Tight planting kills weeds ‘nature’s way’ says Hockley landscaper

May 8, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Gardening, sensibly and for best results, begins with feeding the soil and never with chemicals -at all. 

“Spend 75 percent of your time on the soil,” advises David Warburton, well-known landscape designer, living in Hockley Valley, in one of the region’s very few Straw Bale houses. “Dig in any old leaves that you’ve got, manure, compost – it’s all good.”

Then, he said, a bit surprisingly, “Park your plants close enough to each other. We feed the plants so that they very quickly fill in and diminish the weeds. This is nature’s way – just look at a meadow. This is lovely to be close to it because it’s so satisfying. 

“By all means, have a big beautiful garden and I’m going to show you how to have it without too much work.”

The spring air can be filled with the sound of rototillers: “If possible, avoid tilling,” said Mr. Warburton.”But, when you’re making a garden that’s got a lot of turf, there can be a reason to till and then return the tiller to the rental – but, to till for years, you wind up with a powder of land; most of the nutrition is used up and you have hard pan lower down, which is an impervious layer of soil that roots can’t penetrate and is not much good for gardening.”

The most astonishing and, essentially, very little labour, in the fall, is “sheet mulching. A single layer of cardboard, over any ground, including turf, covered with good mulch and left for the winter, works incredibly well. You get the original soil undisturbed, plus the organic stuff you put on top. The water gets through the cardboard – one layer not several; some use newspaper but cardboard is best.” 

He told the Citizen, “This is not well known. It came from permaculture. Most smart gardeners do prepare their gardens in the fall; they use non-chemical fertilizers and let it cook down to the spring.

“The aspect of growing vegetables in a garden is a series of opportunities. The two windows are early in the season, planting greens for the most part; then, you are ahead of warm weather planting.” 

Some time ago, “every hut had a little polyculture around their hut, had it so it carefully planted, that way they had something coming in all around the year. Then, industry came along and wrecked all that.”

Those small gardens were ideal in their way.

For those starting to garden recently, maybe for the first time, “just starting: vegetable gardens are gardens that you’re passionate about; there needs to be some passion; if not, the garden will inevitably fail.”

He said, “So, grow what you love, whether it’s vegetable or floral. The tomato plant, your favourite flowers and your garden becomes the kind of garden of how you are and what you love.

“The Victorians relegated vegetables to the back,” he mused, “in case ‘m’lady’ would have the vapours at the sight of a cabbage. But the original cottage garden was a mix. You want a successful garden that you love and you become attuned to it and discover what you like. Then, you’ll have a beautiful garden full of stuff that makes you feel good.”

Explaining further how this works, “You feel your way that way; put it in your head and start looking around. Maybe, pick up a magazine for ideas. It’s anything else you need for some feed back to know what you like.

“The people who are the best gardeners,” he went on to say, “are those who are the beneficiaries of family gardeners. It might be a national tradition if you have an ethnic heritage; could be your grandmother’s hollyhocks – then plant those.

“Choose a spot not on the roots of trees, some place that is as far as possible,” were his instructions “six hours of sun at the least to ripen, like tomatoes and peppers need lots of sun. Plant your garden east to west and south facing is best. 

“Plan things like tomatoes and pepper to get the best sun. The deeper you make your garden for the plant to go into, the better for the plants.” 

Clarification of this came later. 

When it comes to “watering: everything of a vegetable nature is fairly shallow, anything making fruits, 90 percent of those are water. Basically, you have to be pretty attentive with the watering because of their shallow roots. The sun dries them out from the top. This is a really good reason for mulch and interplanting.”

When plants are closer together, they eliminate the space for weeds, protect each other and help to keep the soil moist.

Most importantly, it seemed, David Warburton talks about the “spiritual experiences connected to the garden are profound: the sunshine, the smell of the fresh dirt, the act of exposing all around the roots of a plant. I think, wholly, the relationship that we have with plants: the reality is, our lives depend on them; our bodies are constituted to fundamentally, mortally need them. That’s the true nature of that relationship.”

He said, “I have extraordinary reverence for plants because we follow that same evolution as plants: we develop in our way and they in theirs. They don’t need us but we need them.

“Each one possesses a master chemist that makes chemicals that we couldn’t even begin to make. They can make chemicals that stop a bug from eating them but without poisoning anything. They’re extraordinary beings and I think we have points in our history when we revered them properly and I think we’ve over shot that and taken them for granted.”

He pointed to modern, industrial farming, using noxious fertilizers and insecticides: “The way farming is now is one of the most destructive businesses on earth,” he said sorrowfully. 

Mr. Warburton’s business is to design gardens for homes but also, he pioneers some techniques: “When I came up with a deep bed design, intuitively, this shows the most utmost respect for the plants that we’re putting in that garden.”

This is: “Give them a nice deep root run- the roots will grow down instead of out – after the fact that I realized what I had done, I really achieved what I wanted: to maximize yields. To achieve that, I looked at an organic farm and got a chance to contrast the soils – one rich and thrusting with energy and the other, non-organic, gray and nearly lifeless. “The essential difference between organic and non organic is,one uses everything they can to help the plants and the soil – the other is stripping the soil of its essentials. 

“I talk about chemical rape. 

“For me, it’s the understanding that God is everywhere and in everything. It’s just there for the understanding, if your approach and attitude is correct and I believe, when we work intuitively, we’re guided.”

For the future of his own property which he has and will again use, in part, to grow plants for sale: “I’m planning to go back to plant sales, turn the property over to various kinds, working with the environment I’ve got here. In the pond, I’m going to introduce fish and grow watercress around the edges, fertilized by the fish. As many associations as I can manage, I’ll do it that way.”

His plan, “If I have a nursery, it’s going to be the plants that I love, of which there are usually varieties, and it will be the best plants that I can produce.”

His website:


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