Garden Organic – Growing Naturally

Yesterday saw a group of Garden Media Guild members visiting a garden with purpose.

Founded by Lawrence Hills, a tireless promoter of organic gardening, the charity Garden Organic at Ryton in Coventry focuses on education, community health and well being, research and importantly they campaign and lobby where policy threatens the organic principles of:

  • Building and maintaining soil health
  • Encouraging biodiversity
  • Using resources responsibly
  • Avoiding the use of harmful chemicals
  • Keeping a healthy growing area

Hosted by Hannah Rogers, Director of Membership and Communications, our group benefited from expert tours led by Head Gardener Emma O’Neill and Head of the Heritage Seed Library Catrina Fenton and I for one came away reflecting on my own small space and the need to improve its soil health in particular.

Enthusiasm for a mission is infectious and Emma has it in spades (sorry!) Six years ago, she took on the challenging task of re-building the garden on a one acre site, where it had previously been set in 22 acres. This required intense attention to recycling, soil health and biodiversity and not only has this been achieved, it’s aesthetically wonderful. We heard about the ongoing trials of dig v no-dig, the effectiveness of comfrey and nettle as fertilisers, with fascinating insights from Emma who is also striving to regain the national collection of comfrey. The trial results will be a while yet, but are eagerly anticipated.

The wildlife pond, with flowers encouraged to self seed in its border is teeming with creatures taking advantage of its benefits. For the human – it’s a place for contemplation, peace and relaxation…..

Emma had her work cut out with the move to one acre at Ryton, but she’s also able to demonstrate that even with a one metre space, a family can grow produce for the table indoors or outside. Education is key and what better way to educate than showing what can be achieved, Emma’s attractive container garden with its pebble pond encouraging wildlife can only inspire anyone with an outdoor space to start growing.

Laurence Hill was a great fan of alpines and so Emma felt it essential to develop a suitable border using recycled slabs from paths on the original site – an innovative approach that could be adopted by anyone with a few slabs tucked uselessly behind a shed or greenhouse (me for example!).

Demonstrating the principle every gardener should keep in mind when developing their space, ‘right plant, right place’ are three stunning borders, all with a different aspect in terms of light and exposure and of course soil type. A great learning environment for the budding gardener!

Catrina took over after lunch and gave us a fascinating insight into the seed industry and in particular the purpose of the HSL in preserving plants that are no longer (due to legislation) available commercially.

Standardisation, a result of legislation around seed production for commercial use, has a detrimental effect on biodiversity and has meant that many heritage vegetables are at risk of being lost. To ensure they are not lost, the HSL looks after over 800 varieties of vegetable no longer available for purchase, including old British varieties but also obtained from an initiative gathering seeds from more unusual varieties grown by first generation immigrants living in the West Midlands.

One of the main challenges faced in growing these vegetables from seed is avoiding cross pollination. Members of Garden Organic grow around half of the produce, but the trickier seeds are handled at the HSL, in dedicated polytunnels and growing areas where the risk of cross pollination is mitigated. Examples in the photos above include a melon, runner bean, maize and a carrot!

Just some of the marvellous seed names currently in cold store in the library.

Our group made a small contribution to the seed library before leaving the garden – de-podding and seed packing over discussions about gardening and our roles as well as sharing valuable tips and tricks, amazingly therapeutic!

These seeds are not for sale as they are not approved to be commercially available – however, they are now ready for distribution to Garden Organic members who will be playing their valuable part in keeping these heritage vegetables alive.

Garden Organic is a charity and needs members to keep it alive – I’ve joined today, please check out this link for more information on this inspirational organisation…