8 things I learned about Permaculture at the London Permaculture festival

Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living, in case you are wondering. Since I have an allotment garden, I have been more interested in how to care for my plants using permaculture principles, something I want to learn more about and find fascinating.

I bought a Teeshirt at the London Permaculture Festival that says “Earth Care. People Care. Future Care”. As the stall manager sold it to me, he said, the teeshirt could be returned for remanufacturing in the circular economy when worn out. I later googled the company and found Ranapui, they don’t just print cool sounding slogans; they are a sustainable fashion brand. If you want organic cotton clothes and are in the UK, look them up.

I also indulged my inner plantaholic at the ‘Edulis Plant Nursery’ stall and spent all the £20 cash I had. Know the feeling? If I had more, I would have spent more. It’s hard to resist edible perennial plants — especially Berber Moroccan mint which smells divine and takes me back to sweet memories in Morocco.

Thanking Mark Ridsill Smith of Vertical Veg for his excellent video on growing pea shoots was another highlight. He was so easy and lovely to talk to, generously answering more questions and engaging in conversation.

This was my first time attending this festival and I learnt many things listed below in no particular order:

1. A teaspoon of healthy soil has more creatures in it than there are humans on earth.

2. Humans have cultivated forest gardens for thousands of years. Kerala has 3.5 million ‘home gardens. One plot of 0.3 acres was found to be growing 23 young coconut palms, 23 cloves, 56 bananas, 49 pineapples with 30 pepper vines trained up to its trees and fodder for cows.

3. Plants with hairy leaves catch pollution like lavender and rosemary.

4. Buy grapes with seeds and eat the seeds too. Ask for grapes with seeds at your local greengrocer so they know you want it, if not available. Chewing seeds is not mentally pleasant however the little bit of bitterness in that seed gets our immune system fired up. Bitter helps our immune system, our body has receptors all over and not just in the mouth so even if you don’t cheat on chewing the bitter, the body benefits.

5. Vine leaves from grapes make an excellent pastry case with a lemony tang to it.

6. Herbs have concentrated phytonutrients (a substance found in certain plants which are believed to be beneficial to human health and help prevent various diseases.). Eat the stem of the coriander, not just the leaves (I knew this one but maybe its because I am a frugally minded Indian).

7. More on herbs: Nettle shot drink: Take 3 leaves of stinging nettles from the plant top in half a glass of water, blend in a Vita-mix or NutriBullet and drink. Also, a rosemary shot is great too.

8. Okra gel is soothing to teething babies. Give them okra to chew. Our gut microbes also love this gel so eat a little bit of raw okra occasionally too.

Points 1 and 2 were from another brilliant workshop by Susannah Hall, a permaculture and forest garden designer, who also helps organize Permablitz London. If you can get to go to her workshops, they are absolutely brilliant.

Points 3 to 8 were tips from Alex Laird, writer of a book called ‘Root to Stem’commissioned by Penguin Books, which I bought and can’t wait to read. Alex is a medicinal herbalist and works with the NHS and teaches people about healing foods, her talk was extremely interesting and interactive. She had a table full of herbs at her workshop; she also had us chewing thyme and discovering with our taste buds its antiseptic qualities.

I now have 4 varieties of mint and know how to take cuttings. If you are a Londoner and need a mint cutting or perennial plant cuttings, write to me:)

Perennial vegetables, permaculture and more...

If growing your own food is printing money, (said Ron Finley whose Ted talk is inspirational) planting perennials must be like owning a very fun and reliable printer.

Here are some of my collection of perennial plants, planted this year. They hopefully will keep growing back year after year with minimal fuss.

  • Jerusalem artichokes

  • Purple tree collards

  • Sea kale

  • Taunton Deane Perennial Kale

  • Dwarf apple tree (grown in a 50 litre bucket)

  • Earth chestnut

  • Babington's leek

  • Wild garlic

  • Sweet potato orca 

  • Nine-star perennial broccoli

  • Chinese artichokes

I used to grow plants on my little balcony in a London flat. Now I have more space, there are plants everywhere especially my home office and kitchen. Worm towers, composting, zero waste as much as possible and feeling so connected to nature. There are many invisible helpers in my garden to encourage too: Earthworms, a toad, insects, beetles and centipedes that eat slugs, butterflies, everyone enjoys the party and there’s enough to go around. 

I found the Backyard Larder’s blog very helpful and bought some plants from them. Backyard Larder sends their plants beautifully packaged in recycled shoe boxes which I so appreciated. I also bought some plants from Otter Farm and want to support the great work they do for the Earth.

A small celebration-my nectarine tree has fruit this summer, less than two years after planting it from a bare root plant in the winter. My neighbour said it would be impossible in our UK weather — which makes me worry about global warming. If you don’t have space, you can still sprout seeds, a great source of lovely nutritious goodness… My favourites are mung beans… Easy, peasy… Jar and water required… That is all. Pea shoots are also lovely and look great on a dinner plate; they taste like peas with all the fresh, green goodness. Pea shoots do need compost and a sunny windowsill, read a blog by Vertical Gardener, Mark Riddill Smith here.

My husband is protesting about eating so much Kale — which is the only downside (for him) of my having ‘green fingers’. I can live with that.

Coriander, the frugality of growing your own herbs.

Growing coriander is such fun. A beautiful herb in salads and to garnish that Indian curry I make often. A seed packet has 250 seeds, 2,500 in a bigger packet.. :) and costs so little in comparison to the end product.

Buying the herb in a market also takes time, the stuff travels... So it's not fresh and has some food miles.

For me though, it's a little kid excitement and exploding heart joy I feel when I see seedlings break through.

It's all mysterious. Like hair growth or breathing. How does it all happen? I do nothing other than combine dirt, seeds and water. And some genuine goodwill for the seeds to grow. The seeds know what to do... There is an intelligence in the universe beyond what our minds can comprehend.

Grow your own if you can. At least in the summer it's easy. And get good organic compost. Give those seeds a good start, they know what to do after.

It's not about saving money. It's the joy of observing nature's magnificent possibilities in your own kitchen. And play... Play, play, play.

What do you like growing? Or what gave you a heart full of exploding joy as a child? Worth connecting with that.


Women, investing and inheriting parental beliefs

Last Sunday, I facilitated a zoom call with a group of mainly women, to teach them about investing basics.

To keep it interactive, I try and ask relevant questions connected to the purpose of the call. When I asked, what holds you back around investing, a participant shared that she learned that ‘Investing is risky’ from her parents She usually left her surplus savings in cash, unable to move past this learned fear.

Any savings that you don’t need for 5 years really needs to ideally be invested if that ties in with your life goals. You always want to have cash set aside for an emergency fund (6 months outgoings) or planned expenses too, of course.

Reflecting later on what she shared, I recalled an exercise to help bust limiting beliefs. I learned this exercise at a Tony Robbins ‘Unleash the power within’ seminar, many years ago. Back then, age 29, mine was connected to believing I would never fall in love again - which was quite sad. Luckily I broke through that belief and am in a happy relationship.

From what I recall, whatever the belief is...stick two fingers up your nose, adopt a ridiculous posture and say your limiting belief in a nasal voice and then pulling your fingers out, yell playfully, that's bull**it! :)

The exercise did help me, I believe anyway. In any case, being aware of your limiting beliefs and learning to question them is a great start. Then providing enough information to yourself to be able to bust that belief, while remaining open to the possibility that your belief is not true is liberating. We all have them, good luck with finding them and that detective work!

Attending 'Work, Sex, Money, Dharma' with Martin Aylward.

Work, Sex, Money, Dharma…I heard these words inside my head as I read the invitation email from London Insight and went yes, a resounding yes!!! I imagine there were exclamation marks emphasising my ‘Hell, yeah!’ inside my head.

Work sex money.jpg

I knew who Martin Aylward was from You-tube and really enjoyed him speaking about the three gestures with money, knowing how the hand gestures (grasping, avoiding and confusion) seem consistent; both when I speak about money or when others gesture in money-related conversations. He passed the ‘know, like, trust’ test from me and so off I went to this Urban retreat held at the beautiful St. Luke’s community centre, London.

I want to share a few key insights I had from the workshop. Work, Sex, Money, Dharma…these are four highly charged topics we tend to put a lot of energy into avoiding thinking about, avoiding deep introspection or just not questioning our habits or beliefs.

We often have stories about these — especially money, in my experience anyway…and don’t slow down to check in with our bodies if what we believe or say actually feels true. We (me included in having a dysfunctional relationship with money ) default to our habit patterns, conditioning or learned behaviour from our family or culture when it comes to money. Taking time to slow down in retreat or other ways, helps us get conscious and realise there is hope in moving towards greater liberation in these areas.

We first explored what comes up with work and related assumptions or associations with work. Were the assumptions inspiring or liberating, Martin asked? We talked about ‘work-life’ balance which suggests, Martin observed, that the richness is over here and work is over there, pointing to separate locations.

We explored what we had learned in our life about work. This involved delving into our observations of our parents, their attitudes to work, conflicts at work, their happiness or lack of it with work, gender biases that perhaps were present and so much more. We looked at our own orientation to work from the Buddhist view of the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion; simply translated by Martin as demand, defence and distraction.

There were several opportunities over the retreat for supported introspection with monologue work, where one person talked for 10 minutes, in response to a question we were exploring, with 2 others listening silently. We all had a turn and at the end, we had a few minutes for a debrief which included a discussion of common themes or what came up for us (but no analysing, advice giving, etc).

Usually, when we talk about these sorts of charged themes, we revert to our old stories — the ones we know about ourselves and can repeat easily. However Martin’s instructions were crystal clear: “Let the words come from sensing, in the moment…”, He encouraged us to stay with our body sensations. “Go fear-wards”, he advocated playfully suggesting a gentle curiosity and speaking from what was alive at the moment. This led to participants having clearer insights overall with new material coming up; it felt easy to listen to someone when they were speaking from this space of honesty and presence.

I particularly enjoyed Martin’s teachings about our relationship to being ‘busy’. “ We use busy as a ‘disguised boast’. What we really mean is ‘I am so very important’, he said. This rang true for me, a recovered workaholic, who felt a frantic ‘doing’ for most of my 20’s and 30’s. The strategy of being busy was for me a path to establishing my usefulness, self-worth and contribution to others, although done in an unhealthy, people-pleasing, life-alienating kind of way. Thankfully, this unhelpful pattern is now behind me.

I also enjoyed Martin’s ‘scary demon’ face exercises after lunch — designed to wake us up and energise us…in preparation for the afternoon session. We stuck our tongues out, took a deep breath, lifted our arms up and went bahhhhhh….with a long exhale, staying with the exhale for a little longer than usual. In facilitating a workshop, I so appreciate when the leader recognises natural ebbs and flows of our human energy levels and capacity to feel lethargic while digesting meals.

I won’t talk about sex, skipping straight to money. Just kidding! Sex covered intimacy and ways in which we get reactive in a relationship. I don’t seem to have too many notes on that topic, perhaps I should have done more scary demon faces after lunch.

Day 2, a morning session and the topic was money. I was on the front row, ready for it. A book suggestion is always welcomed by me (and perhaps you too?) — ‘The Buddha’s teachings on prosperity’ written for lay people or householders was suggested. Martin explained, the Buddha taught that your intention as lay people should be to increase your income each year, so that you take better care of yourself, those that depend on you and society. This was a relief to hear especially as money is often shunned as ‘bad’ or ‘impure’ in some spiritual communities.

Martin also talked about Jacob Needleman,- one of my favourite authors on money — who stated that any spiritual practice needs to take into account the relationship with money. Again, we looked at this from the three poisons: greed, hatred and delusion… A few ways greed may manifest is fixating on earning more, spending more or holding the overarching belief that ‘greed is good’. A few examples of how hatred may manifest is feeling aversion, feeling repulsed or consciously pushing money away. Delusions take the form of going unconscious or feeling disconnected from money or going into a mess with finances. Fascinating, right?

I have numerous pages of notes…but I don’t want to give Martin’s entire workshop away. We talked about what it means to prosper…buoyancy…a capacity to feel supported and be of support in life. We talked about gratitude and cultivating a generous heart as a foundation of happiness. We looked at delicate places where we felt tight around money or free around money in a monologue form exercise…”Notice where you feel adult internally”, suggested Martin. “Simple, relaxed, it’s a mature state. Friction feels small, helpless, lost, deficient, childlike…”

After the monologue exercise in the group about money, I spoke up suggesting to Martin that the only way I could come to peace with my own relationship with money is to accept I am a hypocrite. In my mind, I do not live 100% fully aligned with my values. For example, I worry about sea life, climate change and yet take planes.

Martin first asked me to describe the situation without calling myself a hypocrite. His response was very compassionate and moved me to tears. He asked me to allow the grief in, to have an honest relationship with grief, to have the courage to look at this and weep. He found my criticism of myself too harsh and mainly it was his kindness and compassionate presence that made tears roll down my cheeks spontaneously while resolving to be gentler with myself.

I notice that guilt colours my relationship with money. I feel guilty about having more money than many others, guilt about my privilege…even though I didn’t grow up wealthy by any means, we always had enough — food and a roof over our head. I still had tons of privilege — English speaking, a village that nurtured me, great friends and education, access to books, self-esteem and so much more. Guilt is never, never helpful although it is helpful to have remorse and reflect, said Martin. I agree…and that I cannot change everything but I can do something.

I am sitting with the questions Martin asked us to reflect on towards the end of the retreat — How might your life be more awake? Being engaged socially, what might you be moved to do? How could you engage more creatively with your meditation practice?

Martin has an online training course with this same topic coming out soon. He was filming it in London while he was teaching us. I highly recommend it!