Thankfully, Countryside Properties Ltd and Cambridge City Council agreed, from the very beginning of my involvement in the community garden’s planning and development phases, that for the sake of our soil and wildlife, our active volunteers and all our visitors, we should avoid using chemicals on the garden at all costs. For people who know very little about gardening, or the latest advice about horticulture and health, the techniques we use on site will be unfamiliar. The way we garden is certainly very different from the methods used by the gardeners who tend the plants in the public areas of the new developments. The logic behind our decision is set out in a planning and design statement prepared in November 2017 thus:
5.7 The community garden is on former arable farmland, routinely treated with chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers for decades. The clay soil is in a poor condition, with little life in evidence. In order to create reasonable growing conditions, the soil will need to be enriched and improved.
5.8 After consulting the local community, the need to adopt a regenerative approach is clear.
5.9 A no/low dig system will save time, effort and materials. It is the quickest, easiest and cheapest way for the community to bring small parcels of land into use, whilst ensuring the remaining land remains relatively weed free and attractive. It will be the best solution for improving the impoverished soil and a sustainable way of making the site ready for the newly formed Clay Farm Community Garden Group.
5.10 Using a no dig system will increase yields whilst decreasing the need for further external inputs. Regenerative gardening encourages long-term, systemic, mycorrhizal and bacterial activity in the soil. This can be achieved by first covering and then mulching the land. It also obviates the need to remove any topsoil from the site.
5.12 Considering the uncertain timeline, this is a flexible, cost-effective, safe, environmentally responsible and sustainable approach.
Our garden design consultant Catriona Caldwell put it succinctly in her review of that document:
SOIL! SOIL! SOIL!
If you have any questions about the methods I use, please do get in touch.