the garden going it alone …..

It has been a while since I posted regular updates on this blog –  I have been poorly for some months, but am on the mend now.  It has also meant that I have not been able to spend much time in the garden.  What time and energy I did have went largely on growing plants in pots for Shrewsbury Flower Show – for me this was a very much harder proposition than growing them in the ground.

So over the summer the garden has pretty much looked after itself.  I have been able to harvest lots of goodies recently – skirret, root parsley, root chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, kales, leaf beet, chard.  The perennials were already in the garden and the annuals sown early before I was ill.

It has been gratifying to see how the garden has fared well with the very least of attention:

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Radish (on the left), which I left to flower has attracted insects all summer in droves and lots of questions from visitors – “what is that pretty lilac coloured plant?”.  The variegated Daubenton’s kale on the right is surrounded by land cress going to seed, wild marjoram, dandelion, oca, mashua, wild rocket going to seed.

Last year’s flat leaf parsley made an incredible display of flowers for weeks, if not months, attracting many, many bees, beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies.  It was truly gorgeous.



KODAK Digital Still Camera

There were only a few mashua tubers planted here but they have grown so large, you can just see some oca plants peeking through from below.  The Jerusalem artichokes at the back are taller than me.

There are lots of little patches where herbs, flowers, veggies all intermingle have seeded themselves.  This picture is a is tulbaghia (society garlic) in the centre (which I planted) surrounded with self set love in a mist, calendula, wild marjoram and fennel.  Autumn has been, and continues to be, absolutely beautiful and I am really relishing my luxuriant and lovely garden.

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Gold Medal for Permaculture Working with Nature Garden

I have just had the most amazing week!

After months of planning, preparation, growing, nurturing, fretting and yet more planning a group of permaculture gardeners from Shropshire (UK) presented a permaculture show garden at the prestigious Shrewsbury Flower Show.  The Show began in 1836 as a Carnation and Gooseberry Show and over the years has evolved to its current form, attracting 50,000 visitors to the event which is recognised as the world’s longest running flower show.  After the big RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) shows like Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Park etc, it is one of the foremost shows in the UK.

finished garden 1

Naturally we wanted to make the garden as sustainable as it possibly could be.  All the materials used are either natural, locally sourced materials or recycled / repurposed waste materials and we called it “Working with Nature” to highlight the central ethos of permaculture.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Construction at the end of day 1

Many thanks go to Briony Cooper the Floral Chair of the Flower Show who last year instigated a new marquee “Our Futures” which I was involved with.  This year Briony was keen to have a show garden associated with the marquee as well.  She gave much needed practical and moral support and some financial sponsorship to help with the costs.

Construction at the end of day 2

Construction at the end of day 2

Mark Stefan a landscape architect with Design with Nature designed the garden using a spiral based on the mathematical “golden section” (as found repeatedly in natural formations from sunflowers to snails to galaxies).  This put nature firmly at the heart of the garden and provided an incredibly beautiful shape to plant around.  It also generated many interesting and attractive perspectives from which to view the finished garden.

Some of the plants!

Some of the plants!

The spiral shape was built into the structure of the garden as a series of coppiced ash poles, tall (just over 2 m) at the centre and descending as the spiral unwound towards the outer edge.  The shape was emphasised with a path set alongside the posts made from larch roundel steps.  The ash poles came from Malvern Coppicing.  Larch roundels for the path came from the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust woodlands.  Used tyres were obtained from local garages – these housed two wigwams of climbing vegetables, a compost heap and small pond.  We also had a delightful wooden bird feeder made from a birch trunk and a hefty log seat from Mark Eccleston, a Shropshire based photographer and green wood worker.  The garden was finished off with a decorative willow edging.

Clare and her little helper tidying up the plants

Clare and her little helper tidying up the plants

Apart from one or two ornamentals and some water plants the planting was entirely edible comprising fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  We grew and nurtured the plants between us, each contributing the best or most interesting things we had available.  In the end we were able to plant all these:


Blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry plum, cranberry, jostaberry, kiwi fruit, nectarine, raspberry, strawberry (wild), whitecurrant

Annual vegetables

Beetroot, chard, chicory, courgette, field beans, lettuce, peas, red and green kale, red orach, runner beans, squash, tomatoes

Perennial vegetables

Cardoon, Chinese artichoke, earth nut pea, edible dahlia, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, leaf beet, mashua, oca, skirret, sorrel


Basil, borage, chives, fennel, flat leaf parsley, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow


Calendula, clematis, mallow, nasturtium, rudbeckia, self heal

Other plants

Buckwheat, clover, comfrey, flax, golden hop

Nancy setting out the plants

Nancy setting out the plants

Our aim was to demonstrate to the public the positive benefits of permaculture as an approach to gardening, particularly with climate change in mind.  That certainly worked, there were people buzzing round the garden all the time, admiring it, taking photos, asking questions.  We had been given back copies of Permaculture Magazine to give away and they were snapped up!

Mark and Louise working hard

Mark and Louise working hard

We also had a display in the adjacent “Our Futures” marquee which gave a lot more information about permaculture, local projects and the team.  I am including brief bios of some of us here.  What is really amazing to me is that before coming together in February / March of this year to undertake this project we mostly did not know each other, but our common interest in and understanding of permaculture gave a strong foundation to bringing off this feat.

Final day of construction, getting there

Final day of construction, getting there

I think we all just thankful to have finished the garden last Thursday afternoon.  I expected it to look nice, but the finished thing was far more beautiful and effective than I had ever thought possible.  We were all so pleased with it.

Pat taking a breather

Pat taking a breather

The other show gardens were interesting and attractive.  But what was noticeably different was the planting.  Their plants were all nursery grown (which is I guess normal practice for show gardens); they were uniform sizes, symmetrical shapes and mostly large showy blooms.  We had some beautiful plants but in the main as individual plants they were not perfect specimens at all.  What I found really encouraging was the end result being so much more than the sum of the parts.

Ruth attending to finishing touches

Ruth attending to finishing touches

Once it was finished on the Thursday afternoon and then through the two show days of Friday and Saturday the garden attracted a lot of attention from the public.  Lots of people were clearly taking inspiration from it, pointing out features to each other, taking photos and asking questions.

All finished

All finished

I watched closely when Pippa Greenwood (of BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time) and the show’s own Nigel Bishop came round to judge the gardens.  Their body language looked positive, but you just can’t tell.

The judging

The judging

It was some hours later when show officials came round with a gold award certificate!  I could hardly believe it!  What a fantastic achievement!

Gold medal!

Gold medal!


From the left - Louise, Anni, Rachael, Joe

From the left – Louise, Anni, Rachael, Joe

At the end of the show we dismantled the garden.  We gave away many plants to the public.  This gesture was very well received and generated conversations about permaculture ethics.  The remaining plants have been re-homed to our own gardens and the wooden structures and other components have been taken to various homes including local community gardens.

Here are some mini biographies we wrote about ourselves to give some background about us to the show’s visitors

 Mark Stefan

Although relatively new to Permaculture (and to Shropshire!) I am interested in applying its principles both in how I run my business (Design with Nature) and in the projects I deliver as a Chartered Landscape Architect.

I have contributed my time in relation to designing the garden and sourcing materials along with a few herbs and other plants.

I believe that a Permaculture approach applied at various different scales in the planning and design of our environment offers the most sustainable way forward for both us and all the living we share this planet with.

Nancy Lowe, The Natural Gardener

I’m a professional gardener and I love my job. It was discovering Permaculture, 10 years ago, that re-awoke in me my childhood love of gardening. Permaculture is all about creating gardens that are beautiful, productive and abundant with wildlife and where as much as possible, simple relationships are built up with that wildlife that help to keep the garden fertile and pest free.

In my own garden, I enjoy experimenting with multifunctional spaces, creating edible flower borders and wildlife-attracting children’s play areas. I grow lots of functional plants – plants for kindling, basketry and cups of tea. Professionally, I try to bring some of this ethos to the gardens I tend.

I drew up the planting plan for this show garden and grew some of the vegetables and companion plants. /

Anni Kelsey

I love permaculture because it has given me the stimulus and knowledge to completely alter the way I garden.  Once I was very conventional – flowers and shrubs and a failed vegetable grower.  Years of experimenting with perennial vegetables and polycultures culminated in the publication of my book “Edible Perennial Gardening”.

I like the versatility of permaculture, I watch closely what happens in the garden, how plants grow, what insects appear, the effects of different techniques.  I love to see natural and exuberant abundance.  It has been a real adventure into a world of new possibilities and new ideas.  I now have an attractive and productive garden that is also low on maintenance.

I have contributed a range of things for the show garden including perennial vegetables and some of the herbs, fruit and flowers.

Kerry Lane

For me, permaculture design – applying the principles of how nature works to make thriving communities, people and edible landscapes – brings together all of the things that I am passionate about and helps me make them a reality. I began my permaculture learning journey three and a half years ago and I have just finished my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, for which I had to produce ten permaculture designs and thoroughly reflect on all of my learnings along the way. A wonderful journey that taught me a lot.

My main focus of interest is creating thriving communities. I have designed businesses, my own health and wellbeing, my diploma learning journey and much more. I am also a facilitator with Thriving Ways, a collective that run courses with a Social and personal permaculture focus and I am hoping to be running inner child nature adventures for adults in the near future.  I am also learning more about using permaculture for food production through getting lots of practical growing experience at Crabapple Community, including some wildlife friendly, perennial polycultures (so they produce food year after year).

Joe Waryoba

I live in Uxbridge, London. I have come to know Rachael through the 80 mile Refugee Tales Walk we did for Refugee Week run by Gatwick Detaineed Welfare Group, a registered charity where I am a volunteer. GDWG offers support to people in immigration detention at Gatwick, principally through a team of volunteer visitors.

I really enjoyed helping to make the permaculture garden. I originate from Tanzania. My grandparents had a farm where I learned to drive a tractor and garden from the age of 9. As I am not allowed to undertake any paid employment it was very helpful to be able to volunteer and take part in the construction of the permaculture garden. It allowed me to contribute fully, meet people and feel connected to growth, development and relating both to the land and other people.

Rachael Davenhill

I was born in Glazeley, outside Bridgnorth, in the middle of a field. In retrospect I breathed in permaculture principles from my grandmother and my father, both avid gardeners in tune with seasons and country lore.

I was fortunate to be able to join the Shropshire Permaculture Network from its inception as it evolved with the enthusiastic support of retired G.P, Dr Pamela Yuille.  In the first year of the group, we rotated round each other’s gardens, and I remain deeply grateful for the support, advice and practical help I received from members of the network.

In my professional life as a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist working with older adults, I find that permaculture principles are entirely congruent with the whole systems, holistic approach needed in my contact with patients and families.  I am deeply committed to using permaculture principles when designing gardens for people with dementia and their families, whether in their own homes, or in nursing and residential homes.

One important aspect of permaculture is the use of multiculture rather than monoculture.

I was very glad that Joe Waryoba was staying in Shropshire at the point we undertook the hard landscaping of the Permaculture Garden. Without his input it is unlikely the garden could have been made.  Britain is the only EU country with a policy of indefinite detention for people seeking asylum here. A policy which cripples and tortures further people who have come here to escape torture in their country of origin. (Further information available under ‘Get Involved’ on Refugee website).

With massive thanks also to Louise, Clare, Eddy, Rose, Ian, Ruth, Joy, Pat and members of the wider Shropshire and Edges Permaculture Network.

gold certificate

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Our Permaculture Garden Wins a Gold Medal at Shrewsbury Flower Show

There will be more to come on this another day, just to say that I have had the privilege of being part of a team of permaculture gardeners from Shropshire (UK) who entered a show garden in Shrewsbury Flower Show this weekend …… and WON A GOLD MEDAL!!!!!!!!!!

finished garden 1

finished garden 2

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Permaculture Magazine

This is a short post not directly related to vegetables or gardens, in praise of Permaculture Magazine and the team behind that publication.  At the moment they are pulling out all the stops to bring the magazine, and thereby permaculture to a wider and wider audience.  With the International Permaculture Convergence being held in the UK this year they have printed a much larger print run that usual with the aim of reaching many more people.  In their words:

“Heaps of new people subscribing this weekend would truly help permaculture to continue to grow in influence at this important time for our planet and its people (no matter where we are living).”

The team behind the magazine also publish a wide range of permaculture books (including mine!) and sell all sorts of green goodies.  They have a very informative website and Facebook page and spend a lot of additional time and effort promoting permaculture at every opportunity.

Bearing in mind the singular lack of political attention to the most pressing of issues facing us all (I am writing on the day of the UK general election results) the efforts the PM team go to promote and bring about a better world are incredible and they need all our support.  A year’s subscription is only £14.95 and now includes free digital / app access to over 20 years of back issues.  If you already subscribe why not gift a subscription for a friend or family member?


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Trusting Nature

It is not always very easy to think of a title for posts that sum them up in a few words, particularly before they are written and are just some words and concepts circulating in my head, however I think I could equally have called this one – Please Resist Too Much Interfering with Nature.

This is not necessarily easy to do, it needs practice and an understanding of why it is important.  I have to relearn it each year, in particular each spring.

This is the most amazing time of year.  Today the sun is shining, birds singing etc and the garden is running away in a tide of energy and lush growth.  We have just returned after over a week away and the growth and change over that time is very clear.  Everywhere (well not quite) there are dandelions, goose grass is charging across the ground and up the hedge, foxgloves are starting their climb upwards and the stinging nettles are clumping up.  In the borders self sown forget me nots, pansies and calendulas are blooming.  Some fruit bushes and trees are in blossom and some early seedlings are germinating.

Some years ago – before I found out how natural processes build health and fertility in a garden and learned to trust nature and leave her alone as much as possible – I would have been desparate to get into the garden and dig up the nettles, remove the goose grass, dig out the dandelions and docks and generally “tidy up”.  Not so now.

  • Dandelions are loved by bees – just watch them and see how many visits they get, and also from butterflies.  They are edible as well and last year I used dandelion petals to flavour cup cakes which gave a mild vanilla like flavour and even the neighbours liked them!  If there are tooooooo many and my partner objects I will take some out, but grudgingly!
  • Nettles are edible and nutritious as well; they provide habitat for insects and can be used for to make a liquid fertiliser.
  • Goose grass is easily pulled out and concentrates minerals in its’ tissues which can be returned to the soil by just dropping the plants to the ground where they grew.
  • Foxgloves flower for weeks and feed the bees continuously during that time.  They look beautiful as well, though they are of course poisonous to us.

All plants serve a purpose whilst they are growing, even those that are apparently neither beautiful or useful to us humans – they are all part of a living, dynamic ecosystem, they are interacting with all the other living things in that system, seen and unseen, above and below ground.  The greater the plant mass and diversity of plants the greater the possibilities are for these interactions and for a healthy soil and garden.

Basically I only take things out when I know they are going to cause a problem if left in.  In this garden that is buttercups, clove root and grass removed on sight; as far as I can recall at this moment just about everything else is left at least for a while because:

  • It is alive, functioning and interacting.
  • It is edible or useful in some other way.
  • In time it will be removed and put on the ground to decompose and feed the soil and its’ dependent creatures.

There are also other plants that are not “weeds” but which other people may have removed thinking they have finished their usefulness.  Land cress for instance is sold as an annual salad leaf, but if you leave it it will live for years and flowers now (the plant with yellow flowers below).  Insects love the flowers and we use the greens all year round (often cooked as they are strong tasting).

KODAK Digital Still CameraThe field beans in the photo above have been in the garden since last autumn surviving whilst not much else can.

I particularly like the way that the plants cosy up to one another, nature does not leave gaps like gardeners do.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

So we get to a place where more and more nature does the gardening, I just tweak and adjust at times whilst spending more time watching, marvelling and enjoying the show.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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The New Kitchen Garden by Mark Diacono

The New Kitchen Garden – how to grow some of what you eat no matter where you live – by Mark Diacono was published last month by Saltyard Books.  It is a lovely book which speaks of a “quiet revolution” taking place with more and more of us growing at least some of what we eat.

I was thrilled almost beyond measure last summer when Mark contacted me to ask if he could visit my garden to include it in this book.  He came on a glorious sunny late afternoon in August and took some stunning photographs.  We had a great time talking nineteen to the dozen about plants and gardens, what works and what we love most about them.

My garden is one of eleven very different gardens featured.  The others include a gorgeous walled garden in Cornwall, an edible roof garden in Reading, a food forest in London and Mark’s garden at Otter Farm.  These and all the other featured gardens are wonderful and inspirational (I guess even mine!).  It is also now officially Mark’s fault that I have ended up coveting and obtaining even more plants this year since reading the book!

This really is a book to inspire and I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone with an interest in growing food.  The promotional video on this page shows more of what it is all about.

These are some reminders to me of what the garden looked like back on that sunny afternoon!

DSCN6554 polypatch 1



DSCN6559 flowers aug 14


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Fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers – polycultures anew

I have been having such a lot of fun the last two weekends planting in the newly prepared areas.  First to go in were the trees.  I wanted to get additional fruit in the garden and chose seven fruit trees from Ashridge Trees.  They have a good selection from which I chose:

  • Quince “Vranja”
  • Pear “Concorde”
  • Pear “Invicible”
  • Mirabelle “Ruby”
  • Gage “Reine Claude de Bavay”
  • Mirabelle “Golden Globe”
  • Cherry “Morello”
  • I also bought three amelanchiers and a number of cherry plums

These trees are to complement the apples, damson and plum planted last year.  The cherry plums have been planted in the outside hedge and the amelanchiers in other borders.  The main fruit trees are in the long border.

IMG_1443 trees

Between the trees I have planted a very varied mix of different things:

  • Onions of varying kinds round the trees (tree, Welsh, bunching and others)
  • Patches of mixed vegetables, herbs and flowers such as scorzonera, cumin and Welsh poppy or root parsley, self heal and vetch.
  • Patches of peas.

In various combinations I have planted / sown polycultures containing:

  • radish
  • parsnip
  • root chicory
  • earth nut pea
  • burdock
  • scorzonera
  • root parsley
  • beetroot
  • mooli radish
  • skirret
  • black cumin
  • dill
  • cumin
  • Welsh poppy
  • love in a mist
  • calendula
  • pansy
  • vetch
  • flax
  • self heal
  • buckwheat
  • Oskar very dwarf early pea
  • Boddingtons tall soup pea

As well as eating the edible parts of these plants they perform the following functions:

  • The root vegetables are to break up the ground as I have found that carrots and parsnips perform this function well on the solid clay and stony ground here.
  • The herbs are to attract beneficial insects and hopefully with their aromatic aromas to confuse pests.
  • The flowers are for their beauty and for insects.
  • The peas, vetch and earth nut pea all fix nitrogen.

There is some space left for more plantings which will be in May – more peas and beans and some flowers.  I am thrilled to have more growing space and for the first time (ever) it feels as though there is ample space to plant what I want and to organise things.  In the past I have always ended up squashing things together because I ran out of space so this is a real treat!


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