Forming a relationship with the garden

As time goes on my relationship with the small area comprising my polyculture patches changes and deepens in previously unanticipated and unexpected ways.  Having spent some time considering why, I think that there are two main reasons.

The first is what has in effect become a fundamental principle: to do as little “work” as possible.  For example rather than “weeding” I leave plants that just arrive growing in situ between the crop plants.  When they get too large I cut them down and allow them pretty much to remain where they fall, although sometimes I may just toss them a few feet away, to a less visible spot perhaps.  I know that sounds unbearably untidy; and it certainly is not what you would see in a more conventional garden, but in fact it is not too horribly unsightly either.  Posts on ‘how important are aesthetics?’ and ‘making light work of it‘ also relate to this.

Why would doing as little work as possible make one feel more closely connected to the garden?  You might logically expect it to be the other way round.  I guess it’s because the flip side of me not doing much work is to constantly watch and be aware of what nature is doing.  In addition it becomes particularly clear that although I plan and plant, the end produce really is not down to my effort and will, but very evidently is a result of natural processes.  If I was intervening in a more conventional way I would inevitably see the end results as the product of my own efforts.

Secondly, and I think probably most significantly was a conscious decision last December to make the absolute most of what I am able to grow.  This post was the first of a series of three so far about this.

By using the knowledge gained so far and continuing to observe what works and does not work I aim to increase productivity and by daily being aware of what is available – to pick as much as I can.  The net result of this is that I have in fact committed myself to a degree of dependence upon the garden.  I am depending on it for as much food as I can produce from it.  That does not necessarily have to be a great deal in kgs of produce but it is a significant change of attitude.

All my life I have been used to depending on shops for food – there is virtually no choice in the ‘developed’ world.  However for much of my life I have been queasily aware that a time may come when what has always been taken for granted may become less certain and secure; and I have harboured a vague but persistent wish to be able to more independent in this regard.  It may only be a small step so far but learning to depend on the garden is daily giving more insights and ideas to try to extend the range of what I grow and the overall productivity (but still remaining in line with minimal intervention).

I can’t really find suitable words to describe the difference I feel but maybe I could call it a kind of trusting partnership between me and the garden; meaning that I am learning to trust that given certain conditions I can rely on nature to bring forth food.  It is a joint enterprise and I am not in a position to control.  Too much imposition of my own actions will (I feel) reduce the harmony of the ecological balance that is building up and have a negative impact on yields.  And a trusting partnership is in effect a relationship.

In practical terms I need to find out if this is fanciful or realistic and to that end I am measuring the yields and studying what is produced under various conditions.  It is obviously not a double blind scientific trial but I will have some facts and figures to analyse and assess.  In the meantime I enjoy just being with the garden, pictured here at dusk on Friday evening and featuring Jerusalem artichoke, kales, mashua, oca, apple tree, fruit bushes, yacon, wild rocket, spinach, clover, fennel and others less visible!

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, Relationship with nature, Telford Garden and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Forming a relationship with the garden

  1. annisveggies says:

    Your garden sounds delightful. Goldfinches are a rare treat here, but they do come sometimes to eat seeds on plants I have left in place.
    It’s interesting how one’s views of things change over time, isn’t it? I started out not all that keen on eating “weeds” like dandelion due to their strong taste. However observing how nature sprinkles them liberally around and being more aware of their medicinal value I am starting to nibble on small leaves. I have also started regularly picking hairy bitter-cress which a few years ago I used to rigorously remove. I have a lovely carpet of it, springing up all fresh and green and inviting and it just seems rude to ignore such a gift because the taste is strong. So I am re-educating my taste buds about this one too!
    Best wishes, Anni


  2. Anne says:

    I loved reading your blog. I have also developed a deepening relationship with my garden and liked you talking about your growing dependence. I am interested in your experiments about yields. I have found that the myriads of ‘weeds’ are also health-giving. I eat dandelion leaves and flowers, chickweed, nettle, munch feverfew leaves etc etc in addition to what I put in myself. Also a little laissez-faire brings such delights. A huge teasel plant arrived in my garden this year and the goldfinches have just started visiting it this morning. I am now researching the use of tinctures. I am constantly amazed at what nature brings and feel truly at peace when in my garden. It brings me much pleasure to know others feel the same.


  3. annisveggies says:

    Yes, it’s good to see ever more clearly how we are an intrinsic part of the natural world. So much of what surrounds us is complex, artificial and manufactured and that includes food! Establishing a cycle of giving to and receiving from the earth in the patch to which we belong brings us closer to what is real and lasting.


    • Debbie says:

      I too am experimenting with simply letting nature do it’s thing. I have many beneficial insects, and no real problem. I have lots of veggies. Doing things this way does go against the grain though, but I am learning and am amazed with how well it went for my first try. Love this blog!


  4. I love your approach to gardening. I have had that same queasy feeling, that depending on buying food from stores is not a good thing. My hubby & I have a very tiny garden, but it has at least given us salads for the summer, & a taste of self-sufficiency. He built a composter, & this has led us one step closer. I like the feeling that I am both giving to the earth & receiving from it, like part of a natural cycle.


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