I’m looking forward to the bumper holiday period ahead and the opportunity to get stuck into some work in the garden. With the rate of growth so rapid at the moment, what I really must do is to get my stakes and supports in place.
On Monday I visited Westonbirt Arboretum to find out more about coppicing and National Beanpole Week, which is just around the corner – 23 April to 1 May. The day was hosted by the Small Woods Association, along with Toby Buckland, patron of this year’s event. Their aim is to promote the activities, benefits and products of coppicing – all of which should excite us as gardeners.
A wood isn't a bad place to be on a sunny day in spring with the sunlight filtering through and a carpet of wild flowers enjoying their moment of glory. Local coppice worker Brian Williamson and recently qualified apprentices Ruth Goodfellow and Patrick Brown showed us the work they are doing to restore Westonbirt’s coppice wood.
First there’s the benefit to flora and fauna to note with a range of habitats created as the growing and harvesting rotates through its (here at Westonbirt) seven-year cycle.
As Richard Thomason of the Small Woods Association explained, “It’s all about a continuity of management, which allows for a progression of wildlife that starts with the re-emergence of wildflowers once the canopy is opened up, to nectar-seeking insect to birds, small mammals and so on.”
And through this careful management you get a sustainable and useful crop and some fantastic products. Most obviously there’s the bean pole – much more attractive in it’s knobblyness and muted colour than bamboo and it won’t have been imported half way across the world. Perfect for your sweet pea wigwams too.
Then there’s pea sticks
And plant supports. This one is just an upright pole with a second, slightly slimmer pole bent round to create a loop.
Simply whittling away one side of a short stick to create a flat surface can give you a plant label.
More time and skill is needed for a wattle hurdle. Freshly split poles are woven around upright stays to form a fence panel. Here's Ruth working on an order.
They are all fantastic products, look great and are so sustainable that it makes you wonder why on earth we ever allowed plastic into the garden.
To get hold of your own coppiced products you’ll need to find your local coppice worker. Your best bet is to go to www.coppice-products.co.uk.
If you live near Westonbirt you could go to their Silk Wood Spring Fair 29 April – 2 May where Brian, Ruth and Patrick will be selling beanpoles, pea sticks, hurdles, cleft oak gates and other coppiced and wood products.
Brian (on the right), Ruth and Patrick (joined here by Toby Buckland, second on the righ) are West Country Coppice based in Stroud.
One word of advice - beanpoles are 2 metres long, so make sure you have room in your car.
Buy coppiced products and you’re supporting rural employment, local woodland, wildlife, biodiversity, sustainability – and of course your beans and peas.