Patrick Whitefield spent many years tending his vegetable garden and feeding himself and his wife Cathy with it’s produce. There is a popular misconception that Patrick was a farmer or smallholder, but in fact, he spent most of his adult life living in a bungalow in Glastonbury with small, steeply sloping gardens to the front and back. Like most people, Patrick did not have access to a huge amount of land to support himself from but, like many people, he did manage to grow an awful lot of fresh food. As a permaculturist he had ways of gardening that worked with nature rather than against it, and over the years he found ways of making the work simpler and less arduous, while equally if not more productive. Through observing, season after season, he found the middle road, the sweet spot between productivity and ease.
I loved to watch Patrick pottering in his garden. His apparent excitement in showing off his splendid leeks, while casually grazing on some perennial broccoli was contagious, and the series of short films he made about growing vegetables leave one in no doubt of his passion for it. But unlike some allotmenteers who seem to delight in the graft of annual double-digging and love a good leaning-on-the-gate type grumble about the poor weather and the slugs, he was all for taking the grunt out of it and focusing on the joy of letting nature do the hard work while we enjoy the bounty. He used to tell students that the ultimate permaculture design would require one simply to get out of bed in the morning, walk into the garden, lay on the ground and allow the food to fall into your open mouth! If this was his aspiration, he came fairly close at times, with his modest suburban garden looking something like a miniature Garden of Eden.
His acquired wisdom from this life-long passion is now distilled into the pages of a new book, published by Permanent Publications, entitled The Minimalist Gardener. Patrick was a contributor to Permaculture Magazine and wrote quarterly seasonal articles about gardening, particularly drawing upon his own gardening experience and the wealth of experienced gained from his years as a permaculture teacher and consultant. The articles have been edited and organised into a comprehensive guide for the domestic kitchen gardener, with top tips for all of the seasons, and guidance on design and the different methods you might use.
The advice that Patrick offers through his articles is so helpful because of the way he encourages the reader to think. If you asked 100 gardeners the same series of questions about how to grow vegetables, or manage the soil, or make good compost, you would get 100 different sets of answers. The real answer is, it depends. The key is knowing the right questions, examining what you want from your garden and knowing how to understand the unique characteristics of the space. The best thing we can do as gardeners is to experiment, keep on watching and learning, and most of all enjoy the garden and the fruits of our labour.