Slow Gardening

Borage flowers at sunrise
Borage flowers at sunrise


The Slow Food movement is changing the way people eat. We have heard of related concepts like slow blogging and slow living. Often the best progress is done in tiny steps. So I am experimenting with slow gardening.

The argument behind all these ideas is that Western society has become overly obsessed with wanting everything too fast. We demand immediate gratification. This distracts us from taking genuine pleasure in daily life; from indwelling each moment before it speeds by. Eating meals in the car while commuting or taking kids to soccer practice, we scarcely taste our food. Getting everything fast is expensive, hard on our bodies, hard on our relationships and hard on the Earth.

We even manage to hobby quickly. Gardens are no exception. Spend $15,000 and you can give your front yard a makeover with native shrubs and plants right up to the curb. It will look impressive in no time. Never mind if your hands and back suffer. Never mind what the chemicals kill. This is not about nature and nurture, but putting on a show.

Ecosystems evolve over time. So should a backyard.

When I set out to start a permaculture garden this spring I was taken aback by the suggestion maybe I should start with chickens. It makes sense though: gardening starts with soil, and chickens fertilize soil. As a simple alternative I set up a vermicomposter, which is now producing its first worm compost five months later. These things take time.

Zucchini buds
Zucchini buds

Limited budget and free time required an approach that was slow, simple, economical and mindful. With the arrival of summer I find myself settled into a daily routine that starts quietly in the dewy garden. Borage is flowering and the zucchini is beginning to produce buds. More than ever in the past, I take time to maintain what is established and augment it slowly.

Last week I sowed a small handful of late crop green beans in a short row. Every morning I watered them dutifully. Meanwhile I deadheaded the marigolds and weeded any bindweed shoots. Yesterday the beans were just beginning to emerge. It is time to add something more, so I planted some calendula seeds in available space. This approach gives me time to pay close attention to progress, provide adequate care and get to know the plants as individuals.

Here are a few principles to consider for gardening slowly:

  1. Produce your own soil amendments using a composter, vermicomposter or livestock.
  2. Get to know local wild plants and consider how to include them in the landscape.
  3. Grow all your plants from seed.
  4. Include trees and shrubs in the garden.
  5. Interplant perennials with biennials and annuals; incorporate Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus and herbs into a vegetable patch.
  6. Sow just enough seeds at one time to provide vegetables for a few meals, then care for them, pay attention and see how they respond to growing conditions.
  7. Get to know other organisms that use your garden habitat. See if you can afford to share a few plants with rodents or insects you would otherwise regard as pests.
  8. Stop, be still and admire the evolving ecology in your own backyard.

Some of these habits may try your patience. They have tried mine! It was hard to resist (but I did!) buying lush nursery tomato plants to replace the weaklings I had started from seed. Now in the garden my plants are beginning to flourish. Instead of going for the quick fix, I work with what I have and consider how to better raise next year’s seedlings. Slow means thoughtful.

What about your garden? What happens when you slow down and savour the experience. I look forward to hearing your stories.

4 thoughts on “Slow Gardening

  1. glad you are on board with this concept! i have gardened on five continents, and worked closely with the Slow Food folks in italy, and am glad the concept is catching on.

    felder rushing, founder of Slow Gardening

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