THE MODERN MINT BLOG
“We use minimum tools, minimum management…”
Your garden is a space. How you use it is entirely up to you. But we are thrilled to explore the notion of minimal gardening, of doing less and less and less, and still seeing if we can make a garden that is enjoyable – in that it has an atmosphere that makes you want to spend time in it, that is has habitats for wildlife, a place to sit in the sun, something to harvest and eat and plants to look at, smell their perfume, enjoy.
It takes courage to garden in a minimal way. To stop yourself from tidying up the garden or trimming the hedge twice a year. To not bother mulching in order to keep down the weeds, because by keeping down the weeds you are also keeping down the chance of a beautiful flower that has seeded in your soil.
On the other hand, it is probably easier to convince yourself not to double dig your vegetable patch. So that is a start towards not intervening in your garden’s processes.
But what if, like the quote from Midori Shintani above, we garden in a specifically minimal way, and allow the garden to become less a collection of plants and more a… wilderness? How would we do it?
7 Steps To Garden In A Minimal Way
1) Turn lawns into meadow – you then have a choice to allow it to become forest, or to try and reduce the competition from grasses and encourage wildflowers.
2) Compost, but don’t dig it into your borders – throw it around the base of plants that need it, and productive plants especially, but don’t create a blanket of compost across a border. Let things seed and grow.
3) Own less tools – no wheelbarrow means you leave heavy objects where they are (or you have to slow down, and take your time to move things… this might be a good idea when it comes to the garden, to slow down and look!) No chainsaw means that tree trunks become features, or can be covered with soil to become an earth bank, a completely different habitat for wildlife and plants. You may also be able to get rid of the shed, as you have no tools to store.
4) Don’t fertilise – keep your soil lean. An unstable soil (one that is constantly dug over, hoed and disturbed) will encourage germination of seeds, while a rich soil encourages the strongest plants to take over. That means nettles. Hold off the seaweed or fish, blood and bone and you may find a higher diversity of plants can grow together in your garden, in a state of happy equilibrium.
5) Don’t buy plants – this reduces the waste from plastic pots, but also encourages you to be eagle-eyed in your garden – plants are growing all the time, seek them out, dig them up and replant them where you want them. Admittedly, this is easier with trees. We find lots of holly and yew seedlings, hawthorn and ash. It is a great bonus to have them.
6) Don’t pot on – sow seed in situ, and thin when they come up. You will then only be able to sow when conditions are right and their is enough sun and heat for the seeds to germinate.
7) Keep containers to a minimum – these will always need more work, as the plant cannot fend for itself so relies on you. Don’t have them, and they don’t need watering.
We are still exploring these ideas, still developing how it might work in a way that means your garden doesn’t end up a complete mess. It is fun to test the limits of just how little you can do, while also getting what you want. A lot of people don’t have time to garden, but could do with more ‘outside contact’ in their lives. A philosophy of minimal gardening may be the next step people take?
Remember, we are talking minimal gardening. Don’t intervene.
Making a new topiary out of the large, dull facade of a Taxus blob… My work was to change it up from a ‘jelly drop’ shape and give it texture, open it out and let the light through, and make it a sculptural feature in the background of the garden in summer… yet a major part of the garden in winter. A few more years before it becomes something special, but there was far more leaf and growth inside the plant than I thought and so it will not take too long for it to gain in character and become …
Two weeks ago I was invited to teach topiary at the garden of Griselda Kerr, the author of The Apprehensive Gardener. I love teaching and sharing skills, but I was placed on the spot in the afternoon and asked to show how I would make a new topiary from an existing shrub. So below is a speeded-up video of me creating a cloud-pruned topiary from an old boxwood tree. I particularly love the ending when the class get involved….! See the video here. One hour was all it took, and though it needed a little tidying-up, it was made by …
Charlotte Molesworth, my topiary mentor, and I are running our popular topiary workshop again in 2022. You can email me for details – or go here for information, your ticket and to find out about dates. Book A Spot On A Topiary Workshop, September 2022