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 . . .
Permaculture is both a practical and philosophical approach to gardening where natural sustainable systems are used to produce a wide variety of food, medicine, fibres and fuel without the need for herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers. It is not a new system but one that draws on the wisdom of many cultures and ways of growing food that have been in existence for thousands of years.
Australian ecologists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s re-created the Concept. Since then Permaculture has evolved into a world-wide movement educating and encouraging people everywhere to grow abundant food in a way that enriches the soil, encourages biodiversity, creates benign micro-climates, conserves water and reduces our dependency on fossil fuel.
The name Permaculture is derived from PERMAnent agriCULTURE, the permanent planting of trees, shrubs and perennial herbs and vegetables. The aim is for this garden is to become a woodland garden – woodland is an eco system where many different species of plants and animals can live together in a harmony that benefits the entire system.
Many layers of plants are skilfully placed to support and nourish each other. Firstly a tree canopy of, for example hazels, apples, sea buckthorn and willow; a shrub layer of blackcurrants, red currants and blueberries; a herbaceous layer of globe artichoke, rhubarb and seakale followed by a ground cover layer of strawberries, herbs and wild salad leaves. A vertical layer of climbers such as grapes, kiwi, and brambles increases the growing space by utilizing the vertical dimension. Many of the plants in Tapeley Garden are primarily perennial, that is to say they come back year after year without the need to re sow the seed. Plants that are not (like annual herbs and vegetables) are encouraged to self-seed
Food can account for as much as one third of our ecological footprint so it makes sense to grow as much as we can. From the smallest balcony to back garden or allotment, we can use permaculture principles to create an edible landscape that nourishes people, plants, the soil and wildlife alike without the use of artificial chemical feeds, herbicides or pesticides.
By including good floral companions like feverfew, tansy and yarrow in our vegetable gardens we can attract beneficial insects such as ladybirds, hoverflies and wasps, which in turn control the presence of pests like aphids. By creating an environment that encourages birds, hedgehogs, slow worms and frogs; for example ponds, woodpiles and hedgerows full of berries and nesting places, these predatory creatures happily eat our slugs and snails . . .
Gardens controlled by and reliant on artificial chemicals are very different; the sprays, which destroy the pests, also tend to destroy the beneficial creatures too. Slug pellets and insecticides can have a devastating effect on birds and bumblebees, much better to mulch oak leaves or seaweed instead. By gardening organically we can benefit these creatures, the environment and create a classic example of ‘sustainable development’.
By carefully cultivating our soil, we can improve and maintain fertility in the garden and thus improve the health of plants and the yield. Soil is a living organism that supports an incredible variety of life. Micro-organisms and in-vertebrae such as worms are essential and by feeding the soil and the creatures living in it we can save ourselves lots of back breaking digging. In our garden you will see raised beds, which instead of being dug over every year are instead mulched with a thick layer of homemade compost and manure. The worms process this organic matter and take it down through the soil, making it available as nutrients to the growing plants. Feed the worms and they really will do the digging for you . .
As well as the better-known perennial vegetables – asparagus, globe and Jerusalem artichoke and rhubarb, there are many other plants that are both useful and good to eat. Look out for Sea Kale, Nine Star Perennial Broccoli and root vegetables such as Skirrit, Japanese Burdock and Salsify. Alongside perennial bulbs ‘Welsh’ onions, Wild Blue Leek, Wild Garlic and Camissia, you will also find salad leaves such as, Sorrel, Variegated land cress and Monk’s Rhubarb (edible dock).
The many benefits of growing these remarkable plants include:
- Less maintenance – they involve far less work than annual vegetables
- They are often more resistant to attacks from pests
- They are great soil builders – improving soils structure, increasing organic matter and aid water holding capacity
- They provide habitats for beneficial animals, fungi and other life forms
- They extend the harvest season and provide food when the annual vegetables do not have much to offer
- They can perform multiple functions in the garden such as providing ground cover, hedging, erosion control and free fertiliser
- They can also be ornamental, add colour and interest in the garden
Together with a huge abundance of berries, fruits and nuts, you will also find many plants that you may not recognise as edible. These include plants often classified as weeds in ordinary gardens.
- Stinging nettles make an excellent and nutritious soup or tea. Dandelion, plantain and chickweed can also be a tasty addition
- The roots of Rose Bay Willow Herb, dug up in spring, can be boiled as a vegetable and the young shoots can be peeled, cooked and eaten like asparagus
- Lesser Burdock root is cultivated as a vegetable in Japan. It can be roasted and also makes good beer, still popular in the Midlands
- Evening Primrose has edible flowers and tasty roots, which harvested in their first year, can be boiled, steamed or added to casseroles
- Common Mallow, as well as being a colourful garden plant has edible leaves. The Romans are said to have eaten Mallow leaves, as did the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Our native Mallow is very similar in texture and flavour to melokhia, which is grown a lot in Arab countries where it is used to make Melokhia soup, one of the staple food
- Sea Holly is another attractive flower with edible roots. Eaten boiled or roasted they resemble chestnuts in taste. The candied roots made a traditional sweetmeat known as ‘Eryngoes’
- Yellow Asphedoline produces spikes of edible yellow flowers in summer and tasty shoots and roots that can be harvested during autumn and winter
- All species of Fuchsia produce beautiful flowers, followed by edible fruits in late summer
Some of the world’s greatest healing agents have been derived from the plant kingdom. You will find many plants growing in the garden that can be used for treating a wide range of ailments. Some are common culinary ingredients like thyme, fennel and garlic. Others are common garden weeds like plantain and chickweed. Many, such as Echinacea and willow are beautiful and useful additions to the garden.
Salix Willow has been used medicinally for centuries for its pain killing and fever reducing properties. The fresh bark contains salicin, the basis for salicylic acid, of which aspiring is the synthetic equivalent.
Echinacea is a perennial herb native to central North America. The American Indians used the plant to sooth insect bites and stings and a piece of fresh root would be chewed to alleviate toothache. Recent research has shown that Echinacea helps stimulate the immune system and can lessen the severity and duration of colds and flu.
Prunella vulagaris. Self heal was recommended by Culpepper as a wound herb. It has astringent properties and is still used for sore throats, mouth ulcers, piles and internal bleeding.
Symphytum officinale. The genetic name for comfrey is derived from the Greek sympho, ‘to unite’, alluding to the plant’s ability to help broken bones set. The plant has been valued for centuries as medicine to heal wounds, cuts, swellings, ulcers, sprains and bruises.
Verbascum Thapsus. Mullein has been used for centuries for treating all kinds of chest complaints, sore throats and asthma and externally as an ointment for burns, wounds and ulcers. The stalks of the plant were dipped in suet or pitch and used as candles before the introduction of cotton wicks.
Tanacetum parthenium. Feverfew, the common name for this plant is an allusion to its fever reducing properties. The herb has been used for centuries as a general tonic for nervous complaints and as a treatment for arthritis. In recent years research has shown it can decrease and reduce the severity of migraine attacks. The traditional method of taking the herb for this purpose is to eat one to four fresh leaves daily
Tussilago farfara. Coltsfoot is a perennial herb commonly found growing wild in hedgerows and roadsides. The genetic name derives from the Latin Tussis Agree, ‘to take away cough’, and it has been used since ancient times for treating all kinds of bronchial problems.
Althaea officinalis. Marshmallow has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. Its generic name is derived from the Greek word although, ‘to cure’. It was also considered a delicacy by the Romans and the Syrians, Greeks and Americans who often subsisted for weeks on the leaves when the crops were cultivated.
Compost and Green Manures:
Our compost heaps are fed by a variety of green waste and vegetable residues from the garden and kitchen scraps like peelings, coffee grounds and tea bags (never meat or cooked food). We also add biodegradable food packaging, cardboard, newspaper and woodchip. Research has shown that up to 90% of the contents of an average dustbin can be recycled. About half of that 90% could be composted. By doing this we can significantly reduce the amount of household waste that is dumped in land fill sites.
You will see many ‘mineral accumulators’ growing, these are plants, which we dig deep into the soil ‘mining’ essential minerals, which are taken up by the plants roots. These include lungwort, nettle, valerian, sorrel, dock and the x-factor plant – comfrey. We cut the leaves of these plants several times during the year and add to the compost heap or use the chopped leaves as mulch for the vegetable beds and fruit bushes.
As well as homemade compost, there are certain plants which themselves boost soil fertility. These are the nitrogen fixers such as milk vetch, clover and wild lupin. These can be sown as ‘green manures’ throughout the year. The green manures are grown until just before flowering and then dug in and allowed to break down, creating a humus rich, moisture retentive, nutritious soil that encourages worms and other beneficial creatures and micro-organisms.
It is essential to keep the soil covered throughout the season – bare soil is bad . . .After clearing a new area, a covering with ground cover plants, green manure or mulch will protect the soil from drying sun and winds, beating rain, snow and frost. They can also reduce the amount of weeding and significantly increase the fertility of the soil.
Trees and shrubs play a very important role in the well being of the earth. They are quite literally the lungs of the planet, helping to purify the air and locking up huge quantities of carbon in their wood. Many trees and shrubs yield foods, medicines, fibres dyes and oil, and also provide us with wood for a wide variety of uses. The bark can be made into mulch and the leaves turned into an effective soil conditioner. Trees also provide valuable habitats for native wildlife.
We grow a wide variety of trees for their fruit, nuts, berries and wood. You will find apples, pears, plums, mulberry and hazel together with more unusual specimens such as Asian pear, Sea Buckthorn, Medlar, Quince and Walnut.
Hippophae salicifolia. One of our favourite trees. The Sea Buckthorn is known in China, Russia and Europe as one of nature’s most incredible medicinal plants. Its small bright orange berries are so abundant in vitamins, antioxidants and other healing compounds that they are believed to be the most nutritious fruit that can be grown in the temperate zone. In fact Sea Buckthorn berries have no match in the plant kingdom for their content of vitamin A,E and K and rank third on the world list of fruits and vegetables when comparing their vitamin C content. The berries can be added to juices, jams, soups and stews and make an excellent cold busting cordial. The roots of the tree enrich the soil with nitrogen, feeding smaller shrubs and plants growing beneath it.
Juglans regia or Walnut produces edible nuts and very valuable timber for furniture making and veneer etc. it also has many other uses including a sugar that can be obtained by tapping the sap of the tree in spring. The crushed leaves are an insect repellent and a wide range of dyes can be obtained from various parts of the plant. Walnut kernels can be used as a wood polish, and the husk that covers the shell can be dried, then ground up and used as a pigment to paint doors, window frames etc. the fresh or dried bark of the tree can be dried and used as a tooth cleaner.
Cydonia oblonga. The Quince has a beautiful spring blossom and is cultivated for its edible yellow fruit. The cooked fruit is delicious and highly aromatic. It makes excellent jellies and jams.
Mespilus germanica. The Medlar has often been cultivated over the centuries for its edible fruit, although few will recognise this unusual tree. The fruits should be harvested as late in the autumn as possible, preferably after a frost and then stored in a cool, dry yplace until it is almost, but not quite, rotten. This process, known as ‘bletting’, turns the hard flesh soft and sweet with a delicious taste similar to an apricot.
Actinidia deliciosa. The Kiwi fruit is a useful climber for the woodland garden. It is surprisingly tolerant of our climate and fruits well outdoors in Britain. We grow our along a sunny south-facing fence. The fruits are very rich in vitamin C.
Rubus phoenicolasius. The Japenese Wineberry is a vigorous shrub, producing tasty raspberry-like fruits in late summer. During the winter the attractive red stems add colour and interest to the garden.
Pyrus purifolia. The Asian pear is a new introduction to the garden. Crisp juicy round fruits with a strong floral aroma follow the beautiful luminous white spring blossom. Absolutely delicious . . . .
Cornus mas. The Cornelian Cherry is, these days, usually planted as an ornamental today, but humankind has in fact eaten its fruits for the past seven thousand years. Well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was introduced to Britain in about the sixteenth century and cultivated for its bright red cherry-like fruits. The vitamin C concentration of the fruit commonly averages twice that of oranges, making it an unusual but useful addition to the orchard.
Arbutus unedo. The Strawberry Tree, like the Cornelian cherry is often grown as an ornamental, but the attractive fruits have a subtle sweet taste with a lush texture rather like a tropical fruit. Well worth a try . . .
Sorbus aucuparia. The Rowan or Mountain Ash has many connections with tradition and superstition. Ancient people believed it to offer protection against witchcraft. The Celtic people fermented the fruit into a wine and the Scots distilled it into a powerful spirit. In recent times its most common use has been as a tart jelly, an accompaniment for venison and game. Birds love the fruit too, and a tree planted near an orchard will draw them away from cultivated fruit. Rowans support 28 associated species of insect making it a valuable addition to the forest garden.
Cuba, once abandoned by the Americans, encouraged the growing of its food – from fields and gardens, to window boxes using Permaculture principles. It quickly became self sufficient, and produces some of the healthiest foods in the world.
It is our belief at Tapeley that the modern agricultural system, reliant primarily on big agri-business be replaced by one huge, country-wide Permaculture system. For meat, breeds should be specifically selected that over winter out doors – such as the Highland cattle you see here whose skins are three times the thickness of modern, hybrid cattle that spend 5 months indoors fed vast quantities of corn and requiring endless supply of straw for bedding. A food supply of hay (our only cost) and grazing permanent pasture rich in deep-rooted herbs (many medicinal and good for health of grazing animals), which also acts as a very effective natural form of carbon capture, is all they require.
By Jenny Haynes – Permaculture expert, Tapeley Park
Tours and talks on the Permaculture garden can be booked by arrangement. £3.00 per person.
Running on the HomeBlend® Fox Server