Building A Forest

By Teo Spengler | March 16, 2022
Image by lovelyday12
by Teo Spengler
March 16, 2022

There are a lot of fun and exciting hobbies out there. I’ve tried a number of them over my lifetime, from coin collecting to knitting to motorcycle maintenance. To my mind, they are all in a different category from gardening.

I use the term “gardening” here expansively, to include everything from keeping houseplants or growing strawberries in pots on the porch to sowing five acres of winter wheat. My own experiences with gardening have been on the smaller side, but when I took on the five acres of sloping fields that came with my little house in France to begin building a forest, it was a more massive undertaking. 

Propagating from Seeds

I learned a lot about propagating with seeds in France. My first priority there was renovating the ruins of the cottage into a livable home. The second, which I pursued simultaneously, was getting some trees growing on the property.

The entire mountainside where my little home sits was once filled with beech forests. The industrious Basques cut them all down to make grazing land for their sheep. This happened hundreds of years before I got there, but even today, Basques burn the hillsides every spring to keep down the growth.

That meant that my entire property only had a few tough oaks standing on it. My plan was to buy and plant young seedlings, but that rapidly turned into an expensive and time-consuming plan. I quickly decided to rely less on the garden store and more on mother nature. Every fall I would gather seeds from local trees, acorns from oaks, chestnuts, and seeds from beech and simply strew them about the land. 

It was magical to see them grow into young trees. Now, some 15 years later, I have a forest of native trees on the land and mornings are filled with birdsong. 

Propagating from Cuttings

I also studied propagating from cuttings in France. My most remarkable success was with plane trees. There were many in the center of the town that got cut back each fall. A neighbor told me that if I stuck one of the cut ends into soil, that it would root and form a tree. 

I had nothing to lose so I gave it a try. I selected four cut stems, each about 2 feet (61 cm.) tall, and thrust them into soil. The next spring, three of them leafed out. The fourth followed in a year two. All four of those trees are still on the land standing tall and proud.  

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