before Christmas, I now have a considerable number of hazel poles. I already have plenty of wood split and stacked in the sheds, drying as fuel for the house and more than enough stakes prepared to use as supports in the garden so I have been racking my brain to find ways to use it all up.
The straight poles from the coppice are great for making woven fence panels, often called hurdles. Some of the thinner pieces can be used in conjunction with the pliable stems of willow to make wicker baskets. Hazel is also used to form the curved handle and rim for the traditional ‘Sussex trug’, a traditional basket for harvesting fruit, veg and flowers (although I think this might be a bit beyond my skills just yet). I have carved the odd spoon from some of the offcuts and I am hoping to use some of this years crop to make some furniture, in particular chairs. Whilst the wood is still full of moisture it is softer and easier to work with hand tools. As the moisture starts to leave the wood it will shrink slightly, causing any joints to tighten and bond, so the chairs will not need nails or glue to fix together.
In the past this work would have been undertaken by a group of crafts-people called ‘Bodgers’. These skilled wood-workers would spend the summer months living in temporary huts in the woods of the Chilterns converting the timber they had harvested from managing the woodland into legs and stretchers for the chair-making industry. These would be taken to workshops in the local village to be fixed to the seat which was often made of Elm. Over the years the word ‘bodged’ has come to mean a job done with whatever is at hand which, whilst not necessarily elegant, is serviceable.
Although it is not quite 100% self-sufficiency, being able to grow some of my own fruit and vegetables and making useful things gives me a great sense of self-reliance and confidence in my ability to survive in the world. The simplicity of using what materials you have to hand encourages a more creative and resourceful process, which can often result in a much more interesting and characterful end product.
I take great inspiration from the American writer, Henry Thoreau. Thoreau is best know for his work ‘Walden’, which documents a 2 year, 2 month and 2 days period spent living in a simple cabin in the woods. Through his meticulous observations of the passing seasons and his records of providing for the necessities of life he gives a detailed account of his own personal and spiritual development. It is a fantastic work and a unique fusion of both natural history and environmental philosophy. Through his reflections on life stripped back to the simplest essentials the reader gains a sense of his strong feelings of independence and self-reliance.
Whilst I haven’t decided to take up residence in the shed at the bottom of the garden just yet, I feel an affinity for how through this direct experience of life he was able to find a way to reconnect to both the natural world and his own true self.