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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.


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Planet Earth and Us

This is an article I wrote before the Open Space event we organised in June 2013. The purpose of the event was to explore how to find what is useful in 21st century culture, nourishing in Nature, and ways to integrate both as we move forward.Open Space is an enjoyable and effective way for a group of people to organise itself around an issue. Dr Sheila Marsh of Public Service Works kindly agreed to facilitate the event, and Garden Organic offered to host it.

Background to the question

Here are some of the considerations that led to the invitation.

Starting point: the disconnect. We humans are bound to planet Earth by gravity. We breathe its air every moment of our lives. Our bodies are made of the stuff of the Earth. And yet … we spend most of our time in rectangular rooms, looking at the rest of the world through rectangular windows. We buy our food from shops, through intermediaries who bought it from other intermediaries, leading back ultimately to someone who cultivated a part of the Earth to obtain it. We live in a sort of virtual world, populated with artificial importances (money or the lack of it, the house we live in, what we possess – each of us with our particular flavour of artificiality).  Have we lost the sentiment, the perception of the REALITY of our connectedness to the Earth, and the recognition of what that implies?

Historical context  Modern human civilisation has been around for a remarkably short time in planetary terms. If you take a human generation as 20 years or five to a century (probably not the case in the twentieth century but more so before then) 500 generations takes us back to the first farmers after the last Ice Age, the so-called Neolithic Agricultural Revolution. Bacteria in a petrie dish go through 500 generations in an hour, so this timespan is very short for humans to accommodate all the changes that have happened to us. Before the development of agriculture, the norm for human beings was the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, much more intimately connected with the rhythms and life of the Earth. That way of living lasted for considerably longer than 500 generations.

The effect of the disconnect  The Neolithic revolution led to an agricultural surplus that has in turn allowed some extraordinary achievements. If I were to make a personal list it would include Sibelius’ 5th symphony, Keith Jarrett’s Cologne concert, Durer’s painting of a clump of grass, the Alhambra at Granada, the internet – achievements that can all be traced back to the relief from the requirement to go and find our food every day. Achievements that make me proud to be a member of the species that created them. It is as if the Neolithic revolution set us humans on a different trajectory, perhaps parallel to the one we might have followed without it. The disconnect is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is what happened. First questions: has the disconnect served its purpose? Is it time to think about ways to reconnect, to reintegrate?

Other ingredients

There are seven billion humans on the planet. How does this influence our consideration of these questions?

Farming versus gardening. Farming provides nourishment for the body by exploiting the Earth, and provides enough of a surplus to allow civilisation to continue, including the technology that allows me to write this. Gardening is more holistic, providing food for the body and lifting the spirits. It was time spent at Ryton Organic Gardens that prompted me to write this. What is the relationship between farming and gardening? Are both part of the way forward? Is all human intervention with the Earth necessarily to be avoided? Or do humans bring something else when they create a garden?

More on artificiality. The food crops we grow on our farms and in our gardens often have to be carefully tended, as they have been selectively bred by humans. Tending them involves removing the weeds that grow naturally and are more adapted to the local environment. The wild food movement has prompted a rethink of weeds. Is there further to go? Why do I trust the food from seeds in a packet more than from those that grow without my input? (As a secondary thought, this leads to consideration of the human activity of plant-collecting, which can itself be traced back to the Neolithic Revolution).

Trust versus fear. We have been so conditioned to buy our food from shops or grow particular crops, that I was hesitant to pick and eat a hawthorn shoot direct from the bush in spring (delicious and energising). Fewer people in my area pick blackberries in autumn. Another aspect of the disconnect, maybe.

Concluding thought I suspect that it was through contemplation of these areas that the organic movement was born. Where is the leading edge now? What can be born out of looking at these issues now, over half a century later?

Discussion (Please email us with your comments)
Charles Dowding says:

‘Does our approach to growing food rely on what we have been instructed to do, or what we feel is the right way to treat soil and plants? In my case I am thinking of digging! But a lot of other things too eg sterilising pots, fertilising soil, not watering plants in sunlight, feeding soil not plants etc. Even thoughtful, organic gardeners seem reluctant to trust their hunches, when in conflict with main teachings.’