Over 25 years Earthworkers, supported by staff and volunteers, have transformed waste land into 3.5 acres of beautiful and flourishing eco-gardens. We manage our eco-gardens in an environmentally sustainable way, and we grow our plants using organic methods.
Let us take you on a virtual tour of our garden here.
Our eco-gardens include habitat, production and sensory spaces as well as a purpose built eco-building:
Made of sustainably-sourced oak, our eco-building, the Warren, is the beating heart of Earthworks. Here, we meet daily, eat lunch and take part in crafts. Earthworks is not connected to the national grid but uses environmentally sustainable technologies for on-site power generation. Solar panels on the roof of the Warren power the lights and directly heat the hot water systems, and we rely on a wood-burning stove as our source of heat.
We grows plants organically, using no artificial fertilisers or chemical pest control. Companion planting helps us to reduce pests and increase growth by growing certain plants together in plant communities which have beneficial effects on our crops. For example, the presence of insect-friendly plants will increase pollination of a crop; the presence of many strong-smelling herbs can deter pests; and the nitrogen-fixing legume family introduces valuable nitrogen to the soil.
We produce our own compost, returning vital nutrients to the soil to sustain next year’s plants. All vegetative waste is composted in our large wooden bins, which are numbered in the order they are filled. The compost is mixed and turned two to three times a year, ensuring an adequate oxygen supply for the composting organisms, and the compost is usually ready after six months.
A 10,000-litre rainwater storage tank beneath our front lawn collects rainfall runoff from the roof of The Warren and drainage from the car park. We paved over the tank with re-claimed stone to make an accessible patio where we can enjoy our tea-breaks al fresco. Many Earthworkers and volunteers mucked in with construction and landscaping to help the professionals (sustainably-focused planning and design company Ecovril) to barrow, dig, connect pipe work and mix cement.
Water can either be drawn up from the tank using an old fashioned cast iron hand pump to directly fill our watering cans, cutting energy consumption as well as introducing physical activity for good health and wellbeing, or pumped up and used to re-fill our other water butts in times of high demand.
Watering by hand allows specific watering of roots, which ensures minimal water wastage. We encourage drought-resistance by minimal watering so that plants develop deep roots to reach water, rather than relying on our watering cans as a water source.
Recycling and repurposing
In line with our values of living sustainably, we try to recycle or repurpose materials rather than buying new. We use unwanted materials for crafting. For example, we sell our much-loved wooden reindeers at on the St Albans farmer’s market at Christmas time.
Our forest garden follows the pattern and shapes of nature, with its layers of fruit trees, fruit bushes, smaller herbs, roots and fungi. All the plants are edible or useful in some way and each layer contributes to the stability and self-sustaining nature of the overall garden. Higher biodiversity attracts predators of common pests and increases the fertility of the soil. We mulch the whole area of the little garden with cardboard and woodchip mulch to deter any ‘weeds’ we don’t want, and to keep moisture in the ground. We aim to save some weeds such as dandelion, feverfew and wild strawberry. The garden will take time to develop so we will need patience when we have a storm of aphids or other non-beneficial bugs. But in time, these will diminish.
Planted at an Earthworks community event in 1996, the orchard contains 30 old varieties of fruit trees, including Brownlees Russet, Bushey Grove and St Albans. We prune and mulch the trees every year using our own compost. The branches are kept low to enable our Earthworkers to easily pick the fruit. After the autumn harvest, we produce delicious apple juice.
Our wildflower meadow is mowed only in rotation to allow butterflies to complete their lifecycles and to provide safe habitats for other wildlife such as hedgehogs, and a food source for our bees.
Earthworks’ bees happily pollinate our fruit orchards and beans, and we receive a small income from selling their honey. Our bees live in innovative Dartington Long Deep hives with an ergonomic design. These innovative hives allow four to six people together to get a close look at what is happening in the brood chamber. After an arson attack destroyed our beekeeping equipment, St Albans and District Beekeepers’ Association members now kindly manage our bees. Our hope is to return to taking care of our own bees.
Two pond habitats with soft edging and water plants provide an important water source for birds and mammals as well as encouraging diversity of native wildlife. Birds and frogs attracted by the ponds control pests by eating slugs and snails.
Earthworks’ native woodland is a source of wood for our woodcraft, and provides important habitat balance.
Some of our volunteers have employed their hedge-laying skills to create beautiful, traditional hedging as screening rather than purchasing fencing. These hedges provide homes for a host of wildlife.