This is going to be my last elder post of the year (probably) so bear with me!
Today we went to Westonbirt Arboretum and spent a wonderful day admiring all the beautiful, majestic and exotic trees. I loved seeing them, especially the incredible collection of Japanese Acers, though I must confess to enjoying the Native Tree Walk just as much with its wonderful assortment of hawthorns, hazels, oaks, junipers, aspens, pines and birches. One tree that I didn’t notice there was the Elder. Only as we left the Arboretum did I see her, just outside the walls, growing straggly yet strong in the place she likes to be the most… on the edge.
The idea of ‘Edge’ is one I first came across during an introduction to permaculture design and it’s one I come back to, now and again, and understand more deeply each time I do. Edge is the meeting point between any two things, where garden meets hedgerow, where river meets shore, where ground meets sky- these are all examples.
Of course in the case of the Elder it’s also where life meets death, where old meets new, where known meets unknown and where the world of spirit meets the physical world. Elder has always been a plant of the edge, both physically and metaphorically.
In the permaculture philosophy, the edge is where it’s all happening. Change, variety, the arrival of new species – the ‘edge’ often has a greater biodiversity then the ‘middle’ as it is where two different ecosystems meet.
Here’s a nice description of the concept of ‘Edge’ and its use in design from the Permaculture Association.
“The place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this is called ‘ecotone’. This is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge. These ideas are used in alley cropping, shelterbelts and pond design. Marginal could be ideas, views, unusual plants, wild animals or people at the ‘edge’ of society. Permaculture itself has been seen as marginal for many years….”
So this idea of edge can also be applied to new and diverse ideas, to people and to cultures. The margins are where new things begin before they start to spread out and colonise new places.
The edge is always a little bit unknown. Where else would I expect to find the Elder?