In 2007 I wanted to grow vegetables for the first time but had nothing more than a concrete square for a garden. I know this is a common situation for many people.
There was then and there is now a huge number of us who, with a desire to live sustainably, reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment, want to grow some of our own fruits, herbs and vegetables. How does this transient, space-restricted population so often living in rented accommodation make this happen?
Vera Greutink, a no-dig gardener for over 15 years believes in small scale solutions to growing your own food and demonstrates this by dedicating the first part of her book to growing edibles in containers and small spaces. Vera shows that space does not necessarily limit the variety of crops we can produce and those with urban gardens can reap the benefit of growing edibles in the places they have available.
How do you fancy a year-round salad bar? A minimalist herb garden? Not only can the benefit of containers enable you to mix things up, but they are also a movable feast too. Edible Paradise provides so much inspiration and practical examples for those with limited space to grow for the kitchen table. Not only that, Vera provides advice for the small space grower on composting systems that allow you to turn those kitchen scraps into feed for your plants. Whatever your growing space, there is the opportunity to think about the whole system of producing food.
Vera makes us a promise at the beginning of her book. The promise is you will gain the information you need within its pages to start a no-dig garden, cultivate a variety of vegetables in permanent beds and learn how to manage your time and space to maximise the harvests. When I finished reading Edible Paradise, not only did I feel Vera had kept the promise and more, but she had clarified a concept that I have been trying to understand for quite some time and wanting to make work in my own gardening space.
Vera frames her entire gardening approach in that of Permaculture, a design framework inspired by natural ecosystems. When I first discovered the concept I found it appealing for a number of reasons. When you look at nature, what you notice is how efficient the whole system is. It doesn’t rely on external inputs and the variety of plants provide numerous benefit and support for each within the local community.
Vera’s book is unique in that it’s a kitchen gardening book written from a permaculture perspective. What I have struggled with when reading about permaculture in the past is that the concepts work wonderfully in spaces with perennial plants and trees but I could never grasp how to take the ideas and make them work in a kitchen garden or on an allotment. Until now.
One of the important principles of permaculture is diversity. Nature doesn’t host simple planting schemes or single plants all laid out in neat rows with their own space. It doesn’t deal in monocultures. Nature works as a community with a variety of plants providing support and benefit to each other in many ways. Therefore, if you use permaculture principles in the design and management of your garden, not only will you save time and energy but you provide a positive impact on the environment around you.
The central feature of Vera’s design and approach and the golden thread within the book is polycultures and her insight and experience with designing and growing a garden of annual polycultures are evident as the clarity in which it is explained meant I completely understood it.
It can feel radical as a veg grower to read about polycultures. This is because we have for so long had a Victorian approach instilled as the method of growing our own fruit and vegetables. It has become so standard that nobody really questions why we do the things we do. One of these is the approach to growing each individual crop to its own space or bed or with minimal companionship. However, when you use permaculture as the lens in which to see your garden, you essentially mirror the approach taken by nature and sow and grow everything together in a wild plant party.
What I found incredibly powerful in the book is real life examples of gardens that Vera has worked that demonstrate how polyculture is utilised into their design and a month by month guide to permaculture kitchen gardening through the year. Whether you have a bed or an area space the size of an allotment, Vera’s examples of the garden’s and the monthly advice will provide the framework for you to create your very own edible paradise using an approach that works with and for nature.
There is so much practical information within the books 227 pages and Vera has included a number of her own tried and tested recipes for you to use when you reap the rewards from you garden. The book is wonderfully structured and it is packed with beautiful photographs showing off Vera’s own garden and plot and all the fantastic crops she grows.
I’m incredibly grateful to Vera for sending me a copy of her book Edible Paradise: How to grow herbs, flowers and veggies in any space for review. If you don’t already, you should follow Vera on Instagram and subscribe the her fantastic YouTube channel too!
Edible Paradise: How to grow herbs, flowers and veggies in any space is published by Permanent Publications. All Photographs in this post are courtesy of Vera Greutink.
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