The Permaculture Show Garden

Anni Kelsey
Friday, 11th September 2015

Author Anni Kelsey shares how a group of permaculture gardeners created the 'Working with nature garden' for Shrewsbury Flower Show and won gold!

After months of planning, preparation and growing, a group of permaculture gardeners from Shropshire presented a permaculture inspired show garden at the Shrewsbury Flower Show, a prestigious event which attracts 50,000 visitors annually. It was the first show garden any of us had done and was called the ‘Working with Nature Garden’ to underline how central nature is to permaculture. 

Mark Stefan designed the garden based on a spiral of poles, low at the outer edges and rising to the centre; with a parallel wooden path. This ended at a central nook complete with a log seat. All the materials were locally sourced, sustainable or re-used – coppiced ash poles, larch roundels, willow, waste slate and discarded car tyres. The garden also included a water feature, hand made bird feeder, fire pit and homemade compost bin.

The spiral shape was based on the naturally occurring golden section, as found many times in nature, for example in snail shells and sunflowers. This was a tangible representation of nature at the heart of the garden. It was an inspirational and beautiful design, which generated interesting shapes for planting and attractive views across the garden.

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With a very few exceptions the plants were edible and home grown. We found that growing plants in pots was harder than raising them in our gardens and it was nerve wracking at times in case we did not have any worth showing. We all, however, contributed as many plants as we could which filled a large van twice over! They included:

Blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry plum, cranberry, jostaberry, kiwi fruit, nectarine, raspberry, strawberry (wild), white currant.

Beetroot, chard, chicory, courgette, field beans, lettuce, peas, red and green kale, red orach, runner beans, squash, tomatoes.

Chinese artichoke, earth nut pea, edible dahlia, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, leaf beet, mashua, oca, skirret, sorrel.

Basil, borage, chives, fennel, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow.

Calendula, clematis, mallow, nasturtium, rudbeckia, self heal.

Buckwheat, clover, comfrey, flax, golden hop.

Building the garden was another big challenge, harder than we had probably anticipated, but everyone pulled together and thankfully it was done in time. I found the spiral shape entrancing and loved how it complemented the planting. Not only had we done it (no small miracle) but we had made a really beautiful garden!

All the show gardens were on the theme of climate change, but the other gardens addressed this by drawing attention to future problems. For example, one featured a dead tree and a pile of discarded plastic bottles. Our garden was unique in being completely sustainable, edible, biodiverse and full of ideas that anyone could use to combat climate change.

During the show the garden and an accompanying display in the ‘Our Futures’ marquee drew lots of interest and attention. We had copies of PM to give away and they flew out of our hands! The garden evidently made so much sense to people – we had lots of discussions and enquiries about permaculture, the planting, ethics and all sorts of things.

I watched closely when Pippa Greenwood (BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time) and the show’s own Nigel Bishop came round to judge the gardens. Some hours later, show officials came round with a gold award certificate! We had not expected any kind of award, so this was a wonderful validation of what we had set out to achieve.

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We gave away as many plants as possible after the show, generating a very positive response and more conversations about ethics and permaculture. In comparison to the monetary exchanges happening around us, this felt profoundly different.

It has been a wonderful experience, what a joy to work with like minded people towards a common purpose. Most of us did not know each other before starting out on this project nor did we have nearly as much time as we would have liked. But over the months of preparation and during the building and planting everyone found their own niche, with our varying skills complementing each other. None of the plants were perfect specimens, but as they were planted along and around the spiral and the garden took shape before us. Everything combined into an almost magical effect. It was both beautiful and fascinating, for me this is the magic of permaculture in action.

Our fantastic team comprised Mark, Nancy, Rachael, Louise, Joy, Clare, Eddy, Joe, Kerry, Chris, Rose, Ian, Ruth, Pat and me. We are also very grateful for the sponsorship and support of Briony Cooper (Floral Chair of Shrewsbury Flower Show) and to Malvern Coppicing, Boningale Nursery, Severn Gorge Countryside Trust and Mark Eccleston (Pics and Sticks).

Anni Kelsey is the author of Edible Perennial Gardening published by Permanent Publications (the publishing arm of Permaculture magazine).

For more from Anni visit https://annisveggies.wordpress.com/

Mark Stefan is a landscape architect with Design with Nature www.designwithnature.org.uk

Nancy Lowe is Nancy the Organic Gardener, http://thenaturalgardener.org.uk/

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