A Little Shed Time Reading – A personal selection of gardening and permaculture classics
Perhaps one of the most overlooked of garden tools is the book, a perfect companion to the deck chair and a case of fine local ale. By taking time out from the practical tasks of sowing, planting, pruning and mulching we can sit back, contemplate and absorb the wisdom of those who have gone before us and gain not only practical skills but philosophical insights as well. The definitive list of ‘The Greatest Gardening Books’ will always be highly subjective and ultimately pointless, but for what it’s worth, here’s my contenders for a few 20th century gardening classics that have each in their own way influenced my own ideas and thinking…
The Permaculture Garden by Graham Bell (Permanent Publications)
I first came across the word ‘Permaculture’ in an article in ‘Peace News’ way back in 1981. The word intrigued me, and I filed it away in some back cupboard of my brain for the next few years. In the meantime I’d continued as the sole remaining member of our collective allotment project, and become a reasonably competent vegetable grower, able to supply the young family I now had with plentiful supplies of potatoes, onions, cabbages and beans. I’d also learned much from the books of organic pioneers such as HDRA founder Lawrence D Hills and the late, great Geoff Hamilton. I’d even borrowed David Holmgren and Bill Mollison’s ‘Permaculture One’ from the library a couple of times, but found it rather dense and difficult to get my head around. I did however grasp that permaculture had something to do with herb spirals, and decided I’d like one of these in the garden of the house we bought in 1994, after 7 years of being cooped up in a tiny first floor flat. So as I liked the pictures in Graham’s book I bought a copy in the hope of gaining a few tips. When i got it home I found it had nothing about herb spirals, but instead was one of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever read, changing my whole attitude to gardening, growing and ultimately, life. Giving insights into topics such as soil ecology, water management, composting and energy conservation, Graham gently explains that permaculture is a design system, based around ethics of caring for the earth and each other, and principles of using minimum effort for maximum results, seeing solutions instead of problems and above all, working with nature rather than against, as has been the pattern of most agricultural systems for the last few hundred years. More over, these ethics and principles can be applied to almost any other field of human activity beyond simply growing food; architecture and building to economic systems, forestry management to healthcare, energy production to community building. Somebody once described permaculture as ‘revolution disguised as organic gardening’, but I think its more important than that. Climate change and peak oil are the earth’s way of telling us that we need to alter our behaviours. With permaculture we can not only make those changes but learn to thrive as well.
Graham’s well loved copy: