Making the connection

Connecting with people and connecting with plants; Nicole Vosper finds the balance

In my first column in the spring, I wrote that the essence of permaculture design is in beneficial relationships – creating situations where components of a system, be they bees or trees, can support each other to survive and thrive. This summer I’ve also realised the benefits of designing for social relationships, where we can support each other as people.

In July I attended the London Permaculture Festival, a celebration of permaculture in all its forms across the city and beyond. There were stalls, talks and workshops, as well as music and kids’ activities. The highlight of my day was winning the rude vegetable making competition. Let’s hope my future reputation as a designer isn’t overshadowed by collective memories of the potato vagina!

On a serious note however, I realised that what I took most from the day was not the array of leaflets or knowledge gained from workshops, but the connections I made. It was great to finally meet people in my age group with similar plant-geek tendencies and to hear how others are doing on their Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design Pathways.

One student I recently met told me that he now spends more time at the community garden he started than on his own patch. He realised it’s because it’s more fun and it performs a social function. People need people and if we understand this then our gardens can benefit too.

With this learning gained, now that I’m starting to design our smallholding for the coming years ahead, I won’t just be focusing on composting and canopies – it’s how to make our land a community resource that is the next question for my family. We are thinking about how we can provide a space for learning, growing and reconnecting with the land.

However, with all this socialising going on, let’s just say the vegetable garden has had a little less attention than normal. What’s lovely about it though is that it’s still abundant and productive. We have had peas, beans, potatoes, all manner of salads and more coming out of our ears. Which brings me to my favourite permaculture principle – minimum effort for maximum effect. This means investing in activities that will bring the greatest yields with the least amount of work. So I could have spent hours and hours weeding but how much will it really affect the amount of crop harvested? Is there a halfway point where just a little effort goes a long way?

The beauty of high-yielding, low energy systems is that with intelligent design you don’t have to spend hours on back-breaking double digging or endless weeding. Of course there’s always something to be done in the garden, but you realise that when you’re busy growing the equally important social side of your life, the garden is pretty much taking care of herself. Now you can’t complain about that.