Planting & welcoming the Trees, January 2018

A great couple of days – words by Jenny Steer & Anne-Marie Culhane

Over 130 people turned up to plant trees and over 250 people over two days to wassail!!

The trees are a mix of fruit, nut and foraging trees for insects, animals and humans to encourage movement and FLOW through the Riverside Valley Park.  There are just under 200 trees to be planted in 2018 which include local and heritage varieties + more unusual such as apricot, almond, loquat to adapt for a changing climate. The idea is that anyone can pick them and that you take a fair share and leave some for other people and wildlife. The route also compliments new wildflower planting that is happening in the river valley park to encourage a B-line for pollinators as part of Exeter Wild City Project and the flood defence scheme landscaping.

Anne-Marie collaborated with Emma Welton, a composer from Exwick to create the Exeter Wassail for 2018 with new lyrics for the project. Exwick Community Singers opened up two well attended rehearsals to members of the public to come and learn the song. The wassail was sung at dusk to welcome the new trees.

Artist, Amy Sheldon facilitated lantern making and showed people the Orchard Box. Devon Wildlife Trust showed people how to make bird feeders with apples studded with seeds and fat balls. Paul Conneally had made a giant wordsearch using all the tree variety names on the route and Anne-Marie asked people the question : How do we welcome the trees into the community of this place? With cards for people to add their experiences, stories and memories to the map of the route. Emma Welton worked with small groups of participants to teach them the Exeter Wassail. In Exwick soup and cake was provided by the local community and in Trews Weir by Emma at Boatyard Bakery and a troop of volunteers.  We had an amazing storyteller,

Heather Jane who told a beautiful story related to local trees and wassailing. Heather had heard the Robin call to her when she created the story. Follow this link to hear the story.

Traditionally, the Robin is the guardian of the orchard and that is why toast is usually hung in the tree as an offering to the Robin. For this wassail however, we plaited and pinned the toast on a coat and hat and we created The Toastmaster standing by a roaring fire who welcomed us to the orchards, each tree lit by a lantern. Crispin’s mulled cider and apple juice went down a treat as people passed round the Wassail bowl (made from Exeter cherry) and made toasts to bless the place and the trees.

It was amazing when I arrived to photograph at Trews Weir and the first thing I heard was the entrancing song of the little Robin as he perched so close to us and surveyed our tree planting, darting all around us!

What next? Some funding has been secured by East Devon District Council to support interpretation of the route, some materials for the project and some events. Join us for a walk and a picnic on the route on Sunday 29 April and a conversation about FLOW and the community going forward.

Thank you to everyone involved. So many people! In particular St Andrews Church and Andy’s Cafe and Exwick Community Singers for hosting FLOW in Exwick and Boatyard Bakery for hosting us at the Quay. Also many thanks to Mary-Rose Lane without which none of this would have happened.

Some things people said about FLOW:

Thank you for inviting Devon Wildlife Trust to be a part of the FLOW orchard planting event. It is not often that an event brings together a community in such a holistic, inspiring, and empowering way. The combination of tree planting, craft, storytelling and song clearly resonated with participants and the depth of engagement was striking. The tree planting gave local people a sense of ownership and a desire for ‘their’ trees to thrive. I think this will be an event which will make a lasting impact on the people who took part as well as the land that now holds the ribbon orchard – Jasmine Atkinson, Devon Wildlife Trust

 I think it was a fab weekend and really successful on lots of levels. The variety of activities that you brought together was amazing, but it was coherent and well organised as well! – Stuart Lockton, participant in the weekend

Wow what an amazing and uplifting weekend. It is one of the most inspiring ways of working and projects I’ve been involved with and it has culminated in a way of working I thought I could only dream of – Mary-Rose Lane, Environment Agency