Minimalism has been a hot topic in the last few years, with its bold claims to saving the world through reducing consumption levels. But there is much more to the topic than just giving away all our stuff and not buying anything new. The core of the minimalist movement is to free up time, bring meaning back into our lives and as Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist adeptly puts it: “to live more by owning less.”
Minimalism complements permaculture because both disciplines ask us to look at our lives, the systems behind things and to think beyond the current global narrative that's leading us toward ecological collapse. It is quite fitting that this latest release focuses on minimalism in the garden, but perhaps the title is a little misleading. The book isn’t focused on creating a beautiful, clean, zen-like ‘minimalist garden’ as the title might conjure up. Rather the book focuses on minimising time and energy spent gardening while maximising yield and improving our ecological footprint by growing our own food right in our gardens.
The Minimalist Gardener is a collection of articles by Patrick Whitefield first published in Permaculture magazine, aimed at sharing his experience and encouraging us to grow even a little of our own food. Patrick was an early pioneer of permaculture, adapting much of Bill Mollison’s teachings to the cooler British climate.
As well as many years working in agriculture, Whitefield was also a permaculture teacher (even developing the first online Permaculture Design Course), and a prolific writer. His books include: Permaculture in a Nutshell (1993), How to Make a Forest Garden (1996), Tipi Living (2000), The Living Landscape (2009), How To Read the Landscape (2014) and the renowned Earth Care Manual (2004), an authoritative resource on practical, tested, cool temperate permaculture. Patrick was also a consulting editor to Permaculture magazine since its launch in 1992 until his death in 2015.
It is obvious from his writing that Patrick loved nature and held a deep concern for the earth and its people. In The Minimalist Gardener Patrick’s belief that gardening would connect us to nature and also tackle the environmental costs of today's food production systems is evident in every chapter. He offers advice, hints and tips, as well as a chapter applying permaculture principles beyond the garden.
Despite being made up of separate articles written over a number of years, it has a sense of flow and ease to it, taking the reader step by step through the concept of minimal gardening. The writing is clear and eloquent and yet it is dense with decades of knowledge and experience.
From dry beds and garden paths to seeds, plants and perennials, each chapter has incredibly valuable information for both novice and experienced gardeners. Patrick has also taken the time to think out each plant recommendation, based on its energy, food offerings and time demands. For example, he favours self seeders and ‘cut and come again’ plants over single harvests, and takes care to explain the importance for planning for continuity so the garden is producing food all year round. The true minimalist garden would have fast growing crops to increase the overall yield of produce. Purple sprouting broccoli then would be out as it needs to stay in the ground for long periods of time. However, if you wanted to grow it you could interplant the broccoli with fast growing crops like lettuce to maximise space usage.
Getting an incredible amount of food from a small space
Throughout the book, Patrick provides a guide to getting an incredible amount of food from a small space. The combinations mean ‘minimalist’ gardeners have more plants per square metre than in a monoculture. The ground is covered more completely and quicker, so weeds get less of a look-in, again meaning less work.
Accidently, or perhaps this was Patrick's grand vision, the articles and subsequent book, The Minimalist Gardener, have created a blueprint for any gardener to follow for an incredibly nutrient dense, high yield garden. It is clear from each chapter that Patrick Whitefield embodied the essence of permaculture in everything he did.
Going beyond the garden, the last chapter links the ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares to our lives. He offers ideas on how we can learn from ecology and reduce our impact while getting our needs met and living a joyful life.
Regardless of the reader's knowledge of permaculture, The Minimalist Gardener has the ability to change any sized British garden into a food forest and for this alone, I recommend it to anyone looking to start a kitchen garden, minimalist backyard or allotment. It seems that to Patrick Whitefield, being a minimalist gardener doesn’t mean a garden of less, but rather a garden of plenty, especially when compared to the time put into the initial space.
'The Minimalist Gardener' is currently on offer for £11.65