Perhaps the defining principle of organic gardening is “work with nature, not against it”. The extreme opposite of this might be seen to be agro-industry’s genetic modification and vast monocultures: gimungous resources – human, environmental , economic – poured into fighting against the nature of things, with inevitably toxic results all round. At the other end of the spectrum: wildlife gardening, foraging, and forest gardens, demonstrate that letting things be, with a few timely interventions, can generate riches beyond the dreams of the maximisers.
For the organic grower, attempting to produce for the wider community, there is the question of how far we can stray from the latter ideal of beautiful simplicity, before we lose our way and stray into the barren mindscape.
Last week I was tying in fan-trained peaches, whilst inside the trickle irrigation ran and I tried to trick tomatoes, by means of an electric cable, into germinating before time. These are the kind of things that disappoint visitors hoping to find a state-of-nature permaculture project.
On the other hand, peering through the glass I could see the newly established lacewing hotels built by Whitehall schoolchildren; the calendula flowers rising from the predator strips; as the woodpeckers, tits and the rest of the chorus whooped and chattered around me. Masanabu Fukuoka talked of his “natural farming” not as an end point, an Eden, but as a “road back to nature”: as I cycle out of the nursery, the solar lamps flickering on, peach flowers winking pink like the early tint of salmon sunset, it feels like we’re on the road.