Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way

Patrick Whitefield | Thursday, 24th February 2011
The second edition of Charles Dowding's organic growing classic impresses Patrick Whitefield...
Author: Charles Dowding
Publisher: Green Books
Publication year: 2010
RRP: £12.95

Charles Dowding is a gardener of genius. Gardening is always a balance between working with nature and against it. Growing a garden always goes against nature because it's so far from what would happen on that land if we left it alone and allowed nature to take its course. Yet the secret of successful gardening is to understand the natural cycles of plants and garden ecology and allow them to do the work for us as far as possible. Charles has found this balance to perfection.

The first part of the book, just over a quarter of its total length, is about no-dig gardening in general, how to start and maintain a garden without ever digging. The second longer part is about how to grow specific vegetables, with some notes on fruit. For this second edition it's mainly the first part which has been expanded, with more information on how to set up a garden from scratch. There's also a little more on the reasons for not digging, but to my mind the latter is perhaps the weakest part of the book. There are specific reasons for not digging which I feel he could have set out with more force and in more detail. It's almost as though after 25 years of successful no-dig gardening he hardly feels the need to argue the case with much scientific fact, it all seems so obvious. And really it is: nature doesn't dig, so why should we? But some readers may need convincing and there is much more that Charles could have said to explain why ripping the earth up and turning it upside down disrupts the very natural cycles on which successful gardening depends.

Another new element is an account and a fine set of photos on an experiment he has been running comparing two beds of mixed vegetables, identical except that one is dug and the other is not. Need I say which bed has yielded slightly more?

The whole book is permeated with tips and ideas from a gardener who combines in his style both rigorous discipline and great sensitivity. The result is a thoroughly practical gardening book. There's no better example than his approach to the little creatures which are always at the forefront of every British gardener's mind: slugs. His policy is never to give them any cover. He keeps all dense vegetation well away from the vegetable beds and the only mulches he uses are well composted before application. His methods work and the results are to be seen in his garden, and in the excellent photographs in this book.

Patrick Whitefield Permaculture author, teacher and consultant.

Charles Dowding runs one-day courses at his garden.