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Gardening versus farming

It is my experience that farming and gardening don’t mix. For the farmers I know, gardening is a pastime, a small-scale hobby, not a proper job like theirs. Although I grew up on a farm, I view myself as a gardener these days. The arable land around our village is a barren wasteland for a large part of the year after the crops have been harvested, and I often wonder whether our relationship with planet Earth has to be so brutal.

Our aim with our garden is that it should provide some interest all year round. The winter flowering jasmine are now in bloom, and some marigolds are bravely holding out after the frost. The kale will provide leaves through the winter, and the shoots of autumn-sown onions are peeping through the soil.

A successful garden provides nourishment for all the senses. It looks beautiful to the eyes, both overall and with particular plants and flowers at different times of the year. Through the year there are different perfumes, from lily-of-the-valley in the spring, to honeysuckle to jasmine later on. There is the buzz of insects and the sound of birdsong. The feel of the grass, and of course the taste of home-grown vegetables and fruit.

The success of a farm is determined by the surplus it produces. Historically the development of farming is linked with that of trade, the growth of cities, and ultimately of what we term modern civilisation. Cities have always needed farms for their existence, so that the city-dwellers could give their attention to other matters than finding food. The other matters ranged from making war to making beautiful objects, to exploring what it means to be human, to developing the technology that enables the internet.

Is there a middle way? Can we keep the benefits of civilisation and also keep the holistic perspective that gardening offers? Permaculture and biodynamics both explore this intermediate territory. As do many others, I am sure.

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What is a garden?

Obvious, you might say: the place where you mow the lawn, grow flowers, shrubs and vegetables and protect them from weeds and pests. Is that it?

Curiously, the origin of the word ‘garden’ defines it by what is around it, not what is in it. It has the same origin as the words ‘yard’ and ‘garth’: an enclosed piece of ground. Even more curiously, the word ‘paradise’ has a similar origin. ‘Para’ means ‘around’ and ‘dis’ is a shape or form. So paradise also first meant an enclosed space.

The description of the biblical garden of Eden has both the enclosing and planting senses of the word:

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food …” (Genesis chapter 2, verses 8-9)


A garden, then, is an intervention by humans, a construct in a defined space, a manipulation of what planet Earth does naturally by selection, arrangement and alteration of plants and landscape in that enclosed area. There was also a trend from the earliest times of bringing plants and even animals from far away to cultivate and display in the garden.

All of which leads to further questions, such as:

– Why do we do it?

And, related:

– What is the difference between gardening and farming?

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Seeds of potential

What to sow next year … November is seed catalogue time. Through selling the tools at shows we have met some small producers of flower and vegetable seeds. They each offer a range of seeds that they have cultivated and prepared themselves, so they know their plants and love what they do. Here is a selection:

Beans and Herbs. As the title says, they specialise in legumes – beans and peas – and herb seeds, although she also has other vegetable seeds in the range.

Edulis is a nursery specialising in edible and rare plants. They also have a selection of bulbs.

Garden Organic, the national organic gardening charity runs a Heritage Seed Library of varieties that have dropped out of the national catalogues. Seeds are available to members of the library rather than to buy.

Pennard Plants is a go-ahead nursery whose stand you may have seen if you have visited one of the major garden shows. They always have an innovative display. They also sell vegetable and flower seeds by mail order.

Stormy Hall offer a range of 250 biodynamic flower and vegetable seeds.

Thomas Etty Esq offers a range of heritage vegetable and flower seeds, specialising in Victorian varieties. They have a most informative website.

Happy browsing!


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Tasks in the garden

At the London RHS show we were next to Pippa who runs the Beans and Herbs stall. We asked her what seeds can be planted now. She recommended a hardy pea, Douce Provence, and the broad bean Super Aquadulce, both of which can be bought from her website.

We also asked her about tasks in the garden for this time of year. Her advice: prepare the unplanted parts of your veg patch for next year, covering it with grass clippings, fallen leaves or compost from the bin. She also advised covering it with plastic (or old carpet if you have it) and weighting it down.

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RHS Shades of Autumn Show, London 22nd and 23rd October

This is our favourite RHS show, in a stunning location: the purpose-built horticultural halls just off Vincent Square in central London. The nurseries put on magnificent plant displays, and are very willing to offer advice to gardeners of all skill levels. We will be selling the tools there. Please come and say hello!

Normal service will be resumed on Thursday after we get back, so all orders will be processed then.

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French laboratory walks its talk

A private laboratory in France has installed antimicrobial copper door furniture throughout its facility to help reduce surface contamination.

Institut de Recherche Microbiologique carried out testing of antimicrobial copper alloys to be deployed in healthcare environments, and were so impressed by the results they opted to outfit their own facility with antimicrobial copper.

Copper is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial, able to rapidly kill bacteria, viruses and fungi deposited on its surface.  It shares this property with many copper alloys, including brass and bronze.