Rachel Corby

Sowing Seeds, Permaculture and a More Harmonious Way of Living

I have been observing with great interest the spike of interest in planting seeds and growing food plants at home, that has been erupting during lockdown. I have never seen so much interest, so many people giving it a go and it feeds my soul.

I guess my personal interest in producing food was initially piqued back in the late 90’s when my friend Gary handed me a copy of “Permaculture One” by Bill Mollison & David Holmgren. Not only did this book tie everything I had been thinking together – the consideration of low impact living and low input growing – but it was a movement, it had a name, “permaculture”.

I wanted to know more about this system, this philosophy, and so volunteered for several months in a community where they were using permaculture principles to re-establish fertility and abundance to an area where inappropriate farming techniques had caused erosion, landslides and a degradation of the local landscape. The project was in Ecuador, I was young and keen and soaked everything up like a sponge. My time in Central and South America that year became somewhat of a pivotal point for me and certainly helped guide me to where I am now in life, a place of deep love, respect and reciprocity with the natural world.

On my return to the UK, I then signed up for an introduction to permaculture weekend that served to inspire me even more. It led to spending 3 months at Ragmans Lane Farm,  Gloucestershire, in 2001, studying Sustainable Land Use under the late great Patrick Whitefield, who became both mentor and great friend to me. The course included a full 70 hours permaculture design course, but that was only 2 weeks of the 12 week total, as you can imagine we went deep into many other aspects of land care and food production, I loved it. Once complete I spent the next couple of years WWOOFing (willing workers on organic farms) around Southern Spain to ground in and expand my practical working knowledge, ready for getting my own plot.

summer dinner fresh from the allotme

To this date I never did end up with the multi acre plot that I had envisioned, but who knows what the future will hold 😉 What I do have is an allotment that I have been tending now for 17 years and a garden at both the front and back of my house. I also began a gardening business initially just maintenance but later on taking on a few design projects for wilder productive gardens. This was all happening parallel to my awakening to the livingness of the world, to my opening to communicating with plants. As my training then turned more in that direction the emphasis on my gardening business faded. Fast forward to where I am now, which is mainly guiding people in their endeavours to communicate with the plant realms, with just two long term gardening clients left on my books. To date, my working gardening days are still deeply important to me as they force me outside in all weathers, keep my hands in the soil, keep me deeply grounded and constantly learning.

I still of course have my allotment. At the moment I am not buying any vegetables or fruit except citrus. In fact this is how it is throughout most of the year. I eat fresh from the land every day, combining wild leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds with those that I intentionally cultivate. Once you have it flowing there is always something to eat, even in winter, especially now that they are generally so mild, simply causing the plants to slow or pause, rather than knocking them right back down to ground.

The reason I am sharing all of this is that I really hope that the new found interest in plants that people are exploring due to current circumstances doesn’t dwindle when this crisis is over. Nurturing plants from seed to plate, learning of their life cycle, their character, their flavours, has enriched my life beyond measure. Eating leaves throughout the year that are always within walking distance of my home, never sprayed with noxious chemicals, never plastic wrapped, gives me health and vitality that you could never achieve with store brought foods. I made a salad last night with 10 different kinds of leaves and 3 different flowers, that is standard. If I want fruit I get some of last years soft fruits from the freezer and make a smoothie or cook up some of the fresh tasty rhubarb that grows so abundantly with next to no inputs from me year after year.

So if you are one of those people planting seeds for the first time, or taking a renewed or deeper interest in your garden and what grows there, I encourage you to keep at it long after lockdown ends. The more we produce ourselves from home, the more we eat our “weeds” (not spray them!), the more time we spend outside year round hands in the earth, the less detrimental impact we have on our world. The less fossil fuels are used to get our foods to us, the less plastic and other packaging is used to protect our food whilst being transported, and the fresher we eat. In turn the more gentle our impact on planet Earth, our only home, becomes. It then becomes a natural progression to work out how to preserve the gluts we receive at harvest time with ferments and pickles and to discover more and more plants, ones that the pollinators love, ones that provide medicine, ones that help stabilise the soil and on and on.

What is happening right now is the initiation of a love affair. A love affair with plants and our gardens. With the insects and animals that visit and benefit from the plants, with our own health and bodies. This is what we have been waiting for, a renewed love of life in all its guises – ourselves, plants, insects, birds, mammals, our locale, our planet, we are so deeply interconnected. Through the simple action of planting a single seed a chain reaction has begun.

A little while ago, while winter was still with us, I spent the dark evenings writing an e-course on “how to rewild your garden”. When it was complete I didn’t announce it or promote it, I didn’t do much with it at all. It was just something I had been compelled to write after a time soul searching on vision quest last autumn. Now it is beginning to make sense, I wrote it for these times! There are six lessons which walk you through thinking out, designing, creating and maintaining a wild, edible, medicinal garden. If you think this may be of value to you at this time please follow this link to be taken to the course and find out more.

Keep sowing those seeds, keep your hands in the earth, eat fresh from the land and remember you are home.

The Earth is beautiful and abundant and as we all take time to notice that little bit more we will feed off each other.

Happy growing. May 2020.