Regenerative Horticulture for a sustainable future. By Rashid Benoy

For the past few months, I have been doing the groundwork with the BMC team to prepare for the planned Regenerative Horticulture course.  

Regenerative Horticulture is an umbrella term that encompasses the principles of permaculture (holistic design that simulates natural ecosystems), organics (the use of natural fertilisers and pest control) and no dig (mulching with organic manure/compost on the surface – not digging in – thus simulating natural soil fertility processes).  

For me, this is a very exciting time because I have been very fortunate to have worked alongside great horticulturists and have experienced much of the delights that growing and nurturing plants has to offer.    

My career has taken me on a grand tour of horticulture starting on a fruit farm in Kent where we also had the first commercial micropropagation unit in the country with a grow room and fogging room which added a high tech feel to what was otherwise a rural idyll. 

From there I moved on to commercial vegetable production encountering organics and permaculture. I spent seasons working in small niche nurseries and larger perennial and woody plant nurseries. Then, with help from the Historic and Garden Training Programme, I side stepped into the plantsman gardens of the Cornish estates and the National Trust.

I have seen many examples throughout the horticultural industry where technique or practice are not in harmony with our surroundings.  And yet there are also plenty of techniques and examples, both old and new, which enable us to work harmoniously with the flora and fauna around us. Often these techniques also reduce our work load and help to reduce or eliminate our use of external resources.

Challenges to our food security

Our move out of the EU has brought with it much uncertainty and potential risk to our food security. In 2018 72.5% of our fresh veg and 27.3% of our fresh fruit came from EU countries, of which 31% and 21% respectively came from Spain, including citrus fruit and  nearly all of the salad veg we eat in the winter. The government is working on new trade deals with north African states to replace the current deals, however, there is political instability in this region and increased risk of drought, because of climate change. 

Covid19 brings even greater challenges to horticulture and we are seeing many parts of the industry buckling under the strain of the current restrictions. The nursery trade is especially fragile during this crisis as most businesses have the vast majority of income over the growing season, with very lean times during the winter. We are also seeing great demands on food and this makes me wonder whether there is an opportunity for diversification. Nurseries and flower producers are already equipped with glass houses and polytunnels and it would not be such a great leap to repurpose these spaces for crops like tomatoes, peppers etc in the summer and lettuce and other salads during the winter months. This alone may not be enough to cover any potential shortfall.

 A glimmer of hope

However there is another glimmer of hope! Many people have been buying up seeds in part as an adjunct to home schooling and also as a response to concerns over food security. Maybe it is time for us all to take up our spades and dig for victory once again. There are so many wonderful food crops that can’t even be found in the supermarkets and we may end up all the richer as we improve our green fingers. Some of the plants we tend to in our ornamental garden are also edible – the fuchsia berry is reminiscent of a fig and in fact the fuchsia society have jam making competitions! Even some of our weeds should be seen in a different light – ground elder, which is normally scorned by most gardeners should in fact be revered as it is a vegetable of the highest order with flavours akin to aniseed and fennel.

So if you have a garden then think about digging up a bit of lawn if you haven’t already done so and if you don’t have a green space then start growing salad leaves or chillies on your window ledge. The range of salad leaves available to growers is huge compared to what is available in the shops which is mostly due to the amazing work of Joy Larkcom – check out her book Grow Your Own Veg and her memoirs – Just Vegetating, both excellent reads and the first is a vital reference book for anyone interested in growing food. 

Happy reading and growing and if you want to do a bit more then keep a close eye on what BMC has to offer in horticulture! 

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