Building Resilience in our Gardens: Looking Backwards to See the Way Forward
Guest blog: in an extract from her new book, The Climate Change Garden, author Kim Stoddart explains how learning from the past will help us to weather the climate change storm ahead…
As the impact of climate change really starts to bite, growing at least some of your own food has arguably become more important than ever before in our recent history.
A flood or drought in one part of the world, decimating harvests of certain products can have a dramatic knock-on impact on prices in the UK. The same goes for supply and demand itself. For example in the prolonged heatwave of 2018, whilst demand for summer salad soared, veg growers were struggling to keep up as lettuce simply stops growing in temperatures above 30 degrees celsius. The industry for a time become reliant on imports and so, as a result, prices rocketed.
Change is in the Air
Unfortunately, many of our current grow your own practises are high maintenance and vulnerable to the elements. Based as they are around a set of (let’s face it) rather exacting dos and don’ts when it comes to the cultivation of homegrown fruit and vegetables.
A lot of this comes down to this ingrained desire for uniformity. We’re programmed to keep our veg growing very neat and tidy, to keep nature very much in its place and under control. Yet, actually letting nature in to lend a helping hand, makes for a much hardier, low maintenance, productive, and arguably, more enjoyable place in which to grow. It taps into the natural biodiversity of nature, which means the difference between managing a plot that is alive and where plants, the soil and the creatures all work in balance much better together, compared to a rather sterile, high maintenance plot, which has exacting demands because it’s kept so clinically clean.
Honing a more resilient garden means, in part, becoming a more resilient gardener. What might help in this process is the knowledge that, actually, much of what we consider traditional advice nowadays is based on Victorian country house estate practises in comparatively recent times. Activities and a calendar that was designed for the team of gardeners working at the behest of the Lord or Lady of the manor to keep the gardens primped and polished, and the kitchen full of produce, to their masterly pleasure.
Prior to this very controlled Victorian approach, the gardens of every day, working folk (aka peasants), often had a more free-spirited, practically-minded ethos. This included sporting a more higgledy-piggledy mixed planting of crops and flowers among weeds, many of which were prized for both their culinary and medicinal uses in the homestead.
Get the Look: Medieval Gardens – Organic by Design
Don’t remove all weeds
These gardens served a functional use, especially for those in so-called lower-status positions, as they were used to provide food for the table. Within this system (and the growing of edibles), some weeds were actively encouraged in because of their many uses in the home.
As well as protecting the ground against nutrient leach away over winter, many weeds that we would nowadays remove, such as chickweed, fat hen and ox tongue would have been allowed (indeed encouraged) to self-seed and grow in-between crops. This would have served the purpose of attracting beneficial insects to aid natural pest control, as well as helping to provide a welcome food source, especially come the hungry gap in spring. The ground was always covered with plants, helping to keep moisture in during the warmer months and avoiding erosion over winter.
Grow more herbs
Herbs also played a very important role, with a wide range being grown for a number of practical uses; from flavouring food in the kitchen, to use in beds and bedding (wormwood et al), to keeping out bed bugs, for dying, to ward of evil sprints (rosemary), and also for a range of medicinal purposes (such as comfrey to help mend broken bones).
Consider mixed planting
Although most medieval gardens followed a three-year rotation system of peas and beans, followed by grain and then a fallow period, a number of crop seed were often sown together to reduce risk of failure. This would have resulted in some mixed planting growing together, and this (combined with the ample wildflowers and weeds grown alongside) would have created a healthy degree of biodiversity and natural resilience against pest attack and disease as a result.
About the Climate Change Garden Book
Co-written with Soil Association magazine editor, Sally Morgan, the book aims to empower you with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become a climate change savvy gardener. Buy your copy here.
Kim writes for a range of national publications and runs popular polytunnel growing and get climate change smart day courses. She is offering us a special 20% off all 2020 bookings made before the end of November 2019. Just mention Dobies when booking online to take advantage of the specially discounted price of £76. See www.greenrocketcourses.com for available dates and more details.