The book Island, by Aldous Huxley is centred around a Utopian paradise which merges the best of the East and West, a place where the local Mynah birds have long been trained to sing uplifting words to encourage a here-and-now ideal in the population. Namely words like “Attention” and “Karuna” are sung to the benefit of all. “Karuna” in both Sanskrit and Pali is generally translated to compassion. It’s also the name of the largest forest garden in the United Kingdom.
Located in Church-Stretton, Shropshire, Karuna is in unlikely surrounds. Once a large paddock of monoculture, a grazing desert, surrounded by further ‘productive’ deserts. It is now a haven for all wildlife, most notably those of the genus Homo sapiens, which are wild at heart and seeking solace.
Though Karuna is not for the faint hearted, the forests’ inhabitants are known to speak loudly and proudly of things they deem worthwhile, and will likely dance and laugh equally as loudly and defiantly in response to those ideas which may seem to fit with the industrial, dominant ideal, or anything remotely resembling the status-quo. You have been warned.
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Karuna around 6 years ago. Wading through the WWOOF website longingly, hoping that something will come to surface. It appeared as though the universe conspired to send me in the right direction, as it is known to do from time to time. For this serendipity I am forever changed. At this time I was a seeker, someone looking for proof that there were people who cared. People who were happy to live on the fringe and create the world they sought to give unto their children’s children. One replete with forests, all that come with them and a grounded and applied philosophy based on respect of natural systems. Quite a tall task really. I had resigned myself to seeking it indefinitely, knowing I may never find it (this is of course something which entered upon is endless, as there are a seemingly endless number of people taking on board this humble and uplifting work – at the time however, this was largely unknown to me).
I spent no more than a week at Karuna, removing nettles from the vegetable patch, tending to hops in the poly tunnel, and for the most part, installing hemp insulation in the straw bale round house. I know it mightn’t sound like much but this brief experience has forever left not only myself changed but my little family too. As we often draw inspiration from Karuna’s stewards Merav and Janta Wheelhouse. Many times we have found ourselves in what we thought was a tricky situation, finding the transition difficult, the inevitable dilemmas converting a grazing desert to a vast forest garden, and we need but call these two to memory with their small family, their many seemingly insurmountable issues they’ve encountered, and we are quickly humbled and return to the good work.
Since that formative week many years ago, myself and my life partner have taught permaculture courses at Karuna (something they offer on a regular basis), and have forged a truly regenerative long-distance friendship. We now run successful forest gardening courses ourselves (among others) on our farm Djaning in northern NSW Australia, we have taken on the daily work of creating a forest in our stead, and in no small part, thanks to Karuna and the Wheelhouses.
Do yourself a favour head to Karuna and see what they’re offering. You’ll not regret it.