by Dick Handscombe, with inputs from Clodagh; practical holistic gardeners and authors.

Ever since we started gardening in our parents’ and school gardens in the 1940’s and 1950’s respectively, the inclusion of things to eat has been an important element of our plant mixes. This led us to most enjoy holistic gardens, with a combination of cottage garden style and a series of patio gardens around the house. Today these focus in turn on fruit, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and tree leaves, plus eggs and poultry meat, as well as being full of colourful scenic flowers.

Moving to Spain to retire early allowed me to seek to repeat the edible garden my parents had in West London in order to eat well during the Second World War. My efforts were driven by the recommendation by my cancer surgeon back in 1993 that I retire early to the Iberian Peninsula to an active life eating a traditional village Mediterranean diet rather than undergo radio and chemical treatments for a persistent slow-growing cancer that they would probably not have touched and he would have lost his mop of hair. Reports on the latest medical thinking in recent editions of the magazine ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’, demonstrate how forward thinking the surgeon was. I am still here gardening writing and mountain walking at 76 years old.

A few years ago Clodagh and I gave a talk at a U3A conference on Health for the Third Age, illustrating how we gradually expanded the edible content of our garden ecologically in parallel with local agriculturalists using heavier and heavier doses of chemical fertilisers, insecticides and fungicides and then eventually abandoning most of the local agricultural terraces and fields. Eventually we took on borrowed land to expand our eco vegetable and fruit production for ourselves, friends and a local Michelin starred restaurant and make our own eco olive oil. Now the external production has been cut back to give me more time for writing and painting.

gardening-bookAfter the conference I expanded this into a booklet for people attending our talks. Recently this has been updated and published as a book titled ‘Living well from our garden – Mediterranean Style’ available from Amazon Books, to meet an increasing interest in our ideas on wellness gardens, what constitutes good and poor eating and what to grow most of based on the vitamin mineral and fibre content etc. One fascinating table included in the book is one that compares the essential fertilizer and food needs of plants and humans.

The following is an extract.

*Extract from pages 14 and 15 of ‘Living well from our garden – Mediterranean Style’ –ISBN 9781484873632.

As the book explains, designing a wellness garden is not just about the mix of flowering and edible plants, what one grows and doing it ecologically. It is also about designing a peaceful and restful haven for spiritual and mental wellness away from the maddening crowds, even if in the middle of an urbanisation. Originally our garden reached across fences and walls into woodlands and open fields grazed by sheep and goats where wheat and grapes were once grown. Now 25 years on, there are no woods or fields, but an urbanisation. However we can’t see it and rarely hear it as we enclosed our garden by wide trees and tall thick hedges to create a peaceful and productive oasis with wonderful views above and beyond the streets of the urbanisation, to overgrown green mountainsides beyond, where olive and almond trees were once cultivated before a great fire destroyed the trees.

Also a wellness garden improves one’s economic wellness which has become important as today’s increases in the cost of living and constrained pensions could well be the norm of the next decade or longer. Not only do we eat and drink mainly from the garden, but also most of our garden plants and trees were grown from cuttings and seeds or dropped unexpectedly by passing birds. They are now established with deep roots to survive hot summer suns and our largely waterless garden needs little water except for a collection of salvias being developed for their vivid autumn colours.

If any gardening or social group would like a talk or workshop focussed on issues raised in this article, do get in contact via our website

(C) Dick and Clodagh Handscombe