“Nature’s Valentines” by Robin Lane Fox, The Financial Times

A recent article in The Financial Times by Robin Lane Fox discusses how artists and poets are using forms of nature as mediums for messages.

The term biosemiotics applies to the use of nature as a means of communication between living systems..

“Biiosemiotics is the study of the capacity of items in the natural world to enhance communication by their lines, structures or patterns” (Robin Lane Fox).

Diana Lynn Thompson is a Canadian artist who writes poetry on leaves. She also uses the lines and patterns insects trace on leaves as organic samples of ‘handwriting’ composed by the passages of slugs, caterpillars, etc.



Poet and artist Camilla Nelson inscribes words and messages into apples. Camilla carves words into young apples, and as the fruits grow so does the lettering. In October the apples can be harvested as memos, or be grouped as a visual apple poem.




The Means of Production Garden grows art materials for a collective of artists in Vancouver. It is a habitat – art as a growing environment that engages the senses within its collective life force.

The garden “engages the community in creating art and dialogue through a living and productive landscape. MOPARRC explores the use of natural materials to make art; harvesting crops, with a focus on interactive sculptures and instruments and gardening as an inclusive performative process. These activities create seasonal awareness, and forge intergenerational connections. The Means of Production Garden is an active studio, lab, social setting; with artists and public co-producing site specific artworks and events” (Sharon Kallis).

The garden is a public art installation, a site for gatherings, music, artists in residence and a place to learn about living art materials. Located within the grounds of a Vancouver park, the garden will be ten years old this year. The garden works in alliance with the Vancouver Parks Board, The Environmental Youth Alliance, The Community Arts Council of Vancouver, and Vancouver Arts and Culture.

The Means of Production Garden originally developed from the ideas of Oliver Kelhanmer, a Canadian land artist, writer and activist. He devised the garden as a biological intervention, which integrates art into the environmental consciousness of the local community. The garden is a living art form a social sculpting of the community landscape with socially engaging aesthetics.


Sharon Kallis, an artist from the Means of Production collective, harvests materials for her work as ‘an urban weaver’. Often using invasive species of plants (i.e. ivy and blackberry), Sharon creates coiled baskets, weavings, and circular compositions with community members of all ages. Sharon “works seasonally with what the landscape produces and creates site-responsive installations, which integrate the growing art materials of the local landscape.” Sharon (pictured below) was a guide to how the garden can be a resource, not only for artists, but for anyone interested taking refuge within its ecological aesthetics.




Edible Trees, Soft Fruits and Wild Plants

Ordering and Planting in Winter and Early Spring


Future Forests (www.futureforests.net)  is a source for ordering edible trees and soft fruits by mail order.

Irish Seed Savers (www.irishseedsavers.ie) sells Heritage Apple and Pear Trees often by mail order.

Peppermint Farm and Garden (www.peppermintfarm.com) is a source for herbs and wild plants by mail order.

Sonairte, The Ecology Centre (www.sonairte.ie) often stocks wild herbs and plants for sale outside their shop.

To learn how to use edible berries, wild plants and herbs, consult the following book:

Edible Wild Plants and Herbs: A Compendium of Recipes and Remedies by Pamela Michael

The following is a list of soft fruit, trees, herbs and wild plants for a forest garden.

1. Edible Trees

Trees compose the backdrop to a forest garden.

Hazel, Cobnut and  Filbert Trees for Nuts

Elder for Flowers and Berries

Blackthorn for Sloe Berries

Hawthorn for Berries

Wild Roses for Rose Hips

Damson, Gage, Plum Trees

Cherry Trees

Irish Apple, Crabapple and Pear Trees

Rowan Trees for Berries

2. Soft Fruits

Soft fruit compose the second highest layer to the forest garden.

Gooseberries, Red, White and Black Currants, Raspberries, Thornless Blackberry, Strawberries

3. Perennial Vegetables

These vegetables follow down from the soft fruit layer.

Rhubarb, Red Stalks in Spring

Good King Henry, Perennial Spinach for Spring and Summer

Wild Garlic, Young Leaves in Spring

Globe Artichoke, Edible Flower Head in Summer

Jerusalem Artichoke, Tubers for October – February

Black Salsify, Root Vegetable

4. Herbs

Tansy, Fennel and Lovage are taller herbs to be planted below perennial vegetables, followed by the planting of the shorter herbs

Mint, Leaves

Lemon Balm, Leaves

Hyssop, Leaves and Flowers

Bergamot, Leaves

Lovage, Leaves

Fennel, Leaves and Seeds

Sage, Leaves and Flowers

Salad Burnet, Leaves

Rosemary, Leaves and Flowers

Sweet Woodruff, Leaves

Tansy, Leaves

Borage, Young Leaves in Early Spring and Flowers

5. Wild Plants

Meadowsweet and Marsh Mallow to be planted with the taller herbs, with the rest of the wild plants to be inter-mixed with shorter herbs.

Yarrow, Young Leaves in Early Spring

Marsh Mallow,  Leaves in Summer

Meadowsweet, Flowers in Summer

Primrose, Flowers in Early Spring

Nettles, Leaves Cooked in Early Spring

Ecological Ingredients

January 15, 2010

Entangled Growth

A front border forest garden planted with rose hips, crab apples, black and red currants, rhubarb,  gooseberries and elder. Naturalistic garden areas are densely planted habitats that contribute to the ecological diversity of not only a particular domestic or community garden, but to an overall network of natural spaces within a larger geographical area. A forest garden can be a straight border, a series of designed beds, a hedgerow, or be situated alongside a kitchen garden. The aesthetic is a textured crafting of native trees and plants, that act as food for both humans and wildlife. These habitats offer sanctuaries for wildlife, but also inspire associations to the traditional use of wildly foraged seasonal foods and tonics. Equally there are many seasonal celebrations connected to native plants and trees, that heighten their role as important symbols within Irish folklore.

Forest Gardening

January 14, 2010

Forest gardens are naturescapes, organic and ecological gardens that benefit wildlife, the environment and offer an edible food source throughout the year. A backdrop or canopy of trees (producing fruits, nuts and berries) are planted as a surround for the growing of additional layers of soft fruits, herbs, edible wild plants and both perennial and annual vegetables. Forest gardening, combines hedgerow foods (i.e. crabapple, sloes, haws, rosehips, and elderberries), winter vegetables (i.e. leeks, cabbage, swiss chard, spinach, and kale) and herbs (i.e. rosemary, sage, mint, lemon balm, fennel). Leaf mould is applied as a top layer to the soil, gradually breaking down to enhance moisture retention and improve the texture of the soil. Additionally old straw, seaweed, rotted manure and compost are also applied as additional layers of mulch, which gradually de-compose to improve not only the nutrients of the soil, but encourage the creation of new top soil rich with insect and bacterial life. The decaying log at the front of this community garden (located in Strathcona Community Garden, Vancouver), and the naturalised hedgerow at the back offer hibernation areas for over-wintering insects. Bees will be attracted to the flowers of fruiting trees (i.e. blackthorn, hawthorn, apple, plum, cherry and elder) as well as the pollen of hazel trees located in the hedgerows that create the backdrop scene for forest gardens.