I attended the inaugural Vegan Garden Festival at Hortus Loci on September 15th 2018. It was quite a day one way or another, here's what I wrote the Sunday after the event...
Yesterday was a big day. It was one of those days that stays with you, the events of which either nudge you onto a new course or steady your hand at the tiller of the one you are on. I think it helped me find answers to many questions I’ve been asking myself recently and my own course just got better signposted.
The first speaker was garden designer Cleve West. I’m sure Cleve needs no introduction even to the majority of non-gardening people (even my Mum’s heard of him) but he’s probably best known for his award-winning design work, including an illustrious catalogue of RHS Show Gardens, his book ‘Our Plot’ and in more recent years his work to promote veganism. The subject of Cleve’s talk was his journey to veganism and it was apparent that caring for wildlife and animals has underpinned his work from the start. I was particularly interested to hear he implements a no-kill policy on his allotment, allowing everything to live, even the things considered detrimental to food production such as slugs. I also refuse to kill anything and believe if a plant struggles to cope with the various bugs found in a garden then frankly, it’s not a plant worthy of my time. But as was pointed out by Matthew Appleby later in the day, even those gardeners and garden journalists who say they like wildlife, only like it as long as it’s not causing them a problem. It’s incredibly difficult to find people who genuinely adopt and stick to a no-kill policy, I should know, I’ve been trying to track one down to interview for the podcast.
Cleve continued giving some facts about the impacts of a non-vegan lifestyle and although I became vegan myself in 2017, I cried. Thank god for big sunglasses. Cleve speaks so passionately about living a vegan lifestyle because he’s braver than most of us will ever be. He takes part in slaughterhouse vigils and comforts the animals in the minutes before they are killed. He watches the hard-hitting documentaries about the animal farming and food production industries and he knows the statistics – 153 million animals worldwide are slaughtered for food every single day. He’s driven because when the rest of us hide our heads under the covers, he’s witnessing what can only be described as the horror involved in farming and slaughtering animals. He didn’t show us anything more graphic than some photographs of animals’ faces, photographs he’d taken during one of his slaughterhouse vigils in the moments before these animals were killed, but any non-vegans watching Cleve talk who didn’t think twice before consuming an animal product afterwards can only be genuine psychopaths.
The next speaker was Darryl Moore of Cityscapes who, along with his colleague Adolfo Harrison, has commissioned and collaborated on many public green space projects that are less gardens and more art installations. Darryl is a vegan of 21 years standing, living through the unenlightened years when the only vegan food options in most places were chips and salad. He ran through some of the projects he’s been involved with and spoke about the importance of plants. I’ve posted a link to his website at the bottom of this article and I would encourage you to seek out his written journalism either online or in print as he’s one of our best contemporary writers on the subject of horticulture.
After some lunchtime nibbles – shoutout to The Hobo Co, onion bhajis courtesy of Cleve – the final speaker was journalist and gardener Matthew Appleby. Matthew is probably less well-known to non-professionals as he writes mainly for the trade publication ‘Horticulture Week’. His journalism is frank and always interesting, but sadly hidden behind a paywall so generally only seen by those involved in the industry. I’ll be totally honest, I was least interested in his talk as according to the Event Programme, Matthew would be talking about his new book ‘The Super Organic Gardener’. I’ve been exposed to plenty of organic gardening in my time and I love the principles behind it, but it still advocates killing things. But then Matthew drew attention to the subtitle of his book ‘Everything You Need to Know About a Vegan Garden’. Well, why didn’t you say so? That’s more like it!
Vegan gardening is the accepted term for a style of horticulture that some of us have been unwittingly trying to implement for some while. To learn the ins and outs of what it entails it would be best to buy the book (link below) but broadly speaking, it’s as you would expect; horticulture without the use of any animal products. That means no fertilisers containing animal products like Blood, Fish & Bone and no composts containing these fertilisers (you’d be surprised how many do), no manures including horse manure (shock, horror for the rose growers), no pest eradication and generally the least amount of digging possible. As Matthew is keen to stress though, it’s more about the products you do use than those you don’t. The Gentle World website gives good information to illustrate this point: http://gentleworld.org/beginners-guide-to-veganic-gardening/
I like to think I buy non-animal products where possible but I hadn’t quite reached the lightbulb moment where I realised my power as a consumer also extends to my choices as a horticulturist. If you’re interested in moving away from animal products and the alternatives are there, it makes sense to vote with your feet in as many ways as possible and take on the practises of Vegan Gardening. Even if you don’t want to fully embrace Vegan Gardening, being aware of things that contain animal products and by-products, and possibly making a few small changes here and there, will be hugely beneficial to animals the world over.
I’m still learning about veganism myself and am by no means perfect. I admit I get pangs of longing when I see a beautiful leather handbag (although I don’t buy them any more) and I could certainly be more informed about my choices as a food consumer. I also think there might be methods and practises other vegan gardeners promote or endorse that I don’t follow or that haven’t worked for me because the art of growing is imprecise, subjective and always up for debate. However, I feel the Vegan Gardening movement is about as close to finding a horticultural tribe that a stubborn, contrary git like me has come so far. From this point on I’m officially committed to Vegan Gardening, not just to being a Vegan Gardener, i.e. a vegan who gardens.
If you’re interested in reducing the amount of animal products you use, please have a look at the links below and/or conduct your own research into how you might apply the principles of Vegan Gardening in your own green environment. It’s a fascinating subject and interest in veganism on the whole seems to be growing all the time.
Finally, I must say thanks must to Mark Straver of Hortus Loci for hosting the event and to Cleve West, Darryl Moore and Matthew Appleby for organising and speaking at it. And thanks to you for reading.