A futurists guide to growing and gardening for the 21st century.

In the first of our series of blogs for the Growing Together 2021 scheme, local community gardener Sally Hughes talks of an approach to gardening for the future.

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I enjoy Huw Richards. In a recent video he talked of his approach to growing as ‘organic, permaculture, no dig, regenerative growing methods’. What a mouthful. Then I thought it through and realised this is my approach too. And it’s really a set of values I’d like to see shape our work in Penarth Growing Community. So what does it all mean?

In a nutshell it’s about growing with nature as our guide, without the use of harsh chemicals, without turning the soil, making things better as we go. 

To garden is to tend and cultivate; we can garden community too, this is part of the ambition here. To bring people together. Our world is so strange and fractured, we need it. 

Bristol based teacher and community gardener Mike Feingold (a bit of a local permaculture hero) said that ‘permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening’. We could do with a bit of revolution in Penarth. 

An organic garden comes from a set of choices we make about how we do things. The Organic Growing Advice from Garden Organic sets out in much detail how to go about creating a healthier environment for all beings. Key to an organic garden is welcoming wildlife and biodiversity – cultivating a range of plants (sometimes called companion planting, or growing in polycultures) and leaving a bit of space for wildness. It’s also about very practical things like not using pesticides or peat based products. It’s also about balance, and loving your soil. 

No dig is about not disturbing the soil. Soil is alive with millions of vital organisms, fungi and bacteria who create an environment together with plants and worms that supports and nourishes. Liz Zorab at Byther Farm and Charles Dowding both encourage the technique and share much on their YouTube channels, highly recommended viewing. You can learn more about the wonders of soil here. 

Permaculture magazine defines permaculture as a ‘framework for sustainable living’. It is about ‘earth care, people care and fair share’, it’s about how we use the resources we have and how we design resilient growing spaces for the future which replicate the way nature works. For me, permaculture is about simple living, elegant sufficiency, reconnecting to nature and community and restoring the Earth. You can read about my permaculture adventure here. And we can’t really talk about permaculture without mentioning Transition Towns co-founder, Rob Hopkins, his current podcast is a delight. 

The idea that we need to be living more sustainable lives is now mainstream. The current thinking however suggests that sustainability doesn’t take us nearly as far as we need to go if we are to address the many sticky and complex issues we are faced with today. 

The word on the street is ‘regenerative’. It’s about how we heal our broken world. Growing regeneratively is about many things. One aspect is acknowledging that annual crops take a lot of energy to produce each year, and a turn to growing edible perennials in layered forest gardens might be a way we can feed ourselves in the future. 

Regenerative gardening is about compost, bugs, birds and wildlife, letting the weeds grow, and keeping the soil covered. It’s also about healing the soil, and ourselves, acknowledging our interconnectedness. It’s about good food that’s nutrient dense because it’s been grown in healthy soil. And it’s about the very practical thing of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere into plants. 

We can start by growing plants that are good to eat and good for wildlife too, for example, borage, nasturtiums, lavender, rosemary, thyme, chamomile, fennel, echinacea, pot marigolds, bee balm and alliums/onions. 

Image from The Transition Companion, Rob Hopkins

For me, it’s all about local self-reliance. I’d like to see a large increase in the amount of food produced from back gardens, allotments and other local growing spaces around town. One day I’d like a market garden in Penarth. And a market stall on a pedestrianised high street where we sell the delicious local organic food we have grown together to raise funds to do more amazing work growing our community. 

We can but dream.

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