Topics in garden design








Expanses, scale, adequacy
Skylines and congestion
Criticism of biodynamic gardening and farming
Function and multi-function
Flowers - the wrong appearance for garden design?
{diversification} and other {themes}
{separation}, alignment

See also other gardening pages:

Gardening/construction: introduction, with photos
Bed and board
Structures: plant protection and support
Structures: cloches, greenhouse, store/shelter, shed

Composting, rainwater collecting 


This discussion of some topics in garden design is based on my own practice, introduced, with many, many images on my page Gardening/construction: introduction, with photos but it ranges very widely, to include architecture and other fields - some of them surprising - but this isn't in the least a comprehensive introduction. Garden design is approached in very different ways, some accessible, some not so accessible, uncompromising, in fact. 

Passion in gardening has to be supplemented by cooler, more analytical activities of the mind, including an interest in measurement. If some attention isn't paid to planting distances, then the urge to create a dramatic impact, or a harrmonious grouping, is far less likely to be successful. The page includes an examination of biodynamic gardening. It can easily be shown that biodynamic gardening is a ludicrous activity, that the passion of people who garden by biodynamic principles is misdirected, but this requires a responsible look at the evidence, or lack of evidence in this case, for biodynamic gardening, using cooler, more analytical activities of the mind.

The urge to create gardens which arouse or calm, which stimulate feeling or thought, which elicit a simple or complex response, is more likely to be successful if takes some account of colour theory, which includes warm colours and cooler colours as well as technicalities of wider scope (including technicalities which are fundamental) such as hue, value, intensity, in the differing interpretations of different colour theorists, as different as Goethe, Albert Munsell and Johannes Itten.

In places, in cooler regions of the page, I even make use of theory, {theme} theory, explained on the page Linkage and theme theory. The illustrative examples there are from a very different field.

My main activity as a grower is the growing of edible plants, vegetables and flowers, but I've an intense interest in planting with the hope of creating beauty, or sensuousness or at least attractiveness. Some gardeners - in the minority, obviously - are fairly indifferent to flowers or even have an aversion to flowers, but I'm not one of them.  I use flowers freely, as my page Gardening/construction: introduction, with photos will make clear, I think.

My main interests are  in native British flowers, the flowers of vegetable plants such as potato, runner bean and French bean plants (non-native, of course), the flowers of fruit trees and soft fruit, particularly apple blossom, and a limited range of non-native flowers, such as those of Tropaeolum majus (varieties of Nasturtium) and Hemerocallis.

An example of indifference to flowers, from 'The Gardens of Britain and Ireland' by Patrick Taylor, the section on Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire,

'Sir George [Sitwell]did did not regard flowers as an essential ingredient of a garden ("such flowers as might be permitted ... should not call attention to themselves by hue or scent") but gradually, over the years, Sir George's finely made enclosures have been sympathetically embellished with flowers , especially shrub roses.'

I'm enough of a traditionalist to have planted roses myself in the land I rent.

Function and multi-function

Dual-purpose function, a sub-category of the catogory multi-purpose function,  is a common design technique which can be used in widely differing fields. In the next section, I discuss the multi-functionality of flowers and some difficulties in the use of flowers in garden design.

Text and images are multi-function, but so also are the boards which I use in the design of composters and bed systems. For example, the boards which surround beds, or which define, perhaps, two edges of a bed, are made to serve new purposes, such as easily-removable supports for polythene or netting to make cloche-beds and netting-beds. My main composter has a wooden top which can be used to support heavy winter squashes of the squash plants growing next to it. Or the wooden top can be replaced by a polycarbonate or PVC sheet. It accelerates compost production by the greenhouse effect but also has a funcion other than compost making - it increases the temperature inside the structure for growing plants in a container supported fairly near to the sheet. The composter can act as a kind of cold frame. Why give just one function, or a limited number of functions, to a thing if it can be made to serve other useful functions?

It's essential to ask if the supplementary or alternative functions can be carried out very successfully or less successfully, perhaps far less successfully.

The pond I constructed in 2017 does act successfully in providing habitats for water plants and wild animals. It attracts dragonflies, for example, and frogs use it for breeding. There's a water collecting surface which directs water to the pond. The pond is completely successful as a recipient of water and a container for water. One important use for the water it receives is to replace water lost by evaporation, so that less of the black pond liner can be seen, preferably, none at all. The pond isn't nearly so successful as a reservoir for water to be used for watering plants. Whether a watering can or a pump is used - I've both a hand pump and a pump powered by a portable electric drill - water weed tends to get in the way and animals can get in the way. I often found a tadpole in the watering can, which had to be returned to the pond, of course. That was why I constructed a preliminary pond, almost covered with boards, which receives the water from the water collecting surface. When this pond is full, the overflow water goes to the main pond, where the water weeds and animals live. The pond couldn't be given the function of providing human drinking water, unless elaborate water filtering and water treatment equipment were to be installed. The pond is very successful, for me, in providing rich and rewarding experiences, in its aesthetic function.

Multi-functionality isn't an original concept - it's widely cited and widely practised - but it's the new applications of the concept which require the new insights and breakthroughs. Multi-functionality is one of the important concepts in permaculture - although I don't accept all its concepts by any means. The book 'Permaculture in a nutshell' by Patrick Whitefield is an excellent introduction to Permaculture. He states 'every plant, animal or structure should have many functions.' I would add 'if at all possible,' add the qualification that they may only serve one function well, the others not nearly so well, and add tools and equipment to the list.

It's not always possible for things, including living things, to serve many functions without any serious disadvantages. I'd suggest that when old carpets and car tyres are used in allotments, their new functions are so different from their original function that they're not adapted to carry out the new function without serious disadvantages. Carpets, for example, are heavy and difficult to move, react badly to being soaked with water and will eventually present problems of disposal (except for ones made of natural fibres, which can be composted, with care).

I would extend the biological concept of adaptation to include adaptation of structures, tools and equipment. A plank of wood isn't adapted to one use. It's very versatile in its possible uses. Most other things tend to be not nearly so versatile.

Sometimes, it's best if one thing doesn't have more than one function. In various places in this site, I give my opinion that although plastic isn't the best material for composters and the boards surrounding beds, it is the best material for water butts. In water butts, one structure, the plastic, is called upon to carry out many functions - a leak-proof container for the water, giving shape to the container, resisting the forces which the water applies. To carry out all these functions needs a fairly thick plastic wall, and I think it's important to reduce the use of plastic to a minimum. Is there any way of reducing it? Obviously, there is.

The first of these functions, the leak-proof container for water, can be carried out perfectly well by a thin sheet of plastic, as is the case with the bags in which wine is sometimes sold. In this case, the shape and the ability to resist forces are provided by the cardboard box which encloses the plastic bag. A water butt which minimized the use of plastic - which minimized the use of a non-renewable resource - would consist of the inner plastic container, fairly thin wooden sides, to give shape, and two or three metal bands, to resist the forces which the water applies: a separation of structures and a separation of functions.

I use this structure-function model, extending structure to include pieces of equipment. In a one-many design one structure has many functions. For example, a single board has the functions of neatly separating the bed from the path, securing fleece, securing protective netting, acting as a temporary path, and so on. A single image can convey information but can also have a navigation function - clicking on it takes the user to the top of the page.In a one-one design one structure has one function - the function it can carry out efficiently. The plastic inner in a water butt (not commercially available as yet) has the function of acting as a leak-proof container for the water. It doesn't have the strength to carry out other functions, such as giving shape or resisting the lateral forces of the water - these are carried out by wooden structures and the metal bands.

Another example of multiple-functionality (which includes 2-functionality or dual functionality.) Joy Larkcom's 'Creative Vegetable Gardening' (not a very good title, I think, for a very good book) is for all people with a very strong interest in vegetables (but she calls them 'vegetable lovers') who would like 'a vegetable garden that is beautiful and productive.' Amongst other things, Joy Larkcom considers the visual interest of edible plants.

The fact has to be faced that some plants with an intense or interesting taste have a dull and uninteresting appearance, but others do have visual impact. She mentions the well-known fact that the runner bean plant (Phaseolus coccineus) was introduced into Europe for its ornamental strengths.

She mentions the attractive flowers of some varieties of potato plants, so attractive that they can act as dual-purpose plants, to be grown for their visual interest as well as for eating:

These flowers 'can be subtle shades of mauve, purple-blue and pink, or else creamy white, contrasted in a delightful way with bright yellow centres.'

Flowers - the wrong appearance for garden design?

In the previous section, I discussed some disadvantages when things aren't used for their original purpose, when carpets are used for light starvation of weeds for example, or car tyres are used as plant containers. At the end of this section, I include an extract from my page on concrete poetry - poetry which uses letters and punctuation marks to create visual effects. The title is 'Letters: the wrong shape?' I write, 'Using letters and other objects of written communication for visual design is problematic. Are they really multi-functional, capable of being one-many design elements?'

In garden design, flowers too are used as multi-function elements. Their central function is not necessarily to attract insects for pollination, by means of bright colours and in other ways, but in the case of both insect pollinated and wind pollinated flowers, their central function is reproductive. That's not to claim that every aspect of the appearance of a flower is to do with reproduction.

In the case of ornamental gardening (and gardening for sensousness or gardening for beauty and gardening to promote harmonious feelings), how well adapted are flowers for the desired end?

Gardeners who use colour theory in designing a garden generally try to plant flowers and encourage flowers which seem to be in accordance with colour theory and which suit their purpose, which may be clashing of colours as well as colour harmony, but the flowers they choose may not be too cooperative.

Green is a hue whose connotations include restfulness, calm, freshness, renewal. Red is a hue whose connotations include passion, sexiness, festivity, with negative connotations which include violence.

Again and again, green crops up, and may not associate too well with flower colour. If the desired effect is a mass showing of red, a particular shade of red, the presence of green stems and leaves is likely to make the effect less intense, to be a distraction, in fact.

Some very useful categorizations of present-day gardens come from fields other than gardening, such as 'Renaissance architecture' and 'Baroque architecture.' In 'Renaissance and Baroque, Heinrich Wölfflin writes (Chapter II, 'The Grand Style') in general terms, not at all at his best, before addressing in wonderful detail the techniques by which the architects and builders achieved such very different effects:

'Renaissance art is the art of calm and beauty. The beauty it offers has a liberating influence, and we apprehend it as a general sense of well-being and a uniform enhancement of vitality. Its creations are perfect: they reveal nothing forced or inhibited, uneasy or agitated.


'Baroque aims at a different effect. It wants to carry us away with the force of its impact, immediate and overwhelming. It gives us not a generally enhanced vitality, but excitement, ecstasy, intoxication.'

Is the present-day gardener to make use of red roses, then, or any other plants with red petals (or sepals), given that the inescapable green will interfere with the red, leading to loss of intensity in a present day 'baroque garden,' and the inescapable red may lead to too much intensity in a present day 'renaissance garden?'

Letters: the wrong shape?

What about letters and other objects of written communication? Their primary function is semantic, to convey information and things that are more than information in the distinctive setting of written communication. Using letters and other objects of written communication for visual design is problematic. Are they really multi-functional, capable of being one-many design elements?

The lines which are used in drawing are capable of almost endless variety in their length, shape, emphasis and placing. The lines which are letters and other objects of written communication are subject to severe {restriction}. The particular shapes of so many letters aren't particularly suited to general design. Many of them have projections, are bulbous. The shapes can be subjected to {modification} so that they are more suitable for the purposes of a particular design, but obviously the {modification} is subject to {restriction}. After a certain point, the letter becomes unrecognizable as the letter.

Some letters are well adapted to general purpose use as 'design marks' such as 'l' in the font Verdana. Sans-serif fonts are far better adapted than Serif fonts, but no matter what font is used, many other letters are far less suited as 'design marks,' such as a, b, d, e, g, h, k, y, z.

'z' is made up, in this font, of two horizontals and a diagonal. So, at the micro-level of this element, we have the visual statement of two horizontals and a diagonal. This may or may not be well integrated with the macro-level: let's say, a design which makes particular use of verticals. Similarly, 'p' and 'b' in Verdana are both made up of a radial component, approximately circular, and a straight-line vertical, not very prominent in this font. Again, integration into the macro-design may be successful or not. The macro-design may contrast ellipses with very pronounced verticals.

In most cases, general 'marks' are far easier and more straightforward to use than letters, unless letters are grouped to form a block or some other shape. Even then, the block or other shape is bound to have irregularities which will be obvious. But to state these difficulties isn't to present an overwhelming case. Overcoming difficulties - triumphing over difficulties - is part of the aesthetic challenge. In fact, there are many word-designs where these seemingly unpromising language-elements are put to very good use in the design.

{diversification} and other {themes}

One design principle which is very important to me is one I call diversification. This involves the attempt to find the alternatives in a design situation. The accepted, the established way of doing things may not be the best. There may be an alternative, or alternatives, which haven't been adequately explored, or which it hasn't occurred to anyone to try out. By thinking in terms of diversification, thinking can become far more flexible and innovative.

It may be the established way of doing things for actions to follow a certain time scale, for example, first to lay down black fabric to kill weeds (action 1) and secondly, after about a year, when the weeds have been eliminated, to remove the fabric and to lay out the beds and paths, surrounding the beds with wooden planks (action 2). But if, instead, action 2 follows action 1 very quickly (put down the black fabric and as soon as possible put the boards in place, and perhaps wood-chippings or straw on the paths) then there are advantages: the fabric won't be moved or damaged by any winds, no matter how strong, there's no need to buy pegs to secure the fabric, there's no need to find and move heavy stones to secure the fabric ('secure' is probably the wrong word - these methods tend to be ineffective.) And, also, the plot looks much neater, is no longer an eyesore. This alternative method is described in the page on 'Gardening Techniques.'

Sometimes, I make the alternatives vivid and concrete by using 'OR.' In the example above, the alternative time scales are: Action 1 - interval of a year - Action 2 (the 'established' method) OR Action 1 - very short interval - Action 2 (the method I use.)

A few other examples of diversification: paths and beds can be fixed OR 'rotatable' (we can rotate beds and paths.) A fruit cage can be separate from the structure which supports the raspberries, the established system, OR combined with it, saving on materials, labour and cost, the method I use. The sides of a composter, the boards which surround beds, may be fixed in position, the established system, OR self-supporting and easily moveable, again, the method I use. I argue, of course, that the alternative to the established system has far more advantages.

Other ideas used in this site include: survey, resolution, separation, alignment, weighting. These ideas are explained at various places in other pages of this site, but for convenience, all the ideas I use are explained here, in one place.

These ideas have many, many applications. A gardener who is choosing a fruit or vegetable or flower variety to plant is applying the ideas. An informed choice of variety is generally very, very important. Later, I mention the advantages and disadvantages of some fruits and vegetables. If you dislike abstract ideas, you'll find that there's a great deal of concrete information here about varieties - although it may be that you're already familiar with it.

A ((survey)) is a listing of the characteristics which are relevant and would include, amongst others:

{resolution} involves 'breaking things down.' This has already been done in the case of 'time of maturing' - early, late or intermediate, but it's possible to break things down further. Varieties of potato are described as 'first early,' such as Duke of York and Red Duke of York, 'second early,' such as Saxon, Wilja, Kestrel and maincrop. This is important for the gardener who has limited space. Lawrence D. Hills, in 'Organic Gardening' makes a good case for the planting of Second Early potatoes:

'This class is perhaps best for small gardens, because they can be dug as soon as the flowers are fully open to scrape as new potatoes, or left in to grow larger till the haulm dies down, lifted in August, and stored for the winter and spring.'

'First early' varieties can be resolved in turn. Rocket is perhaps the earliest variety in this group. Maincrop varieties can be resolved into 'early maincrop' and 'late maincrop.' Early maincrop includes: Desiree, King Edward, Maris Piper, Nicola. 'Early maincrop' can be resolved further. For example, valor is a little later than other varieties in this group. Late maincrop varieties include Cara, Golden Wonder, Pink Fir Apple.

{separation} involves the recognition that a variety almost always will not have advantages in all, or most, of these characteristics. In alignment it's falsely assumed that the advantages do all lie with one variety, Isolation focuses attention on one characteristic or facet, or a limited number of them, ignoring others in a survey. Now, I give again the list of characteristics above, with in some cases some advantages and disadvantages for a few selected varieties.

Weighting gives a preference to one characteristic, or a few characteristics, at the expense of others. So, a supermarket is likely to give a particular weighting to attractive appearance, to shelf life and to the ability to withstand the stresses of transportation, with taste given far less weighting (although things are changing.) A gardener/allotment gardener will give no weighting to shelf life and the ability to withstand the stresses of transportation. A gardener who is aiming to produce vegetables for show will give particular weighting to appearance, including, often, size, but taste is given little or no weighting. Other gardeners will give far less weighting to appearance and far more weighting to taste. If the most weighting is given to taste, then the fact that the variety tends to have low resistance to disease and pests and has a fairly low yield may not be particularly important.

The method of cooking has a great effect on taste, and obviously tastes differ. As with so many other areas of growing and cooking, constructive disagreement is possible. It's often stated that amongst the First Early varieties of potato, Duke of York has the 'best' flavour. This is almost meaningless, unless the method of cooking is stated. It's usually assumed that the method best suited to bringing out the taste of this variety is boiling. It's also stated that Red Duke of York has a similar taste, but superior disease resistance. I've found that the taste of Red Duke of York is nothing special if it's boiled, but definitely something special if it's boiled for about eight minutes, then thickly sliced and sauteed in oil.

{separation}, alignment and some fruit and vegetable varieties


Alignment isn't full for the variety Arthur Turner but it has many advantages. According to Dr D. G. Hessayon, 'The pink blossom is outstanding - no Apple provides a finer display. Growth is upright and this variety is reliable in northern districts. Crops are heavy and the rather dry texture of the fruit makes it an excellent baking Apple.'


Alignment isn't full for the variety Shirley but it has many advantages. For me and many other gardeners, this variety's advantages are outstanding. It has good disease resistance, which of course has to be resolved: specifically, it has resistance to leaf mould, virus and greenback. It gives very heavy yields. The taste is good, if the tomatoes are eaten when they are fully ripe (but taste has to be resolved further.) It's sometimes described as 'early.' I've found it to be earlier than, for example, the cherry tomato Gardener's Delight or the beefsteak variety Big Boy, but still not early enough. I give increasing weight to earliness in tomatoes. The common idea that tomatoes can be harvested from early July onwards (or earlier still) isn't borne out by my experience, in South Yorkshire, even in a good season. Harbinger is an old variety which is claimed to be very early. This variety would be well worth trying. If, on the other hand, you give greater weighting to cooking and culinary qualities, then it may be Gardener's Delight (with its sweet, tangy taste) or Big Boy (very suitable for stuffing) which you'll choose.

If any characteristic of fruit and vegetables has to be given the greatest weighting of all, then it's most likely to be taste. The variety Moneymaker fails miserably. Its taste is bland. However, yields are high.

Using these ideas in other areas of gardening

The ideas can be used not just in other areas of gardening but in very many areas outside gardening as well. In gardening, the applications are very varied. For example, they can be used to assess the techniques and methods often recommended. They can even be used to assess organizations.

To begin with an issue raised in the page 'Bed and board:' the problem of slug control. A survey would include these factors: cost, effectiveness, effect on beneficial organisms, effect on the environment in general. Organic growers, I claim, tend to practise isolation, to concentrate attention on the effect on beneficial organisms, and the environment in general - although in the case of this last factor, I'd claim that the response shows disproportion. Of all the forms of pollution, on any scale of pollution, slug-pellets are negligible. Metaldehyde breaks down quite quickly in the soil, and any traces left are not to be compared with the pollutants which reach the soil in massive amounts, such as acid rain.

Criticism of biodynamic gardening and farming

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Above, biodynamic growing: filling cow horns with manure and cow horns which have been filled with manure

Amongst the topics discussed in this section,  biodynamic support during the Nazi era for the Nazis. I quote Peter Staudenmaier  on the biodynamic journal, Demeter, and its  reference to ‘love for the soil and love for the homeland: This must be our goal and our lofty mission, to fight together with our Führer Adolf Hitler for the liberation of our beloved German fatherland!’ I also include the fact that there were biodynamic farms at some of the  concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. The farm at Dachau produced medicinal herbs and other organic products for the SS.

There are many pages of the site with content which contains strong contrasts and this is one of them. I've taken time from discussing design principles, aesthetic and functional, to discuss  biodynamic gardening. It's very easy to show that it is ludicrous, and that it's ludicrous for mainstream media to present it as if it deserves to be taken seriously. This section includes some material which was originally part of a comment I wrote which was published on a Guardian page after a piece by Allan Jenkins, a biodynamic gardener, one of the few comments I've added to other Websites.

I respect and admire Allan Jenkins, but I respect and admire him for making so much of his life after a difficult, deeply troubled childhood. I don't find many reasons to respect and admire him for his gardening practice, which I think is deeply flawed.

His book on the allotment plot where he gardens with his friend Howard Sooley, plot 29, has been widely admired. It contains an unflinching account of his childhood.

The review of the book by the Scots writer Cate Devine is a fine one, heartfelt and intensely involving:

The blog where he records his gardening at Plot 29, following biodynamic principles is at

This, to me, is unimpressive. It's a very meagre record. The archives list at the top of the page shows one entry for the whole of 2015, two for 2016 and no entries for years after that.

The content may be very, very restricted in amount but it does contain some significant contrasts. The first section, 'Having your cake and not eating it,' for example, includes not so very profound and impressive writing such as 'So much green, it could never be eaten' and 'Unable to touch, just to look, at the allotment falling.' This is 'creative writing' of a kind which is routine, mechanical, very easy to write and very easy to forget. Anyone who is impressed by it is very easy to impress. There are also statements of the obvious, not so astounding or interesting observation of nature, such as this:

'Summer fading to autumn

The days are definitely getting shorter and the mornings colder.'

The section, 'Stirred,' is different - very practical, at first sight, although grotesque, not in the least practical, if you take into account the background. Howard Sooley writes, 'Allan called to ask if I wanted to meet at the allotment and do a stir. I got in the 46 bus ... we put some 500 preparation into a bucket with water, stirring vigorously with our hands, making a vortex, energizing the Water. we took it in turns [punctuation as in the original]  half an hour each, for an hour ... an hour or so later, made our way to the 46 bus stop.'

Did they use their time wisely? Surely not. gives a very helpful guide to the significance of preparation 500 in biodynamic growing:

'The preparation involves packing cow manure (preferably from a lactating cow) into cow horns, identified by birthing rings.' A photograph of cow horns packed with cow manure is provided at the top of the page. These 'are buried in Autumn on a Root day with a descending moon, and then lifted in Spring, also on a Root day ...  Steiner specified the use of cow horns.  The reason for this is that BD500 specifically works to bring cosmic energies to ground as the earth deeply ‘inhales’ in Autumn.  If you look at a cow, it is certainly an earthy animal.  It is solidly grounded in its stance and gait, and feeds with its head low to the ground.'

 'If you look at a cow, it is certainly an earthy animal.' Cows are also certainly not the most intelligent animals - not nearly as intelligent as dogs or pigs, for example. I don't think that when they are using Preparation 500 at least, biodynamic gardeners are the most intelligent of gardeners.

To me, this practice is 'Jumbo Mumbo Jumbo,' (or, to give dictionary definitions of the words, 'foolish reverence, ritual or incantation on a large scale') and Rudolf Steiner is a deluded charlatan, not a visionary thinker.

The page includes a claim which uses very different langage. 'With regular applications, BD500 will assist with:

There's no scientific evidence that the use of cow horns packed with cow manure has any of these supposed benefits. The supposed benefits are substantial ones and none of the studies I've seen support distinctive biodynamic techniques. Organic methods often do have these benefits, to an extent, but the biodynamic manipulations are accompanied by the use of organic methods, such as the use of compost in substantial quantities, and it's these methods which have the beneficial effect.

The record of Plot 29 does mention a 'root day,' a day which in the cosmic scheme of things is supposed to be propitious for planting potatoes and other root vegetables. In a later section, the not very impressive results: 'We seem to be drawn towards growing potatoes ... Last year with the lack of sun the they [sic] marauded over half the plot, and then repaid us frugally with a few unimpressive tubers.'

There have been disappointing results with another crop, Mizuna: 'The pigeons were busy taking breakfast amongst the half chewed remnants of our mizuna.' Surely biodynamic gardening doesn't exclude such basics as crop protection, even if putting netting in place may be lacking in cosmic resonance?

And with tomatoes:

The biodynamic gardener records that he 'mopped up the mess of tomato plants we let run riot in the centre of the plot. In their unchecked exuberance they produced very little.' If these were cordon tomatoes, then they had to be pruned regularly to give a worthwhile crop, removing the side shoots. If they were bush tomatoes, giving them proper care would have given some sort of worthwhile crop.'

Despite gardening by the moon and stars, despite the advantages of Energized Water rather than the ordinary water used by non-biodynamic gardeners, the results seem very poor. I'm curious. If gardening by the moon and stars is such a wonderful idea, why isn't this wonderful idea more widely applicable? Would arranging voting in the House of Commons according to biodynamic principles have any advantages?

The page which contains my comment and the article by Allan Jenkins is at

It mentions another biodynamic preparation, the 'Three Kings preparation.'

'Epiphany 2019. The high tide has turned, the winter just starting to ebb, though there’ll be dark days to come, of course. It’s an auspicious time in the biodynamic calendar. The day we spray the Three Kings preparation and the plot is scented with frankincense and myrrh.'

He's obviously ready to waste not just his time but his money in pursuit of cosmic satisfaction.

This is from the page

The cost of the preparation, this 'gift to the elemental world,' is £22.80 (it's made clear that this includes Value Added Tax, VAT.)

'Three Kings Preparation


A special preparation that is applied on Jan 6th (Three Kings Day) each year as a gift to the elemental world. Consisting of gold (D2), frankincense and myrrh. Please note these need to be ground to a fine powder, using a pestle and mortar for one hour then stirred in water again for one hour before applying. The grinding of the ingredients can be done on the 31st Jan – 11.30pm and 12.30am is the best time then mixed with water and glycerine to form a paste. It is then this paste which is added to the water on Jan 6th. Alternatively the ingredients can be ground and then stirred all on Jan 6th (time needed 2 hours).

Please note that all preparations are vatable at 20% since Jan 4th 2011'

And this:

'Very different from the other preparations, the Three Kings Preparation was developed by Hugo Erbe, an early biodynamic farmer. It is sprayed on Three Kings Day (January 6th) as a gift to the elemental world. It also has a harmonising effect. A set of ingredients for making the preparation includes 15g each of gold (D2), frankincense and myrrh along with an instruction sheet and 25mls of glycerine. It is usually applied along the perimeter of a farm, garden or village and is sprayed out at 5m interval. One set is enough for 15km of boundary. A 10ha farm with a square boundary (if such a thing exists) will have a perimeter of about 4km.'

Spending the money on this rather than essential gardening supplies - or giving it to a good cause - needs an extraordinary commitment to the cause - a very, very mistaken commitment.

Another article by him is titled

Happy gardeners feel earth through their fingers

I never wear gloves, says Allan Jenkins. I enjoy getting dirt under my nails.

But the happiness of the gloveless gardener is outweighed by the risk - this is an article which was irresponsible and stupid. It was left to readers to make clear the risks, in the Comments section:

'The appeal to authenticity in relation to nature etc, combined with its associated moral-virtue, seems simply smug. I understand it, but it's all too literary.

'Ig you don't wear gloves; you'll get sepsis. And that's just stupid.

'I speak as a sepsis survivor and now wear gloves on the plot.

And this:

' ...  is important to note that handling compost (growing media) puts you at risk of contracting Legionaires' disease and the recommendation is to wear gloves.'

As well as this:

' ... the practicalities outweigh this heady romanticism. If you garden all day, all year, like myself, a horticulturist of 25 years, you make wearing gloves an important part of your job. The earth is wonderful, but I often come across glass, rusty bits of detrius, including nails, sharp pieces of flint, dog and cat poo. If you have to move between jobs, you are then tackling a rose one minute or having to handle a plant that is phytotoxic e.g hogweed or euphorbia or just plain toxic, Aconitum for example. After recently hearing about a very keen gardener who died of an infected wound caused by a rose thorn, and much in the media about sepsis, I give the soil and plants that surround me, the upmost respect.'

This is from my page Religions, a quote from Richard Wollheim's introduction to 'Hume on Religion.' Hume is David Hume, the greatest of all British philosophers. It gives David Hume's attitude to illusion and ignorance and people in the grip of illusion and ignorance:

' ... it might be possible to liberate them from this illusion or that, but it would only be replaced by another. 'In a future age,' he wrote, a propos of the doctrine of transubstantiation [the belief that during the Catholic mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ, without any alteration of appearances] 'it will probably become difficult to persuade some nations, that any human two-legged creature could ever embrace such principles.' Then with characteristic wryness he added, 'And it is a thousand to one, but these nations themselves shall have something full as absurd in their own creed ... '

But people in the grip of one form of illusion and ignorance may be very clear-sighted about other forms of illusion and ignorance. There are admirable, clear-sighted biodynamicists and admirable, clear-sighted vegans. (See my page Veganism: against. To obtain the cow horns for use in Biodynamic Preparation 500, the cows have to be killed, of course. For anyone in the grip of biodynamic ideology, this is a very important use for a cow horn, with cosmic significance. For the rest of us, killing an animal for this purpose can't possibly be defended. The cosmic significance is non-existent. Fortunately for the biodynamic ideologists, cows aren't killed just to obtain their horns. Vegan biodynamicists may or may not be able to overcome the contradiction. I don't suppose there are many of these people, but I may be mistaken, since people can accept many extreme contradictions. Other vegans, as well as non-vegans, can be united in condemning this stupid practice.

Brecht's play 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' begins with a dispute which concerns land. Which group should be given the land, to cultivate it? Most of the play is taken up by a play within the play. The governor's wife abandons her child. Grusha, a peasant woman, saves the child and takes care of him. Later, the governor's wife claims the child. A judge, not at all a conventional one, devises a test, the chalk circe, and it's Grusha, not the actual reckless and uncaring mother, who is given the child. The play ends:

'But you, who have listened to the story of the Chalk Circle
Take note of the meaning of the ancient song:
That what there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thus
The children to the maternal, that they thrive;


And the valley to the waterers, that it shall bear fruit.'

Of course, generally, this is impossible to realize. Children can be taken from exceptionally poor mothers but not from other mothers. In general, people who legally own land can't have the land taken away from them and given to people who will take much better care of the land, but there are significant exceptions. Allotments, generally rented, are often taken away from people who don't cultivate them. Land has to be viewed as a precious resource.

Measuring the success of the  allotment cultivated by Allan Jenkins and Howard Sooley by mouthfuls of food produced per year, a unit I tend to use when examining not very productive allotments, then the verdict has to be an adverse one: on the evidence of their site, not nearly enough mouthfuls. Production of food is the primary purpose of allotments, and they don't seem to produce very much: not a good advertisement for biodynamic gardening. Some things on the site have nothing very much to do with allotments: all those photographs of autumn leaves collected on the streets of London.

Many biodynamic gardeners and farmers do make good use of the land they own or rent. One of many examples, Fern Verrow biodynamic farm in Herefordshire,

On a visit to the farm, Nigel Slater, very enthusiastic about the place, noted that

'The stags' bladders are hanging in the yard, drying in the sun, looking for all the world like baby coconuts. Stuffed with yarrow flowers, they are buried each year in one of the fields, along with the oak bark, gently scraped from the tree and buried in a pig's skull ... '

More on the stags' bladders, from the page 'The best vegetables you'll ever taste, an unjustifiable claim,

 'BD 502 is one of the more intriguing compost preparations: yarrow flowers are dried in summer, sewn into stags’ bladders the following spring and then strung up in full sun. Around Michaelmas (29 September), the stags’ bladders are buried in the earth, with other preps. Yarrow has long been associated with reproduction and growth, drawing on the powers of the planet Venus.'

This is an outstanding farm. To create a farm of this quality has needed immense effort and very impressive personal qualities and skills. But the attractiveness of the farm and the quality of the produce owe nothing to the biodynamic practice. They are obtainable without them, maintaining the farm's reputation for growing crops of exceptional quality, in an exceptionally attractive setting, but without using and endorsing those biodynamic practices, the ludicrous use of stags' bladders, pigs skulls and cow horns stuffed with one thing or another.

Jane Scotter and Harry Astler, the owners, claim on their page

'We believe strongly that using biodynamic principles produces the highest quality food, in its taste, nutrition and integrity.'

This is a general claim for biodynamic food, not just the food from Fern Verrow farm.' Allan Jenkins and Howard Sooley could make the same claim for the food that comes from their allotment, although not exactly in large quantities.

It's a claim which owes nothing to any responsible, fair-minded use of evidence. It's often claimed that Stradivarius violins are the best violins ever made. There have been efforts to find evidence to test the claim, by playing violins, made by Stradivarius and modern makers, with an expert panel listening as each violin is played in turn. The violins haven't been visible. The identity of each maker has been unknown to members of the panel. They have come to a decision about the sound qualities of each violin purely by listening.

Blind tastings to compare the taste of biodynamic food and non-biodynamic food can be organized, but of course taste is subjective. There are various preferences in taste, 'different tastes in taste.' For a particular product, some people prefer a milder taste or even a bland taste, some people an astringent taste, a far more intense taste. The claim 'We believe strongly ... ' is not just unaccompanied by mention of any evidence but oversimplified. Similarly for the claim for higher quality nutrition. The evidence in this case is very different in kind, demanding use of analytical chemistry and biochemistry. The claim for greater 'integrity' is so vague that it can't be tested. It's effectively meaningless.

Even if it could be shown that a biodynamic product had the advantage over a non-biodynamic product in some way, the difference is overwhelmingly likely to be marginal rather than very substantial. The slight advantage would be outweighed by the substantial disadvantages in time, money and additional effort which are necessary in biodynamic horticulture. Time spent in obtaining cow horns and stirring the preparation is time not spent in other ways, and there are countless ways to make use of valuable time. Is it to be stirring manure for an hour or caring for others, watching wildlife, looking at wildflowers, campaigning for a cause - the relief of human or animal suffering, for example - listening to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or non-classical music, reading a novel, re-reading a novel, thinking and reflecting? Is it to be £22.80 spent on Three Kings Preparation or would it be better to spend the money on the necessities of life, given to a good cause, or spent in some other way?

My page Ethics: theory and practice contains a discussion of 'outweighing,' which has a central place in my ethical thinking, although outweighing has importance in many other spheres, including aesthetics and the material sphere. Something which is regarded as a good, as valuable, may be good and valuable in some respects but not others and concentrating attention on some aspects at the expense of others may involve distortion. There may be lesser goods and greater goods, the greater outweighing the lesser.

Another objection to biodynamic views such as the ones held by Jane Scotter and Harry Astler is that these views are in conflict with rational, scientific inquiry at so many different points. Astrology has many linkages with Biodynamics. The Nazi Heinrich Himmler was very fully involved in astrology - I don't in the least claim that present day astrologers are Nazis, of course. Modern politicians who relied upon astrology to decide the date of political decisions would be irresponsible. Modern medicine, with all its massive benefits, has been advanced by rejecting pre-scientific assumptions, or many of them. The doctrine of signatures, for example, was based on the assumption that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat diseases of those body parts. Modern technology is essential for conducting the work of Fern Verrow farm. After the food has been produced using sound agricultural methods and what amounts to superstition, it's transported to distant London, to Skye Gingell's restaurant 'Spring,' using modern transportation, along modern roads, with modern conveniences, in a country defended by very advanced technology, by people who have not the least interest in biodynamics and are none the worst for it. (If they did accept this nonsense and spent too long on it, they would be less able to do their job.)

Any farms which made use of Rudolf Steiner's crackpot methods in France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries up to the outbreak of the Second World War would have found that their workers were subject to arrest, deportation, extermination or other fates, if the Nazis decided. Biodynamics leaves out the all-important context, the vulnerability of people, the harshness of reality.

In  'Organic Farming in Nazi Germany: The Politics of Biodynamic Agriculture, 1933–1945' Peter Staudenmaier documents and discusses some very important aspects of the relations between Nazis and biodynamicists.

Environmental History, Volume 18, Issue 2, 1 April 2013, Pages 383–411,

Peter Staudenmaier's exceptionally interesting and very detailed discussion makes clear the complexity of the connections between  biodynamic movement (itself quite complex and, to an extent, heterogeneous) and the Nazi movement. There were Nazi opponents of  biodynamics, some of them prominent, as well as supporters. The paper can be downloaded from the site

Peter Staudenmaier writes in the abstract, 'I argue that the entwinement of biodynamic advocates and Nazi institutions was more extensive than scholars have previously acknowledged.' He quotes from the biodynamic journal, Demeter, including a reference to ‘love for the soil and love for the homeland: This must be our goal and our lofty mission, to fight together with our Führer Adolf Hitler for the liberation of our beloved German fatherland!’

A particularly disturbing fact is that there were biodynamic operations in some of the concentration camps. Peter Staudenmaier writes,

'In January 1939, Himmler created a new SS corporation under Pohl’s supervision, the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Ernährung und Verpflegung (German Research Facility for Food and Nutrition), known as the DVA. A substantial portion of its operations consisted of agricultural plantations located at concentration camps including Auschwitz, Dachau, and Ravensbrück, as well as estates in occupied Eastern Europe and in Germany. Many of these agricultural projects were biodynamic plantations growing organic products for the SS and the German military, with production monitored by the Reich League for Biodynamic Agriculture. Ravensbrück was the first DVA estate to be converted to biodynamic cultivation, in May 1940. Eventually the majority of the DVA’s plantations were run biodynamically. The DVA also marketed Demeter products, cooperated with Weleda, and contributed financially to the Reich League for Biodynamic Agriculture. Pohl recruited several leading biodynamic figures, including Max Karl Schwarz and Nicolaus Remer, to work on organic enterprises at Auschwitz ... The centerpiece of the DVA biodynamic operations was the sizable plantation at Dachau, which produced medicinal herbs and other organic goods for the SS. As at Ravensbrück, the labor on the Dachau biodynamic plantation was performed by camp inmates. From 1941 onward, the Dachau operation was overseen by anthroposophist Franz Lippert, a leader of the biodynamic movement from its beginnings and head gardener at Weleda from 1924 to 1940. Shortly after taking over the Dachau plantation Lippert joined the SS, and in 1944 he received special recognition and a bonus for his work there.'

Further information concerning Professor Staudenmaier, including some of his research interests:













Expanses, scale, adequacy

Expanses are the application in the visual sphere of scale, introduced in this extract from my page on aphorisms:

What I mean by 'scale' and 'adequacy' can be explained by an unexpected illustration, bullfighting. (But the page on bullfighting makes it clear that my objections to bullfighting - there are many of them - are not based primarily on scale.)

There are no great theatrical masterpieces which last only a quarter of an hour. They need longer than that for their unfolding, to have their impact. Aristotle, in the 'Poetics,' wrote that 'Tragedy is an imitation of an action that ...possesses magnitude.' (Section 4.1) The word he uses for 'magnitude' is μέγεθος 'megethos' and it expresses the need that the dramatic action should be imposing and not mean, not limited in extent. Aristotle's view here isn't binding, but it does express an artistic demand which more than the so-called 'unities' has a continuing force. The 15 minutes, approximately, which elapse from the entry of the bull until its death are far too little for the demands of a more ambitious art. The complete bullfighting session is simply made up of these 15 minutes repeated six times, with six victims put to death. This repetition doesn't in the least amount to magnitude, to 'megethos.' The scale of bullfighting doesn't have adequacy. The scale of Greek drama does have adequacy. Shakespearean themes needed a drama with still greater scale for adequacy.

Ruskin has an extended discussion of scale in architecture in Chapter III of 'Seven Lamps of Architecture,' 'The Lamp of Power.' In 'Mornings in Florence,' 'The Fourth Morning,' section 72, he writes 'Mere size has, indeed, under all disadvantage, some definite value...Disappointed as you may be, or at least ought to be, at first, by St Peter's, in the end you will feel its size...the bigness tells at last: and Corinthian pillars whose capitals alone are ten feet high, and their acanthus leaves three feet long, give you a serious conviction of the infallibility of the Pope, and the fallibility of the wretched Corinthians, who invented the style indeed, but built with capitals no bigger than hand-baskets.'

As for the use of architecture to 'prove' a doctrine, an aphorism of mine is relevant: 'The great achievements of religious architecture, painting, sculpture and literature are no evidence for religion but evidence that people with artistic gifts may have far less talent for critical thinking.' There's no linkage between the power of architecture and the validity of religious beliefs: [power of architecture] > < [validity of religious beliefs]. There's a linkage between baroque architecture and the values of the age of absolutism, [baroque architecture] < > [values of the age of absolutism] but the architecture didn't validate them.

Diversification by simple alternative can be applied to Aristotle's claims concerning magnitude and tragedy, which are justified claims, I'm sure, but undiversified. He claims that there are imitations that have insufficient scale (my term) or 'megethos' (Aristotle's term) and so have inadequacy in imitating the action. What Aristotle didn't consider here (although he did consider very thoroughly similar ethical alternatives in the 'Nicomachean Ethics' ) is the diversified OR: imitations that have excessive scale.

There are many dramatic illustrations of this, from screen and television as well as the stage: imitations where the action is ridiculously inflated, grandiose, in general excessive for the small-minded or insignificant theme.

This too is a claim for disproportion of scale, D H Lawrence on Flaubert's Madame Bovary:

'I think the inherent flaw in Madame Bovary is that individuals like Emma and Charles Bovary are too insignificant to carry the full weight of Gustave Flaubert's profound sense of tragedy...Emma and Charles Bovary are two ordinary persons, chosen because they are ordinary. But Flaubert is by no means an ordinary person. Yet he insists on pouring his own deep and bitter tragic consciousness into the little skins of the country doctor and his dissatisfied wife...'

I live in a small terraced house, which suits me but would have insufficient scale for a King or Queen, even the unpretentious royalty of the Netherlands or Denmark. Excessive scale is represented by the inhuman scale of brutalistic architecture for accommodation.

It's necessary to diversify further: excessive scale can be justified OR unjustified. Brutalist architecture, which has the effect of making people more insignificant, is an example of unjustified excessive scale, I think. There are compensating advantages in some excessive scale. Baroque architecture makes people less significant rather than more significant, but it has a compensating drama, energy, dynamism, excitement. Neo-classic St Petersburg is built on an inhuman scale but the scale enhances human experience. This, and the Baroque excessiveness, has a linkage with the excess (the 'nimiety') of Beethoven in some of his works, such as the repeated figure in the Scherzo of his Quartet Opus 135: an example of artistically justified excess and great scale in a small-scale musical genre.

An example of an expanse, a wheat field, a glorious sight, more likely to be a glorious sight if vision, ocular vision, is amplified, intensified by inner vision. One means would be this, from 'Centuries of Meditations,' by the part-visionary part-deluded poet Thomas Traherne:

'The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting.'

Or, more likely to intensify the experience of looking, the music and the lyrics of this, 'Fields of gold,' by Sting:

'Will you stay with me, will you be my love...among the fields of barley...?'

And, also, the wonderful images of the fields of gold, the fields of barley.

The distracting tapping of the percussion makes the music slightly less wonderful (is {restriction}: [the music]) but remembering can subtract it.

An expanse may be too plain, lacking in visual interest because lacking in visual detail, or its impact can be restricted by details. This is the case in this image, I think, which shows a wheat field in Hungary:

The ears of wheat are at varying angles and in this case, variation is {restriction}: [aesthetic impact]. The effect is restless, unsatisfying. The colour isn't, of course, particularly golden but rather drab gold. The distant hills do, though, form a satisfying contrast with the field of wheat, and they have adequate scale.

I'm not in the least so preoccupied with the visual impact of fields of wheat or fields of barley that I forget their practical importance. I've a strong interest in baking, using wheat flour - there are many other kinds, of course - and in brewing, using malt from barley.

In my growing, again and again I come up against the competing demands of visual interest - including the creation of beauty or the striving to create beauty - and functionality. I don't grow wheat or barley but I grow many other crops. This is a bed used for growing potato plants, from my page Gardening / construction: introduction, with photographs:

In previous years, potatoes have been grown in beds, with paths between the beds, using the system described on the page Beds and boards.

This system has practical advantages, such as avoidance of the need to walk on the beds, which compacts the soil to some extent. It can be used in such a way as to give visual interest - a succession of rectangular beds of the same size along an axis can amount to a compostion with the satisfying regularity of some abstract art. If the bed is long or quite long, it can amount to an expanse in its own right, but it isn't likely to have scale as satisfying as the scale of a more substantial expanse.

An expanse may be unsatisfying to a very significant extent or to some extent because it has insufficient contrasts, or the contrasts are repetitive or otherwise unsatisfying. So many works of modern architecture have this defect. To give one example, this is the Arts Tower of Sheffield University (there are much worse University buildings nearby):

Absolute size is a criterion for deciding whether an element qualifies as an expanse, but greater size may not necessarily make for a more satisfying expanse or an expanse with greater impact. A further consideration is scale in the sense of relative proportion.

William Wordsworth, in his 'Guide to the Lakes,' wrote very well about scale, scale as size and scale as relative proportion - as he did about so many other aspects of the landscape of the Lake District, in the section 'Alpine scenes compared with Cumbrian:'

' ... we have mountains, the highest of which little exceed 3,000 feet, while some of the Alps do not fall short of 14,000 or 15,000, and 8,000 or 10,000 is not an uncommon elevation. Our tracts of wood and water are almost as diminutive in comparison; therefore, as far as sublimity is dependent upon absolute bulk and height, and atmospherical influences in connexion with these, it is obvious hat there can be no rivalship. But a short residence among the British Mountains will furnish abundant proof that after a certain point of elevation, viz. that which allows of compact and fleecy clouds settling upon, or sweeping over, the summits, the sense of sublimity depends more upon form and relation of objects to each other than upon their actual magnitude; and that an elevation of 3,000 feet is sufficient to call forth in a most impressive degree the creative, and magnifying, and softening powers of the atmosphere.'

He goes on to make other claims which are very compelling, I think, including ones to do with plants - trees of many kinds, including the olive, and the vine.- and lakes.

Skylines and congestion

 A skyline is a composite, a collection of objects in which the linkages between the objects is important. In a garden, we can't hope to emulate the impact of the skyline - or the skylines - of Oxford or Manhattan, but a garden can have a distinctive skyline.

Nikolaus Pevsner on avoidance of congestion ('Cambridgeshire,' 'Clare College'):

We must now for a moment return to Trinity Lane. The architectural grouping here is superb, with King's College Chapel, the New Schools and the E front of Clare set back behind the Gateposts of 1675. These were carved by Pearce. There is much variety here in a narrow place, without any congestion.'

The long diagonal in the image above is the walkway I constructed to avoid the problem of walking in a muddy morass to get down into the allotment when rainfall has been heavy for a long time. The walkway can be viewed as part of the skyline, perhaps - it underlines part of the skyline.

Nikolaus Pevsner on the skyline of Oxford ('The Buildings of England,' 'Oxfordshire,' Introduction):

' ... Cambridge has no skyline, Oxford has the most telling skyline of England, though dreaming spires is nonsense in every respect. Surely, in spite of St Mary, All Saints and the cathedral, and now Nuffield, Oxford is remembered less for them than for Tom Tower, the Camera and Magdalen tower. It is the variety of shapes which makes the skyline.'

The shapes which make up a garden skyline can have a variety of shapes too, including small spires - if not dreaming spires - the pyramids of canes supporting climbing beans, and including greenhouses (like sheds, utilitarian objects but with less utilitarian associations than sheds), and some objects I include in this skyline, a support star and a hop pole. The variety can include narrow as well as broad structures.

This is a view of a small spire -  the pole supporting the hop plant - with cane pyramids supporting runner bean plants and a view of the school, but from a different position, from above, looking down: a far more satisfying view than the one shown above, but with flaws: there's congestion, the runner bean pyramid to the right is too near the hop pole. Here, I gave greater weight to crop production than to aesthetics.

From the book 'The Garden Planner,' Consultant Editor Ashley Stephenson, the section 'The Japanese Garden,'

'Shakkei, or borrowed scenery - a glimpse beyond the garden of hills, perhaps, or mountains, trees or roofs, - is incorporated into the design and makes the garden seem larger.'

Here, the light coloured expanse of the roof of the school buildings contrasts with the darker walls and roof belonging to the same borrowed scenery, and with the dark spire, not an expanse, in this part of the growing area. There are other obvious contrasts, including contrasts of height and bulk. The spire is much shorter than the school buildings but the base is higher..