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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.