Charles Dowding’s Open Afternoon at Lower Farm

Charles Dowding

Charles Dowding’s no-dig Lower Farm on a hot Sunday in August was a perfect place to visit and dream about growing beautiful and happy vegetables.

I always hope that one day, somehow, I will figure out how to do all this sowing and planting business properly; in the same way that I slowly figured out how to make the bread we want to eat.

Charles DowdingThe similarities are there and I could ramble on about how time and temperature are really important but like many people who bake or cook I am seduced by the apparent ease of following a recipe or set of instructions and want that to work first time out.

So I’m going to ramble on about Variables.

If you have a wander through some of the pages on Charles’ site you will see that he keeps records of what happens each month and his experiments, these must be invaluable to any would-be gardener.

I wonder if bakers keep such detailed notes.

Charles Dowding

I know I tried, sort of, when I started this blog. It was meant to be a record of what I baked each month with the baking group Mellow Bakers, so that I could look back and find out what the difference was say, between Rustic Bread and Country Bread. But the truth is that while it was fun doing the bread posts, I don’t know if they are that useful as a record, though they were constructive in that they made me think about what I was doing and be honest about where I had changed things, where the variables had crept in, whether it was substituted ingredients, or a particularly cold day, or a dog walk that had gone on much longer than I thought…

Charles Dowding

Gardening and growing happens in an ever changing world and if nothing else it brings home how little we can control most of the experience of being alive. The fact that many of us have the luxury of food on the table each day is one that no one should ever take for granted. When I was a child, my autistic brother lived in a wonderful Steiner community in Northern Ireland. When he was home in the holidays, we would adopt their practice of holding hands around the table and saying ‘Blessings on the Meal’. Sometimes now, even though I live a very secular life, I say it still in my mind just before we eat.

Charles Dowding

So back to Variables. Science is all about Variables; isolating them; figuring out what they are; and the designing experiments to see what changes what, and whether what you thought in the first place was wrong. We only progress by figuring out the inadequacies in our experiments. Getting it right tells you nothing new.

Charles Dowding

Baking, gardening, raising children for those of you lucky enough to have them, training a small puppy for people like me, are all grand experiments and need to be approached in a spirit of honesty and humility.

Charles Dowding

It’s no good rushing to conclusions and it is good to be gentle and thoughtful, ask for help nicely, be kind to others, don’t put them down, don’t be too quick to say I’m right and you’re wrong, it’s all just a bit more complicated than that and life is not about being right, it’s just about itself, whatever metaphor you employ, a journey, a story, a revealing. Life is what it is and there is not that much you can do to change it. All we have control over is our judgements, rarely over events themselves. So I aspire to gentle thoughtfulness, I don’t always manage it, but that’s how I would like to be.

Hang on, wasn’t this going to be a ‘look at this lovely place type of post’ and ‘let me tell you about the no-dig vegetable method?’ But what about Charles Dowding? Well, he has a great site here, where you can read all about his practice, the plants he grows, the methods, the years of experimentation. There is a fine interview with him on Michelle’s wonderful Veg Plotting site which will give you a brilliant introduction to his work. Really I just wanted to show you some photos that Brian and I took and tell you that we had a lovely time. Mitch from Twitter came along too which made it even more fun!

Charles Dowding

I just stood and looked at the fields, and wandered around, read Charles’ notices, had tea and a half a scone, bought a book and some garlic grown on the farm, chatted to other people visiting that day, asked questions and it was very peaceful. I felt the good sun on my face and smiled at the beauty of it all and felt happy for the first time in a long while. There is still a little after-glow now.

28 thoughts on “Charles Dowding’s Open Afternoon at Lower Farm

  1. drfugawe

    I enjoy seeing you get philosophical – the beauty of life on a bright sunny day seems to do that to us, doesn’t it! And it suggests that life is good.

    1. Joanna Post author

      A blog is a strange thing, not really diary (has an audience) not press (no editor). I would like to write proper essays, but that would require a lot more work. But yes beauty and order and a good day where not too much is required of one – it was a lovely change :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I love visiting gardens when I get a chance, there is always something exciting to discover :)

  2. VP

    Anyone can write a ‘I had a great garden visit post’, but one about how a visit makes you think is much rarer and more delightful.

    Your final sentence is sufficient to tell us that you had a wonderful time.

    Thanks for the mention – The 52 Week Challenge is me working out how some of this stuff works as well as inviting everyone else along who wants to join in. I’m so pleased that it’s enabled me to meet one of my gardening gurus. Remember, whilst Charles does experiment and takes copious notes, he’s also open to there being more than one way of doing things when it comes to gardening.

    1. Joanna Post author

      thanks Michelle :) I thought Charles was lovely; he was very busy with all his visitors but Mitch and I did introduce ourselves and he recalled our tweets about flea beetle, and he beamed away at us and told us about tree spinach. If one day I have a different space to grow in I think I would love to take a course with him.

  3. Cas

    A lovely post Joanna, I feel more tranquil for just reading it.

    I note you say you have a secular life now but you come across as a spiritual person, you seem to tap into nature and to me that makes you spiritual.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I’m delighted you liked the post. Maybe secular is the wrong word, I write these posts quite quickly and when I read them back sometimes I wonder what on earth I am trying to say. However, if I leave them sitting too long, then the moment passes and they never get posted. I think there are qualities in direct experience which just arise in the moment and that is what I was trying to convey,

  4. hardlyrelevant

    “So I aspire to gentle thoughtfulness, I don’t always manage it, but that’s how I would like to be”. Lovely sentiment. It’s hard to manage though in the hustle & bustle of everyday life. I find it difficult to find the enthusiasm to get out in our one acre of garden these days but when I do I always end the day in a much better mood. Maybe Spring will ignite the passion again, it seems to have been a cold winter this year in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hello ! Waves to the Blue Mountains – they sound beauitful just from the name alone :) I was getting very excited by the polytunnel and all the wonderful veggies Charles grew in there all year round. One day I will move house and have more garden space I hope, though your acre sounds like a big plot to manage. I know what you mean about winter sometimes it seems very very long indeed.

  5. hotlyspiced

    What a beautiful garden. I too would love a garden like that. I loved the Jamie Oliver series where he cooked from what was growing on his property. It would be a dream come true to live like that. Some time ago we were invited to stay on a country property. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to see what they were growing. I was so disappointed when I arrived. They have all this land but grow nothing. The farmer’s wife is into horses and that’s where all her energy goes. She’s not interested in having a garden so drives to the supermarket like the rest of us. I was devastated xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Charlie – If you set up home next to the woman with horses, then you could have her manure, perfect for CD’s veggie growing method and trade her back some veggies. Lets dream on :)

      I try to buy veggies from our local greengrocer round the corner or on the Gloucester Road, where there are several greengrocers, who stock locally grown produce as much as possible, or the farmers’ markets when I get there. At this time of year I have some precious veggies from my little garden, currently tomatoes, lettuce and french beans. It’s a far cry from being self supporting in veg but I like to think I’m practising.

  6. Le Petit Potager

    Hello Joanna, You looked like you had such a lovely day out.
    I live in the foothills of the Blue Mountains also; on the northern side where its been much warmer this winter. Still late winter and tomorrow should be 28C; a big planting day in the vege garden tomorrow.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hello! Waves to the foothills of the Blue Mountains too :D 28 C is hugely hot by English standards. I think we got up to about that 2 days this summer. What are you going to plant? I have scrabbled around today potting up a few fennel shoots, I finally found some proper Italian bub seed. But I have no space really for anything until the tomatoes are finished and things die back a bit. My aspirations are always bigger than my space !

      1. Le Petit Potager

        I’m much like you Joanna when it comes to garden aspirations and space!
        Whenever I need another new garden bed I build a raised bed; my house and garden are built on a sandstone rockshelf.
        I’m planting beetroot, carrots, radish and shallots. If the wind dies down (Its one of Celi’s bendy tree days today) I’ll plant dwarf and telephone peas.
        When my camera comes back from its holiday in New Zealand I’ll post some photos of the wee plot.
        So pleased your writing regularly again!

      2. Joanna Post author

        I would have to build on the little grass bit I think or in my front garden which is gravel and full of shrubs and perrenials (it may yet happen) We have more space than many people but it isn’t very big, I will show you a drawing of the layout one day. I had to rush off and look up telephone peas, apparently they have been around since the 19th century http://www.realseeds.co.uk/peas.html – what fun. We have tried a few celeriac plants this year, wiating to see if they make good roots.

        And.. it’s nice to be writing again – thanks for your lovely comments :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      It was one of the rare hot and sunny days this summer, I am hoping it wasn’t the last. Glad you liked the post Marina :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I am wary of there being one way to anything but I can see your point of view. I guess I was thinking of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. My thoughts always go back to those two writers and their ideas on science.

  7. Jan

    I’ve read through this post several times Joanna – the garden and this post that it inspired are equally beautiful. Your thoughts reminded me of Quaker philosophy “Listen patiently and seek the truth which other peoples opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you maybe mistaken”. Now, because I’m a Pom at heart – here is today’s weather forecast from by the bay in Brisbane, 14-27c, possible late rain. The air is also carrying the scent of Jasmine which heralds the return of summer. Thank you for your lovely post Joanna. I hope you are still feeling some of the sense of well-being that beautiful garden and the sunshine engendered.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Jan, at the bottom of my garden on the north facing trellis is a jasminoides trachelospermum, which is just coming to the end of twirling its pinwheel flowers and scenting the evening air. It sits in a little planting pocket, has a height of about six foot, succumbs to black mould in winter and then mysteriously for something that is planted in such a rubbish place bursts into flower at the end of July and carries on flowering for almost a month. When I see it looking sad I think it is time for it to go, but it always surprises me. We have lost so many plants and trees since we made this garden in ’95 so I am always delighted to see this one make a come back.

      Whenever I have come across the Quakers I have always felt at ease; that is a lovely quote you have shared, thank you so much for that and for your love xx

  8. Anne MC

    Hi Joanna, thanks for introducing us to Charles Dowding’s garden.Lovely post. Wishing you more happy moments. Anne

    1. Joanna Post author

      I must write a bread post soon, I have the photos but not found any words for them. Have a lovely weekend you too Alison :)

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