September 2021: Mycelial Magic
While it may seem that I’m spending more time these days thinking and blogging about things unrelated to fine gardening - like re-wilding last month and mushrooms this month - for me, the interrelationship couldn’t be any more clear. So this month it’s fungi that’s caught my attention and so I hope you enjoy my musings on mushrooms…
Just last week I was walking the dog in the woods behind the house and as I was admiring the environment the term that came to mind was this concept of ‘rotscape’. I’ve been reading Merlin Sheldrake’s book, Entangled Life and so much more now have an appreciation for and understanding of the fungal work beneath our feet. I find myself saturated by all the interrelations and soil organisms and fungus and plants - it’s amazing, exciting and overwhelming at the same time. It’s not something I’ve given much thought about in my daily work in the past except to acknowledge and enjoy and always ‘let be’ the mushrooms that I do see in my garden travels.
It’s just all so incredible, all this leaf litter in the forest and fallen trees and rotting logs that my dogs are munching on…So it got me thinking about how there’s all this talk about climate change and global warming and we know these things are real and while the experts may be concerned, I see that the forests are healthy; our forests are thriving.
Much of the work of the forests is behind the scenes in the fungal network of mycelium. As fungi break down and begin the decomposition process they produce spores which germinate mycelium. The mycelium in turn may produce fruit (mushrooms) or it may go about the role of decomposition. Mycelial growth contributes to the carbon cycle and is vital in plants ability to absorb water. Mycelia also have incredible antibiotic and antimicrobial properties and help some plants maintain resistance to pathogens.
… and so what does all this talk about the forest have to do with the resident garden landscape? Well, when we look at the successful plant community of the forest, we can bring that into the garden by doing things such as leaving some leaf litter and allowing woodland edges to blur with garden beds. When we do let the woodland microbes creep into the garden we have amazing results. We have the healthiest and most vibrant plant communities when the forest edge is nearby, therefore connected (underground, by mycelia) to our garden beds.
Spend some time observing any part of your garden which is nearest to the larger trees and natural processes of leaf litter, decomposition and rotting branches and logs. Check out the interesting organisms both of the legged-variety and the fungal community and if you spend time you may see the interrelations between them which feed the beauty, color and health of your own ‘gardened’ space.
Should you wish to delve deeper into the world of fungi check out these resources:
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets (also TedTalk, Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World
and Fantastic Fungi film on Netflix)
Mushrooms by Roger Philips (mushroom identification)
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard