John Walker, gardener-in-chief
As well as being a lifelong gardener and allotmenteer, I’m also an award-winning British gardening and environment writer with over 30 years combined experience in professional gardening, horticultural teaching and the garden media. I trained as a student gardener at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, England, where I was awarded the Kew Diploma in Horticulture in 1986. I gained a Permaculture Design Certificate in 1997.
While in publishing, I’ve been both features and deputy editor of Garden Answers magazine, contributing editor of Kitchen Garden magazine, and have been technical editor of The Organic Way. My long-running ‘digging deeper’ column, exploring the connections between gardening and our wider environment first appeared in Organic Gardening (later Organic Garden & Home) magazine in 2006.
I write and blog about greener, earth-friendly gardening for national newspapers, magazines and websites. My work has been published in NFU Countryside, Garden Answers, Garden News, Grow It!, Kew magazine, Organic Gardening (later Organic Garden & Home), the Telegraph, The Garden, The Organic Way and Kitchen Garden, and online at the Guardian and Hartley Botanic.
I’m the author of Weeds: An Earth-Friendly Guide to Their Identification, Use and Control and The Bed & Border Planner, the editor of A Gardeners’ Guide to Annuals, and a major contributor to the Garden Organic Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.
Away from the computer screen, I’m making an earth-friendly food garden out of a previously bracken-riddled bank at my home in Snowdonia, North Wales, where my challenge is to work with nature to create a beautiful, productive garden while minimising my plot’s ‘ecological footprint’, and to increase my self-reliance.
I was honoured to receive the British Garden Media Guild Environmental Award in 2007, 2010 and 2012, and was also a finalist in 2009. I’ve been shortlisted three times, in 2009, 2010 and 2011, for Garden Media Guild Journalist of the Year.
My latest book, How to Create an Eco Garden: The Practical Guide to Greener, Planet-friendly Gardening, is published by Aquamarine and was shortlisted for the Garden Media Guild Practical Book of the Year 2012.
Why ‘earth-friendly gardener’?
“I have decided to move my gardening and thinking beyond ‘organic’, while retaining and building on its basic tenets. By recasting myself as an ‘earth-friendly’ gardener, I can not only cut free from the morass of misconceptions besieging the word ‘organic’, but also bring a sharper, more critical, focus to everything I do… We gardeners are in pole position to take real and positive action to alleviate some of the environmental pressures our planet faces. Growing food is central to that. But we must cast a critical eye across all of our gardening activities and ask this: are we, and our gardens, truly friends with the earth?”
These words are from a Viewpoint article I wrote for The Garden, the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, in 2008, entitled Friends with the Earth? Since then, my idea of rethinking my gardening activities along more ‘earth-friendly’ lines has not only taken root, it’s sent a deep, searching taproot down into all that I do in my garden – and way beyond its boundaries. Hence earth-friendly gardener.
I’m more convinced than ever that as gardeners we can take positive, practical and meaningful steps to help us create beautiful and vibrant gardens, while helping ease the unsustainable demands we’re putting on the fragile life support systems around us.
But refocusing our gardening activities through an earth-friendly lens goes beyond the merely practical.
Rebuilding our relationship with nature
Earth-friendly gardening has the quiet, enabling power to help us rebuild our worryingly tenuous relationship with nature, and to mend those links which have simply broken down. Ironically, as gardening becomes ever more popular, many gardeners find themselves – often unwittingly – increasingly distanced from the natural world. The reasons for this are varied, but are all, ultimately, interconnected.
We all need to start consuming less energy, to quell our advertising-fuelled desire for ever more ‘stuff’, and to check our demand for often non-renewable resources – peat being the iconic gardening example. But the ‘success’ of the big and powerful gardening industry, now worth billions of pounds every year in economic terms, rests on an increasingly flawed model of unlimited growth on a planet with finite resources. The drive to get us buying ever more gardening stuff, much of it superfluous, is relentless.
Unchallenged hostility toward ‘organic’ gardening (or any other way of growing that adopts a frugal, more considered approach to resource use) in the UK gardening press has let gardeners down badly. Perhaps the most pernicious trick used by some gardening pundits is to drive a deliberate wedge between our gardens and the natural world, to try and disconnect gardening from any awareness of its environmental consequences.
Gardening is the one activity that can offer most of us the chance to get up, close and personal with the natural world. Yes, we can watch nature flicker by on the latest high-tech TV screen, but in our gardens and allotments, we can see, hear, feel, and taste it every day. It’s the closest we’re going to get to being intimate with the natural, unstoppable cycles of life, of which – like it or not – we’re also a part.
earth-friendly gardener’s ambition is simple: to help reconnect gardeners everywhere with the world around them.