THE PERMACULTURE GARDEN
Following a protracted and, at times, venomous fight (the only one I won) with my then (wonderful) ex-wife, I began the permaculture garden in 1990. (Kirsty has since admitted it was the right decision – every other ‘disagreement’ concerning Tapeley she ‘won’ which again thankfully turned out for the best all round). The established permaculture garden as well as receiving an award from the Permaculture Society, is fast becoming the main attraction at Tapeley. With capitalism teetering on the brink of collapse, food prices rising sharply due to iincreasing climate rated crop failures and the monoculture approach to farming, a ‘new ‘ planetary friendly approach to growing our food is vital for survival.
If I had my way, I’d wipe Big Agribusiinesses in all its destructive, hideous guises, from the face of the planet and turn the land into one big Permaculture garden and thereby re-engage people with the natural order of things. Permaculture, which broken down means ‘Permanent Agriculture’, is not new – quite the opposite. The principles of companion planting using predominantly perennial herbs and veg, and working with nature as opposed to constantly fighting against it (our modern day system of agriculture), was how our ancestors from South America and Africa, to Australia used to grow their food. The benefits of this system are unlimited, invaluable and vital, I believe, if we are to survive these next few years.
The hard work is preparing the land. However, once established with a dominance of perennials providiing constant ground cover and thus suppressing ‘weed’ growth (though ‘weeds’ are not seen as a problem in this situation as I’ll explain later . . .), with minimal digging, and the workload to productivity ration reduces dramicatically.
We at Tapeley are fortunate to have examples of the two polar opposite (in many ways) methods of vegetable growing. When you approach the entrance to most traditional kitchen gardens you can see at a glance the whole layout and get a fair idea of what is growing. This is because broccoli, spuds, carrots, leeks and so on are drown individually in rows – making it easy for birds and general predators to target their favourite fruit and veg. However, when you enter an agro-forest/permaculture garden you never know what’s around the next corner and excitement is generated as you stumble across one self contained exosystem tafter another.
The numerous small pockets of fruit and vet means we get virtually no losses from predators (plus we don’t use or need slug pellets or sprays to kill aphids and the rest, and artificial fertilizers etc etc). Take blackcurrants for example – a blackbird’s favourite apertif. When we did a large clump in the kitchen garden the birds barely waited for the currants to turn a darker shade of red before gobbling them up. In the permaculture you will see many small clumps with stinging nettles growing through the middle. The nettles will pretty much keep the birds off on their owno and when you wisih to harvest the currants you simply cut the nettles down first.
Another simple one is you plant your carrots next to your onions and the stench of the onions keeps the carrot root fly away. However, I’m not going to document the many examples here – we have a dozen or so information boards in the permaculture garden, plus information sheets in the gift shop detailing almost everything, which you can take away with you and replicate should you so wish. One of the things I find most interesting is the medicinal qualities of so much of what you will see.
The information boards and sheets, and thoughtful planting is down to the wonderful Jenny Haynes (in the same way the Italian borders, lawns, kitchen garden etc is down to Alan Goody, Chris Barham and the excellent group of people we now have at Tapeley). Jenny allows 10% or so of annuals such as squashes and leeks to seed themselves which, she says, means (becuase they acclimatise to the conditions) they grow back hardier and bigger with more disease resistance the following year.
Most important of all, the garden is situated right next to the Wild Garden. Here the overgrown brambles and general weeds allow beneficial insects such as ladybirds and hover flies to over-winter in the same way habitats are provided for snakes and snails. When I started this garden in 1990 we had a plague of aphids of biblical proportions – the likes of which I’d never seen before. I found myself saying to ‘Harry’ we were going to have to spray or else risk losing all the new young plants we’d bought from Plants of the Future in Lostwithiel (Cornwall). Harry stopped me for as long as he could, then one day I marched into the garden, knapsack sprayer on my back, I saw the whole garden covered with ladybirds. In 2 days all the aphids were gone – and I’d had a good lesson in faith.
Finally on this, I must mention my favourite plant in this garden. In 1990 I purchased 2 Seabuckthorn trees from the Plants of the Future – a male and female. The female will only produce berries if she has a husband. The trees, with their sharp spines, are huge and the abundance of orange berried yielded contain some of the most potent antioxidants and vitamin C in nature. They make a delicious fruit cordial, pie or can be eaten straight off the tree and have a strong bitter/sweet taste. Most importantly of all they yield between November and February (provided the birds don’t get ’em) giving you nutrieints over the ‘hungry gap’ period vital for when those supermarkets shelves empty out – which won’t be long now!