Wood-chip Shadows and Funeral Bells in the Fungus Garden of Nowhere in Particular

Plot B - top - micro-orchard - 30th January 2016

The 30th January, a sunny Saturday, and there was just my shadow for company in 'the allotment garden of Nowhere in particular'. The list of things to do circumnavigated the garden several times and so there was no choice but to send my shadow off around the site, to take photographs and imbibe the pleasant spring like hours, while I got on with that inordinate list of nitty gritty, or rather, nitty muddy tasks. I tried not to begrudge the shadow the pleasure to be had in exploring the margins of the garden and discovering new and mysterious things. I was, however, disappointed to be presented with as many shadow-selfies at the end of the gardening day. Still, despite the inane vanity of my shadow, it did manage to discover some things of mysterious origin and nature, such as some fungi at the edge of a path between the briar patch, apiary and forest garden.

I wonder if there is enough information in the photographs below to make, with confidence, a correct identification of the fungus. The fungi are growing partly in a layer of wood chip that was applied as a mulch in the spring of 2015. I know a lot of fruit (apples and pears) and leaves have fallen and rotted in that area and that the persistent wet weather has made the ground/top soil very moist. We don't know which species of trees were chipped to make the mulch. I have not seen fungi like this before growing on the allotment/forest garden. Alas my shadow is not much of a mycology field student - for the photographs below represent the limited extent of 'its' examination of this forest garden emanation. I admonished my lackadaisical shadow for the lack of measurements, site sketches, other photographic views e.g. of the undersides, of close ups e.g. of the stems. 'Didn't you think to pull away some of that chip and leaf litter to examine the base?' I asked. The shadow murmured something about being afraid of things that might be poisonous. 'Take some latex gloves out with you if you are that worried', I reproached.

Unidentified Fungal Objects - 30th January 2016

Days later; my tungsten cast shadow and I are trying to use our Dorling Kindersley, 'Mushroom and Toadstools, The Illustrated Guide to Fungi' (Thomas Laessoe, 2013) to identify the fruiting bodies of the forest garden of Nowhere in particular. Nothing is ever correctly identified in the head of the head gardener of the garden of Nowhere in particular. It should be said that it is only in my head that I am head-gardener. Any claims for an authoritative and correct identification emanating from this head should be regarded as dubious especially when the head comes to mushrooms and toadstools. We studied the mycorrhizal expertise of the book, including the identification key, and arrived at Galerina marginata, Funeral Bell (page 258). The presence of a skull and crossbones caused some alarm bells to ring. Could or should we have arrived at a different fungus using that book? The 'Funeral Bell' is a very toxic mushroom and bears a close resemblance to a different mushroom that is safely edible and used for food.

I am aware of more fungi growing around the site - of the fruiting bodies emanating variously from their mycelia - and I hope they are signs of the health, quality and fertility of the soil improving. I  understand that the hyphae of fungi connect with the roots of plants to form beneficial and symbiotic relationships. I read recently about a 'multi-systems vertical urban farming project', The Biospheric Project, in Manchester, which is using wood chip, fungi inoculated logs and tree stumps as a form of mulch to encourage beneficial fungi that will aid the circulation of nutrients and possibly act as a sort of remedy for heavy metal contamination of the soil*. I don't know of any such contamination in the allotment garden of Nowhere in particular and I am reluctant to even consider having the soil tested to find out. I trust and assume the allotment has been established on land free from that sort of serious contamination. This may make me a willing naif.

I have cultivated a mindset based on naivety and assumptions; even ignorance, in order to maintain a level of gardening activity by which I think I am making progress and achieving some sense of success in trying to keep up with the garden. I cannot be stopped in my tracks like my shadow was. Of course a garden has ways of disturbing the mindset of a gardener, not least by the ways various garden constituents are toxic - to other plants and animals (including humans). 'Garden constituents' can also include objects and materials employed by the gardeners - which are unwittingly (or not) toxic and contaminating. Perhaps it is an anthropomorphism or pathetic fallacy to consider this behaviour/characteristic as malevolent on the part of the non-human constituents of the garden although which toxic feelings and responses are uniquely or exclusively human in the poison garden of Nowhere in particular and thus, when attributed, the stuff of a pathetic fallacy? Why not, for example, regard the sting of a nettle as spiteful? Isn't the irritation caused by bare skin (and skin through clothing) in contact with stinging nettles a long evolved relationship between humans and that plant? Is there really no evolutionary and natural connection with the physiological and emotional effect of being stung; that the plant has just passively/vegetatively developed the stinging characteristic?

Saturday night Sunday morning saw my shadow absorbed by, and lost in, a mycelium rich mulch of a dream in the drizzle sodden garden of Nowhere in particular. The company of my shadow was nowhere to be found about the garden on Sunday but, thankfully, Alan visited and together we wheelbarrowed loads of wood chip from Organiclea to the muddied paths of Plot B where another form of forest garden is in the process of being established.

Plot B top - mulching paths

* Kitchen Garden, January 2016 - The Future of Food, Gaby Bartai.


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