|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1988|
In the good old days before farming became big - i.e., before the advent of "controlled environments , the intensive use of artificial fertilizers and herbicides, and grubbing up of thousands of miles of hedgerows to make way for the combines - the countryside was resplendent in many different wildflowers. Such diversity attracted a great number of insects, butterflies, birds and small mammals -all in a dynamic interrelated mini-world.
Sadly, such is progress, that that which brought economy of effort and greater production (and profit!) also brought a concomitant loss of many wild-flower species. Many species cannot tolerate an over- concentrated pasture or too frequent cutting, and they have gradually succumbed to their more adaptable and robust brothers.
I tried to think of the seeds as living beings, to prepare them with affection, and to work from a sense of offering to the Sangha.
|Orchids, Hay Rattle, Great Burnet, Meadow Saxifrage -to name but a few - were, and are, all under threat. Buttercups, Plantains and Dandelions are clearly far more resilient! Only in inaccessible or idle areas of farmland do small pockets now manage to thrive.|
It was therefore the plan to re-establish these meadows by the purchase and sowing of wildflower seeds, their nurturing over-the summer months and final planting into the chosen site. Initially the seeds (some 20 different species) were mixed with wet sand and placed in a domestic refrigerator at just above freezing for some 4 weeks. At the end of this time and by the early days of March, the seeds were thinly sown in compost in seed trays and placed in the walled garden. There were the obvious hazards from birds, rodents, wind and drought, but the boxes were kept covered by netting and regularly watered.
Astonishingly, many species started their germination within 5-7 days and gradually the dull brown compost became speckled by the green of fine young seedlings. As the seedlings matured enough to be handled, so they needed transplanting into tomato boxes filled with soil and peat. This saw the start of a six-to-eight week challenge for those of delicate touch and keen eyesight. Each tender seedling was carefully lifted and replanted into its new home some 35 to a box -and in the process more and more boxes were moved from the coach house store, more and more earth was dug and sieved, and more and more peat purchased in huge bales from the local nursery.
|Anxiety ran high as to whether there would be enough helpers to complete this important and delicate stage, but with help from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Local conservation groups supporters and guests of the monastery, and the nuns, most of the seedlings were transplanted. Some species ran riot (the clover!), others did poorly (pignut) but nevertheless a useful and significant number thrived and await the autumn.|
The ground became covered by rows upon rows of boxes each, as the summer months passed by, coming to display the especial characteristics of the plants within —Lady's Bedstraw, Rest Harrow, Viper's Bugloss, Cowslip and Devil's Bit Scabious.
We shall be starting the final stage in September - transferring each young plant into the field -and this will prove the most labour intensive part of the whole process. The boxes must be carried from the walled garden to the site, the many differing species once more disturbed and randomly mixed as an assorted group, and finally the turf must be cut and each plant tucked up neat and secure to weather its first winter in the fields of Sussex.
Hopefully, enough volunteers will again miraculously materialise, each making their particular and vital contribution to conservation and posterity.
Deliberately cultivating "weeds" seems slightly ludicrous, although people interested in conservation are generally more enthusiastic. However, my own view is slightly different from both of these: I started the project in spring 1987 on Ajahn Anando's invitation, as part of my monastic training. Saying "yes" did take a certain degree of faith, as I had no experience in such matters, but Ajahn Anando seemed to think that I could do it. So I trusted in his ability to train people - and in my own intention, the willingness to help.
|A rather bleak end of February saw the arrival of the seeds and I started working in the clammy darkness of the scullery at Chithurst, mixing them with wet sand. The Ajahn had been giving instruction on metta-bhavana, and looking at the sand the seeds and the scullery I wondered how I could relate such an inspiring meditation practice to this task. Then it became clear: maybe the energy of the heart could be put into this work. So I tried to think of the seeds as living beings, to prepare them with affection, and to work from a sense of offering to the Sangha. With this new attitude my perceptions altered: I noticed the differences in the seeds-some species were very fine dust, some nearly as big as lentils - and each had its own distinctive smell, scents reminiscent of summer hag meadows. And I found that I enjoyed working on the project, the physical resources to do it were there and were coming from spaciousness rather than anxiety.|
As they grew, there was a lot of work involved in tending the seedlings and it was essential to go back to that initial intention in the heart. More people had to join in and they needed to be organised. The year's plan which was in my mind did not allow for the moods that individuals might be experiencing so I had to learn to be more sensitive to others: to keep room both for what I thought had to be done and what was possible within the limitations of the human realm.
We received help from many people: Nick Scott gave invaluable advice -information an which species to grow, how to grow them and where to buy the seed; Khun Mudita supplied hundreds of boxes; the community at Chithurst helped in whatever ways they were able; and friends of the monastery made special efforts to come and spend a day or so to help with planting. I remember almost surreal afternoons when the walled garden and lawn at Chithurst were filled with people moving silently about their work, sharing time, energy and space in harmony.
My perceptions of the project are pleasant, and include a growing appreciation for the natural world's richness and power. Giving attention to the wildflowers each day I became aware of minute changes: the shapes of the leaves were familiar friends-, and tending and watering these plants I sensed the vibrant peace of the earth. Yet what stands out was seeing people draw together, working for no personal benefit other than the joy of giving, and the unity which arises when the compulsions of self are put aside. Cultivating the selfless heart, acting from inner stillness, is truly beautiful.