Permaculture your plot- Perennial Vegetables

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

Mashua Rice 1

Autumn is here and as the growing season comes to an end we can reflect on our successes and failures and how we might do things next year. Each year in the annual veg garden there is some crop or other that doesn’t do well, perhaps because of the weather, a pest, or just the mysteries of gardening. But when a whole crop does poorly it can be at best disheartening and at worst disastrous.

As permaculturists we know that diversity gives us resilience in many different ways, not least by protecting us from relying upon a small number of crops each season. If we’re only growing 5 main crops, then if one fails we lose 20% of our harvest so it stands to reason that the more varieties we can grow the safer our store cupboard will be. We can expand on this premise by diversifying further and including perennials in our vegetable garden. Many people already grow popular perennials like rhubarb, asparagus and artichokes but there are many more perennial vegetables available and I would suggest that for the following reasons we should give them a little more space.

Ost Fern Side


Advantages of growing perennials

  • Less work than annuals – you don’t need to grow from scratch each year.
  • Crops fill the hungry gap – many perennial shoots, stems and leaves can be harvested before annuals are ready.
  • More resilient to pests and diseases – a mature root system makes them stronger and more resistant to attack.
  • Higher nutritional value – larger root systems give them access to parts of the soil annuals can’t reach.
  • Less soil disturbance – good for the soil and good on steeper ground which is hard to cultivate or prone to erosion.
  • Easy to grow in polycultures – once established they can thrive with minimal intervention.
  • Complement an annual garden due to seasonality


  • Less variety – although you still have plenty to choose from. See Martin Crawford’s How to Grow Perennial Vegetables
  • Harder to get hold of – but increasingly more available. See the Agroforestry Research Trust’s online catalogue.
  • Lower yield to area – the plant gets to it’s mature size which means that it starts to take up more space relative to it’s edible parts.
  • Can be slower to harvest –  edible parts are picked off rather than pulling the whole plant, although some can be cut to the ground and will regrow from the crown, Hostas for example.

So if you feel like branching out, here are a few top tips to get you started.


  • Solomons side 1Only grow what you like to eat
  • Grow in combination with annuals as they fill different parts of the season.
  • Grow edible ornamentals in your flower beds, eg. Solomon’s seal, columbine, day lily, hosta, violet, mallow & nasturtium.
  • Use plenty of leafy greens as they are so Purslane salad 2versatile and nutritious, eg. Daubentons Kale, Sea Beet, purslane.
  • Chop and drop throughout season to add organic matter to the soil – comfrey is very good for this.
  • Mulch well with compost in winter and cover any non-hardy herbaceous plants with straw or similar.
  • Skirret can be hard to get established, but is Skirret soup 2well worth it – like sweet creamy parsnip.
  • Oca is a great ground cover which spreads well and is a delicious winter root crop high in vitamin C.
  • Welsh onion and Egyptian onion are very useful and together cover most of the season.
  • Columbine leaves are delicious mild salad leaves which make an amazing gin liqueur made like sloe gin.
  • Ostrich fern shoots are delicious. The ferns get Hosta Soup 2pretty big, about 1m across, but are very shade tolerant.
  • Turkish rocket is a good stand-in for mustard greens in early summer and the flower buds are like peppery purple sprouting broccoli later in the summer.
  • Sweet cicely is a good pollinator plant and the leaves can be used as a herb. In late summer they produce sweet green seed pods which taste like aniseed balls – great snacks for kids and the Alex stems 1grazing gardener.
  • Mashua is related to nasturtiums and looks very similar. You can eat the flowers and leaves but also the tubers which make a great buttery mash in winter.


Pictures from top left:

Mashua tubers; Ostrich Fern shoots; Solomons Seal shoots; Siberian Purslane; Skirret roots; Hosta shoots; Alexanders leaves and stems.

Permaculture Ambassador Geoff Lawton coming to Ragmans Farm

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

At the end of August we’ll be running our classic Permaculture Design Course at Ragmans Lane Farm. The course will be the usual mix of classroom and outdoor learning with many experienced and exciting teachers but this time we’ll have a special visitor from further afield in the form of international permaculture ambassador Geoff Lawton who is coming to see what we’re up to.

Patrick began teaching at Ragmans over 20 years ago and since then venue and courses have evolved into an exciting ensemble which allows people to see permaculture in action and take away valuable skills and knowledge. Patrick and Ragmans are both renowned in their own right, but they are so intrinsically connected that many people believed that Patrick lived at Ragmans Farm. This was never the case, but farm owner Matt Dunwell has always played an important role in the courses and continues to teach with me now, lending his wealth of experience as a permaculture pioneer.

Caroline teaching Cropped version of me








The story of Ragmans farm and Patrick Whitefield Associates is soon to be captured by another legend, Geoff Lawton. He is an internationally renowned permaculturist who hails from the very roots of permaculture itself. Having worked alongside Bill Mollison for some time, when he retired Mollison asked Lawton to establish a permaculture research institute on his farm in New South Wales. Lawton did so in 1997 and has been running it as a non-profit NGO ‘global networking centre for permaculture projects’ ever since. He is perhaps best known for his many short films about methods, projects, people, ideas, designs and everything geoff hatyou can think of connected with practicing permaculture. These films make permaculture accessible to millions and have been instrumental in spreading the message. To my mind his most important work has been taking permaculture practices to developing countries and giving local communities security and resilience. Being an Australian Lawton is particularly well-versed in water preservation and has taken his skills to many arid and barren areas where incredible transformations have occurred.

Lawton and his team are now planning to take a whistle-stop tour of the UK to film as many inspiring permaculture stories as possible. So we’ll meeting them to talk about the beneficial relationships which make our courses so special. Ragmans has been a flag ship for permaculture since the first courses were taught here in the 80’s and Matt Dunwell has allowed the land to be used for experimentation, incubation and education. The farm has been through many incarnations and now has many enterprises thriving from the fertile ground. From willow plantations to markets gardens; mushroom logs to holistically managed orchards there is plenty to see and learn. In our introduction course Matt takes students to the top of hill to look down at the farm and see permaculture on a broad scale; the location of the buildings, the location of the pond, the location of the growing areas and their relationships with one another. When they come back to the classroom they hone in on the details, with the help of Patrick’s unique course timetable and his teaching methods which I am continuing and evolving. Principles are not delivered as a list to follow, but as a holistic approach which makes everything fall into place. Our team of teachers ensure that the course is geoff desertpacked with experience, inspiration, knowledge and fun. So many students describe it as a life-changing experience and it’s not just about the learning. This is an opportunity to spend two weeks with like-minded people changing the way we see the world. Feeling empowered by what we’re learning and excited by possibilities. Realising that you’re not alone, there’s a global community of like-minded people out there doing positive things for the right reasons and making a difference.

Geoff Lawton’s success and popularity is largely down to his ability to let people know exactly this via his online films. I hope that in sharing our story we are able to inspire, comfort and motivate people beyond our own courses on the farm.

Geoff Lawton will be visiting us during our next Permaculture Design Course at Ragmans Lane Farm in the first 2 weeks of September. Click here for details.

Remembering Patrick Whitefield

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

With a teaching career spanning more than a quarter of a century Patrick taught and influenced thousands of people. Many of those continued on the permaculture path and are now inspiring others to do the same.

Katie Shepherd

lambing finishes

I first met Patrick when I attended his PDC at Ragmans Farm in summer 2011. Those 2 weeks were amazing. from Patrick’s formal teaching sessions to the energy and gentle depth and care he brought to the community of folk attending the course. I gained so much from the experience. I know I don’t really need to tell anyone about the unbelievable level of knowledge and experience Patrick had in Permaculture Design for temperate climates, but his ability to share this with the diverse bunch of students there was like a beautiful (humerous!) work of art.

The following winter I returned to Ragmans for a further week to complete the Organic Horticulture course with Patrick too, which was just as fantastic. Over those few months I also read and listened to/watched everything that Patrick had to teach me about his knowledge and experience of Permaculture theory and Practice. Although I’d had some knowledge about permaculture prior to the PDC, the inspiration and motivation Patrick delivered took it to a whole new level.

When I look back over the 4 years since that first PDC, I cant believe how much I have developed as a permaculture designer and practitioner. I’ve undertaken numerous other permaculture courses and workshops and facilitated and taught on others. I’ve created and implemented many, many designs from farm scale on the upland farm where I have lived and worked (which Patrick really gave me confidence about), and then health related projects at potential strategic level ,through to designs for my own wellbeing that have transformed my life. In addition, a really important yield from that initial time at Ragmans was a wonderful group of other PDC graduates who have now become part of my whole development as a designer as we share our permaculture journies together.

kt pat

Patrick showing me how to dowse

I kept in touch with Patrick via his reflections and wisdom on social media, and the occasional email, but in the last few weeks of his life I’ve felt especially connected to his energy and experience . During this recent time time I’ve been writing up designs for my Diploma (in Applied Permaculture Design ) portfolio, several of which were started just prior to meeting Patrick, so very much influenced by him. As I’ve been working hard towards finishing and accrediting my Diploma later this year, I’ve often found myself thinking about the empowering influence Patrick has had on the direction my life is now taking.


Chris Smaje


Patrick taught the permaculture design course I took at Ragman’s Lane Farm in 2000. At the time I was a teacher myself, albeit a pretty disgruntled one, on the point of jacking in my academic career in order to…do what? A land-based rural life had never really crossed my radar screen and had seemed at best a romantic dream, until over the two weeks of the design course Patrick systematically dismantled my assumptions and reassembled them into something different – something more attentive to detail, more connected to the underlying spirit of things, something more expansive, something basically just better.

To be honest, I don’t remember all that much now about the incidental details of those two weeks. There was a lot of social good humour on the course – music, friendships forming, joking around, and Patrick in shirtsleeves mode genially allowing the various personalities in the group to come into play. But when the teaching sessions began I remember a feeling of seriousness – not because he was a stern teacher or a sombre man, but because of an underlying sense that I’ve carried forward into my second career as a farmer, grower and writer that this stuff matters, that there are realms of knowledge outside the official story that need to be kept alive. Initially I was a bit awestruck by Patrick – I, the initiate, struggling to comprehend the strange and compelling new world taking shape from his words. When he visited our holding a few years later he picked a sorrel leaf and chewed it, then hefted some soil between his fingers – simple rituals of connection, speaking volumes. As time has passed, I’ve gone my own way, questioned aspects of permaculture’s received wisdom, and sometimes tangled, usually amiably, with Patrick over this issue or that. Always, he brought a keen intelligence and a weight of earned knowledge to these exchanges. I’m still a bit awestruck. And I’ll miss him.


Sandra Campe

 sandra campeMy connection to Patrick started with the Sustainable Land Use Course at Ragmans Lane Farm in 2002. I had heard about the course while WWOOFing for one of the SLU-teachers, Jo Newton the year before. When I finally arrived at Ragmans I had some of the best weeks of my life, full of practical & theoretical inspiration, new friends, a supportive learning environment and beautiful landscape. All of this in addition to Patrick’s wealth of knowledge in so many areas and his belief in permaculture. I felt close to Patrick due to our shared background in agriculture and after I had got my degree in organic farming in that same year I continued to stay in touch with permaculture and sustainable design, which put what I had learned at university into so much more of a sensible context. During all those years that followed the course (during which I moved to Sieben Linden Ecovillage, began the Permaculture Diploma Pathway, got my diploma in 2008 and started teaching), Patrick and me loosely stayed in touch and in 2012, my colleague and I decided to organise an international PDC with him as the main teacher here in Sieben Linden.

main house sieben linden

The main house at Sieben Linden Eco Village in Germany

Patrick’s way of making Permaculture concepts accessible to a wide audience cannot be underestimated. With his continuous teaching and the written legacy he left, he gives many people simple, clear and straightforward introductions and starting points for learning about and practicing Permaculture. This is especially true for the German speaking part of Europe, since two of his most fundamental works (Permaculture in a Nutshell and The Earth Care Manual) have been translated to german language, which form standard works in teaching Permaculture. I really hope that the books about his passion for reading the landscape will be translated too. If I am asked about inspiring permaculture books I always recommend these works. There is a gap now in the permaculture world, where Patrick’s presence was. I really hope that during his life he got a feeling for how much his ‘walking his talk’ made him an example to people all over Europe, and how important his contribution is to a thriving planet. I am grateful that he was – and is – part of my life.



Permaculture Design Course on Dartmoor