In suburbia

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
—  Edmund Burke

I often hear people bemoaning their lack of land and citing this as a reason that they don’t grow their own food. I, myself, yearn for a greater area to cultivate, but this is not going to stop me making the most of what I do have. And, to some extent, we all have the potential to grow something, be it a pot of basil on the kitchen window sill, a few tomato plants in a grow-bag on a balcony or a garden full of a variety of produce.

It’s easy to focus on what we haven’t got, rather than what we have. For some time Mr Snail-of-happiness and I have been looking out for a piece of land to buy that we can turn into a forest garden, but we haven’t been able to find anything that is both suitable and sensibly priced. Earlier this year I started to realise that my desire for land was distracting me from optimising the area around the house. I do have a productive garden but, as I described in my ‘Waste of space‘ post, I still had plenty more space that I wasn’t using. I’ve also go a small front garden that I have my eye on and, fortunately, can convert into a productive area without fear of a battle with the local council (unlike some places in the US).

Having harvested more than 10kg of potatoes from an area less than 1.5myesterday, I can confirm that even a small patch of land can contribute significantly to our food needs. Even this year, with the terrible summer weather here in the UK, we have still eaten food from the garden pretty much every day; mainly potatoes, lettuce and eggs over the last few weeks, but we’ve also had a few peppers and chillies plus lots of raspberries and rhubarb and now a few blue berries. Oh, and eight mangetout pods on Saturday! There is no way that we could be self-sufficient, but we can make a difference. What if everybody grew a bit of their own food? First, it would provide us with a connection to what we eat in a way that going to the supermarket never can and, second, it would go some way to improving the environment. It’s also a good way of building relationships with your neighbours – Mr and Mrs Next-door love to receive eggs. They used to keep chickens themselves but they are in their 80s now and don’t feel able to (although they still grow a few vegetables), so fresh eggs are always appreciated and, in return, they take care of the girls when we go away.

Many of us in the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the world live in what could be described as suburbia… you may think of it as a social and cultural wasteland, but look again. Look at all that land – all those gardens that currently support a lawn, three hydrangeas and some bedding plants. Image what your neighbourhood would be like if everyone had some fruit and vegetables growing in their garden; if there were enough apple trees for the crop to be shared, so that no one ever needed to buy another apple again. Imagine what it would be like if the folks who were not able to garden let others do the job in exchange for shares of the produce from their land. Imagine a community, where there was always a neighbour willing to feed your small flock of chickens whilst you were away, or go round and water your plants, or help with a job you couldn’t manage yourself. This is a reality that can be achieved in the suburbs – people have useable land and the potential to build communities; there are hidden skills and opportunities and now seems like a good time to take advantage of these possibilities.

David Holmgren, one of the originators of permaculture, is particularly keen on the idea, in an article entitled  Retrofitting the suburbs for sustainability  (really worth a read) he writes: “The bottom line here is that we do not need to wait for policies to change. We can choose today to do this – to create our own small neighbourhoods. ‘Suburban sprawl’ in fact gives us an advantage. Detached houses are easy to retrofit, and the space around them allows for solar access and space for food production. A water supply is already in place, our pampered, unproductive ornamental gardens have fertile soils and ready access to nutrients…”

So, what are you waiting for? Change the world starting with your own back yard (and your own front yard if local ordinances allow)!

Leave a comment


  1. I love that quote! Great post.


  2. Inspiring post. Thanks for the musings. ^_^



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