THE MODERN MINT BLOG
About The Earth Friendly Gardener
John Walker, the Earth Friendly Gardener, is the award winning writer and blogger helping people establish a better connection with the world around them.
Update, August 2016 – Modern Mint now stock books by John Walker. Get money off the collection of Digging Deep! Shop now!
He is currently crowd funding for a modest sum to help keep the site maintained. You can find out here how to donate to the earth friendly gardener, or you can read below our interview with John and why we and many others have donated to keep his work in the blogosphere…
Why Modern Mint Donated To the Earth Friendly Gardener
What we love about John’s writing is that it is honest – he shares with us the way he gardens, the way he thinks about gardening. There is great power in words written by someone who gardens by the values they believe in.
We need a voice like this, subversive, sensible, to keep us on our toes and asking questions about what we regard as important about the world we live in.
Try the coruscating ‘Money Can’t Buy Life’ to see what we mean, but understand too that John is not only making us ask questions about our gardening, but offering answers as well.
His voice is a voice we can trust, and that is why we supported his blog by donating, and ask you to do the same – Donate Here
John, for people who don’t know, can you explain about your horticultural interests please?
I’ve been gardening and immersed in nature since I could walk, so the two have happily grafted together all my life. I see gardening and a love and concern for the natural world as a perfect union.
Much of my work now, as a writer, focuses on trying to bring gardening and nature back together. This sounds odd, given what I’ve just said, but the only way that the more destructive parts of the ‘gardening industry’ can operate is by creating a false divide, backed up by poor and frequently misleading garden journalism. Why else are so many gardeners still using peat-based composts, when mining peat is a direct cause of the destruction of wild nature? Why are neonicotinoid bug killers still sold in garden retailers when we know, scientifically, that these chemicals are causing all sorts of harmful effects throughout living nature?
So my gardening and writing interests nowadays tend to orbit around encouraging folk to think a little more about how what they do in their gardens and allotments affects the living world around us. Part of that is challenging myths and suggesting ways to avoid doing damage – such as growing simple, single flowers to attract pest-eating insects.
You’re making a garden in North Wales – what could we expect to see here?
You will find a south-east facing, terraced garden on four levels, which is still being made. Behind the garden is a steep hillside topped by rocky crags, to the front is a view out over part of the Lledr Valley. The terraces-in-waiting are covered at the moment with thick plastic sheeting gleaned from the roadside (covering for road salt in a previous life). I turned old slate pigsties (gifted by a neighbour) into the retaining walls.
The virgin soil, which was riddled with bracken at the start, is red in colour, with good structure, but little else. Compost and leaf mould have already transformed the first completed terrace into a productive patch with flowers and vegetables. Almost all the slate has been transported by wheelbarrow, and the terracing has all been done by hand. I wanted the garden-making phase to be as ‘climate-friendly’ as possible and it’s been hugely satisfying to have achieved that.
Attached to one side of my timber-framed cottage is a large lean-to greenhouse, which I heat using only free and renewable sunshine (there are far better uses for fossil fuels than heating greenhouses, which are terribly inefficient at holding onto warmth). The greenhouse is incredibly productive, considering it faces north-east, but that’s mostly due to it being attached to a bungalow. At the sunnier front of the cottage I have a slate-chipped area which is taking on its own cottage garden-type feel. The whole garden is surrounded by wild nature, where there’s a blurring of the lines, which I love.
The iconic plant here is the wild foxglove, which self-seeds everywhere. In summer, common lizards are my constant companions, ravens cronk overhead year-round, and any day now the drilling of the greater spotted woodpeckers will echo across the valley.
Has the way you think and cultivate your garden changed over time?
Making a garden from scratch has given me a chance to rethink my own gardening philosophy.
Taking a deliberately earth- and climate-friendly approach is hugely satisfying, but it does take more time and muscle power. We live in a madcap gardening age where we think we can buy a solution to everything, and to an extent that’s true.
But if you start to think carefully about what’s gone into that bought solution (raw materials, energy, ‘gardening miles’), it encourages you to garden more laterally, more locally and more gently. Why would you buy a polluting pesticide, the product of a long chain of energy-intensive processes (usually involving oil) to poison aphids, when you can sow some calendulas, whose beautiful flowers attract hoverflies, the larvae of which will eat those aphids for free? To top it all, the calendulas will sow their own seeds and come up again the following year, all without a jot of pollution, and for free.
As the equilibrium of nature around us becomes ever more disrupted, due primarily to climate chaos, I believe gardens are going to take on an increasingly important role, as sanctuaries for both our species and many others. We know that nature is in steep decline; a journey through the intensively farmed swathes of our ‘countryside’ tells us why. Unless we put the skids on the commodification of nature, which is being aggressively pursued by politicians, our gardens might end up being be the only places left where wildlife can cling on.
I think we have a responsibility to the natural world to make our gardens, and conduct our gardening activities, in ways that enrich and support it.
Isn’t that a wonderful thought?
Help Keep the Earth Friendly Gardener Growing
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Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …