Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A Visit to Charles Dowding

A couple of weekends ago we toodled off to deepest Somerset to visit the garden of no dig guru and all round good guy, Charles Dowding. Charles is well known for his no dig gardening techniques, using mulches of different types of compost, including a soil conditioner made from local green waste and home made compost amongst others, as well as cardboard and plastic sheeting. These mulches keep weeds at bay by stopping light, and keep the soil fed with healthy organic matter.
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No dig is a method of gardening that I am more and more determined to make a success of. Of course it doesn't mean you'll never see another weed, but it does seem to mean that perennial weeds such as dandelions and bindweed are weakened, and makes it simple for annual weeds to be hoed out.

I went to see Charles' garden in order to find out more about no dig and to see a garden I've always wanted a nose around. However, within seconds of arriving what was most amazing about the garden was that it is full of the most amazingly beautiful and healthy crops. It is a garden worth visiting for its beauty and design alone. It's proof that productive and beautiful are absolutely mutually possible and that food growing doesn't have to be untidy or poorly designed.
The health of the plants is, of course, down to the no dig system. Adding layer upon layer of organic matter to the land feeds the soil with beneficial bacteria and fungi and encourages biodiversity in soil flora and fauna. The soil is full of worms, the air is alive with bees, hover flies, butterflies and wasps, and the garden speaks of the importance of healthy soil as the backbone of any healthy garden.At the point we visited in early September, the garden was producing beans, salad leaves, brassicas, carrots, huge celeriacs, beetroots and much more. The fruit trees, fairly new as the garden is only 3 years old, were dripping with fruit, and the greenhouse and polytunnel were full of tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, growing with companion plantings of marigolds to keep the pests away. There were beds with perennial vegetables, full of asparagus, Daubenton's Kale, Oca, Mashua and more. And dotted around the garden and in the front garden were rich flowering plants, bringing pollinators into the garden to really encourage biodiversity.

Charles' partner Steph, in between ensuring cakes, teas, books and veg were available, kept reassuring me that te beauty of this garden, it's health and it's productivity is down to the fact that Charles works from dawn to dusk in the garden, and I left with those word singing in my ears. But it also made me realise that with hard work and the right support all of our growing spaces could be this productive, this beautiful and, in my opinion most importantly, this wonderful for the health of both people and planet. Mr Dowding, I salute you!!

It's worth pointing out that Charles has written several books, all of which are well worth reading and which are available at all good bookshops, or from his website,

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