T'was a winding road that led me to the allotment...
Discovering Forest Gardening
After truly committing to my Spiritual Path, I found that after years of working indoors I needed to take plenty of restorative outdoor time. I did lots of volunteering at a community woodland where we planted over 1200 native trees, yet I kept feeling, “Surely it would be good to be planting more edible species?” As I looked into what could be done I became very inspired by the work of Martin Crawford who has an amazing “Forest Garden” near Dartington, Totnes. He doesn’t have any fixed ideas about native species and has been researching and trial-growing many types of trees and shrubs both native and imported for their suitability to his local climate. Generally they have edible fruits and leaves or make symbiotic contributions to the soil and neighbouring plants, each playing their part in creating a perfect environment for low impact food growing. Its a cornucopia of the unusual and the familiar, from Szechuan pepper trees to bamboos to English garden mint. I drank in every moment of Martin’s courses, like I was a bee feeding from words laced with nectar.
The Openhand Retreat House
When I moved into the Openhand Retreat House just over 2 years ago, I had to feel what was right here. The garden was very much a blank canvas, yet what kind of garden would work here? How would the space be used? It seemed the large lawn would make great break out space for guests on courses. A lovely soft place to lie back and go internal, to feel the cool grass and the warm embrace of Mother Earth. The gradual transformation of the garden is a process of planting and nurturing which is still evolving. You can see much of the story of both gardens (the Openhand Centre is a combined space of two houses and gardens) on our Sacred Garden Blog here:
“No dig” heaven
We also made room for veggie patches, and I went over to study with Charles Dowding, an accomplished “No Dig” grower who lives here in Somerset and makes his living from growing a wonderful array of salad leaves. Charles is a gentle giant and I marvelled at how such a tall person could spend their days bent double, planting and picking for hours at a time. His dedicated work is all done with great enthusiasm and a cheerful smile.
Being inspired by my times with Charles I sewed seeds and also planted out some bought seedlings; having many successes and a few disappointments. I realised that I am totally into “learning by experience” and there was no such thing as “bad” or “wrong” as I was sooo excited to self-realise something by my own actions, the outcome of something “going wrong” - FELT GREAT!!
The highs and the lows
Then the day came when I sat at the table and looked down at my evening meal realising that apart from a drizzle of olive oil; EVERYTHING on my plate was something I’d grown myself! It was a delight to behold! I savoured the moment and hugged my plate. Then in the next moment, I was dumbfounded. I was now over 5o years of age. How could it be possible to have lived my life so far removed from the natural provision of my own food? How had it taken all my life to get to this moment? Surely I should have been doing this since the age of five?
When the time came to harvest my potatoes, from which I’d expected bumper crops, I realised I’d be hard pushed to live on the haul for a fortnight if I was dependant on them alone for nourishment. When I considered the sporadic survival of slugaliscious salad leaves, the caterpillar stripped brassicas, the bolted celeriac's and the disappearing carrots it seemed like I’d put in huge amounts of work for very little reward. Though my morale was rescued a bit by some good beans of several varieties and the carrots did well second time round. The first sowings had sprouted only to be lost to night raiding slugs. The real jewels I recall were the massive crop of tomatoes in the greenhouse; a veritable jungle which became almost impenetrable as both sides grew to meet in the middle! Yet even they were just pipped in my rankings of satisfaction by the harvesting of some really sturdy parsnips in the autumn. I can still remember the disbelief when I scraped away the soil and pulled the first thick root from the planter. An unexpected success that felt like “proper food”, something that would make a hearty meal, in fact several hearty meals as they kept on coming. It was truly wonderful.
Realisation catalyses action
One whole season brought it home to me, that while in a way its easy: you sow seeds, and the seeds grow! In another way, to get a plentiful and consistent harvest over the precious warm months of the year would actually take quite a bit of organisation; a good bit of improvement year on year - and definitely a lot more growing space than we actually have. So having made a short story long….. It was then and there that the feeling arose to seek out an allotment.
This blog is about sharing a journey of growing and the contemplations stirred by that.