I live on an island called North Uist in the outer Hebrides with my fiancé Susannah, my son Cedar and cat Coco. We’ve been here for just over 2 years and love every bit of it (apart from the ticks and midges but hey - they gotta eat too!) South London was my home growing up so I very much had my fair share of the hustle and bustle but we all needed a change and why not move to a remote island to pursue my permaculture inspired dreams?
On the mainland I had worked as a gardener for around 13 years. I started my own business in 2014 and only ended it when we moved here. I had fallen into it by luck really, my mate’s dad needed help at a job in Catford digging holes, I was unemployed at the time and thought “ I could do that” so jumped and got myself ready for the day. It was a really early start and we had to plant a bunch of Prunus laurocerasus - back breaking stuff. I fell asleep on the car journey home - always a sign of a good day’s work. My nails were filled with dirt my legs were still. I was hooked.
Thankfully my mate’s dad needed extra help long term so I got the job at the ripe old age of 20. From then on, I immersed myself in everything gardening. I learnt the lingo, brushed up on my Latin and eventually got a secateurs holster. I felt the part. I ended up working with quite a few companies before I realised it would be best to go it alone. I was still employed part time when I started, so I ended up working on weekends to fit in my own clients. I don’t think I had a day off for over two months at one point. Something had to change, and that’s when Mantra Landscapes was born - April 2nd 2014. Even though gardening isn’t my profession at the moment, I still treat myself to a plant on that day every year - a bit of green retail therapy is good for the soul.
I became a dad in 2017. It’s a tough old job but I feel like I’m better at it with time. Plus, what could be a better way to pass down all the plant knowledge and know how than directly to the next generation? We moved into a new flat 3 weeks before Cedar was born with 2 cats. Stressful was an understatement but I am very glad we moved from Croydon to Crawley. One of the best things about the move was being closer to a patch of land we had acquired in Surrey. It was now just a 15 min drive instead of 50 mins on a Sunday to a 3 acre field facing south to south west. It had a brook running from the south to the west which meant the riparian habitats benefited hugely: Water snakes, ground snakes, barn owls, dragonflies, king fishers and a long list of songbirds, it was an animal filled sun trap.
Our idea for the plot was to build an eco home and set up a nature reserve. Whilst researching how to go about this, I stumbled on this ‘thing’ called permaculture which I found out basically means permanent agriculture - you work with nature and not against it. This was right up my street and immediately I hyper focused on everything permaculture. I got books, watched hours upon on hours of content to the point where I felt comfortable enough to make a successful mark on our patch. I guess it was this that sparked my interest in regenerative practices. And oh how it changed me, to the point where I felt conflicted in my paid work.
Take dandelions for example, such an underrated wildflower. And I say wildflower because ‘weed’ is in the eye of the beholder, but you wouldn’t know it when dandelions have their wilted pics plastered all over weed killer merchandise. They have got to be by far one of the most recognised wildflowers, I’d be very surprised if any adult in the U.K. hasn’t blown a dandelion seed head in their mates face, But, let’s get serious, I couldn’t tell you how many I’ve destroyed in my career. Dandelions are dynamic accumulators, they mine goodness from the soil into their leaves making them readily available to whoever’s lucky enough to munch them or grow next to them. Most importantly, they’re also a great food stop for bumblebees and small song birds. And they will only grow in areas of compaction, so our trampled or pristine manicured lawns are an ideal growing space.
Mother Nature loves a bit of diversity and hates to be naked. You have gaps, she will fill them. Hoeing a border once or twice a week is like giving the soil an earthquake. You break up all the mycorrhizal connections and make a perfect bed for you so called weed seeds to settle in and make a home. Digging can be necessary in a new garden to work the soil but once done, you’ll never have to do it again. Just layer up like Mother Nature, think of a forest floor - layers upon layers of goodness untouched by us but thriving with life nonetheless, only slightly disturbed but the fauna looking for food. So, you can see how I was conflicted trying to create a beautiful regenerative permaculture inspired patch and at the same time keeping my clients gardens immaculate, almost sterile I’m some cases. I came to feel like a cleaner with secateurs. Eventually this became one of the main we reasons why we made the big move up north.
I have a lot of YouTube accounts to thank for all my permaculture knowledge but by far one of the biggest inspirations has to be the Eurasian beaver! Funny? Yes, but they have got to be one of the best ecological engineers out there. We saw how hot and dry the UK got last year, but if you looked at a beaver stronghold in Devon, it was green, lush and teeming with life during the sweltering heat. If there were more beavers about I’m sure there would be less wildfires around the summertime and they would also make homes for a whole heap of fauna and flora due to the wetlands they create.
I live in one of the wettest places in the UK. so making ponds, swales and irrigation ponds should be a walk in the park. You’d think I wouldn’t need to hold water living on a peat bog but since living here, I’ve seen wildfires rip through the hillsides and it is possible that Uist could soon even suffer from a drought due to climate change. Long periods of drought and then high rainfall are the perfect recipe for flooding.
On Uist I’m a seaweed harvester. I have a boat called Sorrel which I go out and find a patch of weed to cut. (Can leave a link here) It’s a great job and it pays well. The harder I work, the more money I get but it is the toughest job I’ve ever had. On my days off I like to spend time poking about at the Croft. That’s after feeding the birds. We have 22 ducks and 7 guinea fowl. Guineas are great guard birds and excellent tick busters. Ticks are my arch enemies! We did have chickens but due to a ferret problem, I decided that I’d give a load away and 5 are in the freezer. We will get more, I’m looking to get a breed called Dutch bantams, but they’ll have a new home now the ferret has been dealt with.
Ducks lay delicious eggs, they taste good themselves and are great at seeking out water. They’ve definitely helped me map out future ponds and waterways. I’ve just spent the past week digging 3 mini swales. A swale is a ditch dug on contour, so when it rains, the water will collect in the swale and the water can percolate and fill underground aquifers and of course keep the ducks entertained. I like to think of my swales as duck ponds, irrigation batteries, wildlife ponds and hugel mounds - a mishmash of all things permaculture. I absolutely love creating spaces for my feathered workmates and of course the local wildlife too.
We’ve been here for 2 years now and I’ve yet to grow anything worth eating as we don’t have deer fencing or suitable windbreaks. I planted a bunch of seabuckthorn as I know deer don’t like eating them but the rabbits enjoyed the stems and the deer scratched the felt off their antlers on the taller saplings so you can see why I need fencing. I'm not too fussed about the rabbits as I can get tree guards but once the fencings up, I can start planting out my windbreaks. Today we had gusts of up to 65mph. Yes most plants have gone to bed right now but 30-40mph winds can cause stress to most plants let alone your delicate veggies. Stop the deer, slow the wind and I’m good to go.
I’ve learnt that plants all have a purpose, especially our so called weeds. I found this out the lazy way on on the old patch in Surrey besides I’ve spent 13 years weeding so I’m going to take the laid back approach from now on. Dock leaf for example, another dynamic accumulator that I abused in my last life but never again! Cedar and I created a little allotment space within a wildflower meadow, we had runner beans, spuds, garlic, nasturtiums, tomatoes, cucumbers and the best crop in my eyes kuri kuri squash. Runner beans are a magnet for aphids but I had no damage whatsoever, due to the aphids honing in on the dock. Aphid also love stinging nettles, yet another dynamic accumulator so I left masses of nettles about, patches that were over 6ft even. The aphid would flock to the nettles which then attracted ladybirds. Ladybird larvae are an aphid's worst nightmare. I had so many ladybirds that I collected a huge jar of them to fight the aphids at home. Like I said, every plant has its place and if a lot of folk thought like this, it would save them a fair few pennies on pest controls.
Understanding the plants around me as definitely made me understand nature a lot better. I can look at a field and tell it’s compacted, wet or flourishing just by the plants that it holds.
Crofting is the term used up here for farmers but we have different subsides which is why crofting is crofting and not farming. So I am now a crofter but I consider myself to be a 'crofting horticulturalist with a passion for permaculture', it's a bit of a mouthful but I feel like I couldn’t label myself as crofter just yet.
I really love growing food. And I feel fortunate that we have this space to be able to carry out our dreams. I’d like to think that big cooperations will get the hint and start to think about holistic growing instead of profit driven practices. I have high hopes for the future, more and more people are starting to cotton on to that fact that we are a part of nature not separate from it and why not try and grow our own food? We’re more than capable, yes some folk don’t have gardens but you can still grow indoors using aquaponics and hydroponics for example. Of course we can’t grow every bit of our diets but every little helps the planet.