Do you feel overwhelmed by your garden at this time of year? Or maybe your back’s playing up? Take the no-dig approach to gardening and your will find you have time – and more produce – on your hands
Experienced gardeners and anyone who has ever trained with the RHS will find it hard to believe that there really is an alternative to digging and tilling the soil. Double-digging, forking-over and breaking up clods of soil is so ingrained in our gardening know-how that it goes against our instinct to put down our spade or fork, take a step back from the flower or vegetable bed and not dig.
A friend of ours, who worked at Sissinghurst Castle Garden for 17 years, said that digging is like a reflex action, and she really has to refrain from her old digging habits. At Sissinghurst they have now adopted the no-dig method for their vegetable gardens and, who knows, perhaps they will soon be doing the same in the famous flower borders. We’re certainly devotees of the no-dig method here at Blooming Greenn.
So, who is behind this revolution in gardening? In the UK, it would be safe to say that Charles Dowding is the champion of no dig, having brought the concept of no-dig gardening to the fore with more than 30 years of practice. In recent years he has attracted a growing band of followers including National Trust head gardeners, Sarah Raven and Monty Don who, along with Gardener’s World, proclaimed Charles’s approach as one of the key movements that have changed gardening forever.
And yet, despite his own experience, accolades from gardening big-guns and mountains of luscious vegetables to show for it, his no-dig message: “No Dig: healthier soil, fewer weeds” still seems to shock the horticultural establishment. Gardeners, it seems, find it hard to put down their tools and adopt a less labour-intensive approach.
For those unfamiliar with no-dig gardening, it is both wonderfully simple (for the gardener) and fascinatingly complex — the key is having faith in nature and knowing when to leave things alone: “There’s this hidden assumption that soil needs to be loosened and aerated and we need to intervene, that we can improve on nature and the natural processes, which is quite arrogant really,” says Charles.
What he advocates is using plenty of compost, manure, cardboard and / or fabric to cover the surface of the soil and so suppress weeds by starving them of light. “Fertility building up from on top is a copy of natural processes, like on a forest floor, or animal droppings on pasture,” says Charles. At the same time, worms and soil fauna are encouraged and, as they increase in number, the soil becomes better aerated, without the loss of moisture and soil structure that digging promotes. Weeds are discouraged and gardeners get more time for cups of tea and perusing. What’s not to like?
If you would like to know more about no-dig gardening, Charles will be visiting Kent on Sunday May 14th. You can book your place on the Charles Dowding Talk and Lunch today.
Or, you can read Jen’s interview with Charles Dowding in the March issue of The Simple Things magazine.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for Beks tips on ‘no-dig flower growing on the Blooming Green YouTube Channel.