Ryton Gardens near Coventry is not only an inspiring place to visit with the family; it is also home to Garden Organic, a charity at the forefront of organic growing in the UK. James Campbell is the Chief Executive of Garden Organic, and we spoke to him about organic growing and why he thinks it is so important for gardeners to know more about the subject.
James has worked in the field of Sustainability for 20 years, with an emphasis on people and the environment, and has also worked in the public and private sectors in the UK and internationally. Prior to joining Garden Organic, he headed up the international development team at global environmental NGO, Earthwatch.
What first attracted you to organic gardening and made you want to make it a bigger part of your life?
I started gardening organically because I didn’t know there was any other way. Coming from a non-gardening background, it never occurred to me that anyone would want to add chemicals to the natural environment. My naivety paid off and I became an enthusiastic organic gardener and grower, so when the opportunity came to take on this role, I was ready for the move.
Why do you think organic gardening is so important?
It’s about a sustainable approach to one of the most important factors in any of our lives – what we eat. With that knowledge, working with the natural world rather than challenging it gives hugely enhanced prospects for the future health and wellbeing of our people, plants and communities.
Can anybody introduce the principles of growing organically to their gardens at home? Is it more difficult than ‘normal’ gardening?
Anyone can grow organically – from people with window-boxes to landed estates. It is about learning to work in a different way, using nature as a guide and helper. The transition from ‘normal’ (increasingly, ‘abnormal’) gardening can be done step-by-step. It’s a little bit like moving from a PC to a MAC – the operating procedures are slightly different, but the outcomes are cleaner and clearer!
What 3 tips would you give people who want to embrace organic gardening?
- Accept that this isn’t an overnight ‘fix’ – it’s an exciting, sometimes frustrating, journey, and it may take a little time to establish organic sustainability.
- Find an organic mentor – preferably an existing organic grower close by who can help, guide and encourage you. But there’s lots of online help too, including at Garden Organic.
- Visit other organic gardens and allotments – you’ll get many ideas and meet fascinating growers.
In the 1950s, when ‘organic’ growers were seen as cranks, and there was no evidence either way about the impacts of artificial fertilisers and pesticides on crops. Garden Organic’s founder, Lawrence Hills, became convinced of the health benefits of organic growing, and founded the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) to provide a scientifically sound evidence base. The charity operated for some 25 years in Essex, moved in the 1980s to Ryton (based on it being the most central point in the country), and in 2004 changed it’s name to Garden Organic, to reflect the move from pure research into the education and promotion of growing and gardening organically.
What can visitors enjoy at the organic gardens in Ryton?
The gardens are a practical demonstration site for growing and gardening organically – there are a series of gardens – both ornamental and for fruit and vegetable production, as well as examples of soil maintenance, pests and diseases being addressed organically, compost-making etc, with trials of new varieties and new organic growing techniques.
What plans do you have for the future of the gardens at Ryton?
We are currently renewing and re-presenting the gardens to better reflect and enhance the difference between organic and non-organic growing. As with most gardens, it’s a work in progress, and there’s something different to see on every visit.
How can people get involved with Garden Organic to support your work?
The gardens at Ryton are open Wednesday – Sunday and there are various events and activities over the year (more information is available on the Garden Organic website). Obviously starting to grow and garden organically is absolutely the best way to engage people.
Secondly, become a member of Garden Organic, if nothing else to support our campaigning work – securing the future for organic pollination, for example, or fighting the EU’s proposed regulation of organic seeds, which would have a devastating impact on our organic growing heritage.
Thirdly, join or set up a local organic growing group to wave the flag for the organic movement across the country.