The Resilience Garden

This project is the subject of ‘Recipes for Resilience’, the next book in the Resilience series by Elizabeth J Walker.  Please contact the author to find out more; we welcome review readers!

The Resilience Garden project develops ordinary gardens to provide an emergency supply of fresh greens for the immediate neighbourhood. The key features are low maintenance and year round production of edible plants.

A significant amount of home grown food for the householder all year round is a useful side effect.

Gardening conditions differ across the country, and even from street to street. The exact details of what will thrive and which plants will struggle can’t be found in reference materials. They have to be discovered by practical application. Having a vegetable patch in every location, however small, gives the area a head start should this suddenly become important.

This garden was built using reclaimed materials. A raised bed system is used, as the local soil is a heavy unproductive clay. The growing area was created in stages over five years, using tyres as a retaining wall to enable easy expansion as soil became available.

This was mainly reclaimed from building sites. Structure was added by mixing it with kitchen waste and manure. A home-made spray of comfrey, nettle and seaweed provided extra minerals. All the food is grown using organic methods.

Agricultural chemicals are made from fossil fuels, and depend on an entire infrastructure to reach your garden. Any food supply designed for emergency use needs to be independent of these. Observation of various crops shows which are most self-sufficient, and how others can be encouraged.

Soil quality is crucial. Aim for a loam structure, where weeds can be pulled out whole. Avoid walking on the soil; make paths within the beds. Learn which trace minerals a healthy plant needs to repel pests and experiment with adding these.

Here in Somerset, ground cover is maintained by selective weeding. Some edible weeds, particularly bittercress, plantain and groundsel are left among the vegetables. The more invasive docks, dandelions and nettles are confined to the wildlife corridor which surrounds the garden.

Many authorities recommend a full covering on any empty ground. In this area, however, there is a constant battle against slugs. The nutritional value of green manures and mulches has to be balanced with the extra mollusc habitat provided. This is the sort of information which comes from experience and is passed on by word of mouth.

After seven years of experiment, rocket and spinach turn out to be the winter mainstays. Both self-seed and survive all but the coldest weather. Root vegetables make a poor showing, but leeks and perpertual onions do well. Brassicas take up a lot of space, but are most productive in spring when the winter plants are starting to bolt. Summer crops include peas and courgettes; most varieties of bean succumb to the slugs. Autumn brings the potato harvest from the tyre stacks.

Resilience Gardens were originally designed to supplement canned and dried food stores in an emergency of no more than a few weeks duration. Today, there is a more mainstream need for gardens like this. Foodbanks, on which many people have come to depend for significant periods of time, cannot usually distribute fresh food. Living out of tins is no longer just for emergencies. Even a handful of fresh broccoli leaves, steamed to retain vitamins, can add essential nutrients to such a meal.

There’s never been a better time to relearn the science of growing food.  Visit projects like Feed Bristol to see resilience gardening in action!