There are raised beds for vegetables and herbs, some soft fruit, fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries and quince) a hazel hedge for nuts and canes, some unweeded bits for insects to breed undisturbed and to give shelter to small mammals, and a comfrey patch for producing liquid plant feed. A small wild flower patch is becoming established, giving another habitat for insects and shelter to the frogs who live in next door’s pond, and visit to keep down the slug population.
Organic gardening is well established and increasingly popular, as people want to grow chemical-free veggies for health and taste. This garden goes a step further; it is veganic, that is no animal derived materials have been used for many years, and it is also managed on permaculture principles as far as possible. Organic and veganic practices not only produce healthy, strong plants which are disease resistant as well as tasting good, they are also directed towards conservation of every aspect of the natural environment; resources of materials as well as wildlife. Organic gardeners therefore, while they may import materials such as animal manures, are careful not to buy peat based composts and other materials, which cannot be replaced. The veganic gardener avoids animal fertilisers such as poultry pellets, partly for ethical reasons, partly for health reasons (long-term veganic gardeners don’t need to worry about problems such as B.S.E because they have not used any blood and bone products!)
Permaculture practices are directed towards regeneration of the natural environment rather than just conservation. Care of the soil is the first principle, and to rebuild its productivity. A healthy soil structure with a thriving population of earthworms and a natural balance of insects and micro-fauna is essential to produce nutritious plants year after year. To maintain the content of minerals, which are essential for the health of both plants and the people who eat them, rock dust is added, both on the beds and in the compost bins.
The permaculture garden s self-contained and all materials for fertilising and mulching the soil are produced within the garden. Most garden ‘waste’ is not wasted, but composted. When persistent weeds or thick branches are burnt, in the occasional bonfire, the ash is used. The soil is kept covered as it is in nature, by close planting, planting in succession, and sowing green manure crops for protection and to add nutrients to the soil when they are incorporated before the next planting cycle. A thick layer of mulch does three things; it keeps down weeds; long-term as it breaks down it enriches the soil; most importantly it conserves moisture. Apart from tiny seedlings this garden is not watered at all, even during dry spells. Rainwater is used when watering. Some plants have collars made from mesh or plastic bottles. This protects the seedlings from slugs, and facilitates economical watering direct to each plant, also liquid feed when necessary.
The woody stems from all the prunings are shredded and used as mulch. You can see shredded prunings on the long bed by the silver birch. Sustainability in the wider environment and self-renewal in the garden, even a small one like mine, are the guiding principles of permaculture. The rewards include high yields of healthy plants and maximum output for minimum effort. For example this garden has not been dug over for years, the mulches and the earthworms do all that work, more efficiently than I could. A little hand weeding is done around seedlings to let them get started, after that the close planting of the food plants keeps weeds down, as does the mulch which is applied whenever there is a gap between crops and over winter.
In the raised beds plants are mixed together; vegetables with herbs and edible flowers. Salad crops are interplanted and self-sown crops like land cress and corn salad are encouraged as edible ground cover. Companion planting keeps insect attacks down and the biodiversity maintains and renews soil fertility.
You will notice tall posts and cross pieces in some of the raised beds. This is so that netting can conveniently be hung to protect seedlings from birds and cats, or hung from the top bar for peas and beans to scramble up. Plastic mesh up the posts is for climbing plants. A sheet of polythene over the crossbar can convert a bed into a mini polytunnel for winter salads.
The permaculture garden is always changing and there are always new ways of using resources more efficiently. Practicing sustainability in the garden leads to a fresh look at other aspects of living and less wasteful habits of spending on all kinds of goods and services. It is amazing how both waste and expenditure (in time, effort and cash) decrease in a short time.
I hope you have enjoyed my garden, and that you will have a lot of fun in your own, and much pleasure when you eat the crops! Good luck.
The two most helpful and inspiring books I know are :
The Permaculture Garden by Graham Bell
The Forest Garden by Robert Hart