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Making a Keyhole Bed with Lori Hillman

What better way to spend a Sunday than creating a key hole permaculture vegetable bed. Sheltered in the tranquil grounds of OmVed Gardens this weekend, together with my fellow course attendees, we set to work on what was a remarkably simple process which would provide an ecologically harmonious and efficient productive system.

Our gardening work was supported by a full day of learning on the Saturday during which we revisited the Five Elements Taoist philosophy that Lori had introduced in the Autumn. We also explored the underground economy and the quintessence of soil. The essence of nutrition. The fascinating relationship between humans and the mycorrhizal network. The principles of permaculture and whole systems thinking. This depth of knowledge was made accessible through Lori’s gentle and mindful approach which involved starting each day with a collective meditation as well as taking time throughout the day to absorb and reflect.

Akemi, student on Lori's course.
"Thank you so much for the mind-blowing two days workshop in the past weekend. When I signed up, I had little idea what to expect from it but after spending two days with you and other kindred spirited people in the beautiful environment in harmony with nature, I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed with the amount knowledge/wisdom that I gained (some of which I felt I already knew deep in my heart but forgot) and the positive energy that I’ve been feeling ...."

Surrounded by all of the signs of spring and bathed in morning sunshine, the first step was to map out the simple design using bamboo markers. We then lay wet cardboard over the blueprint of our vegetable bed. The design, as the name suggests, is centred around a key hole shaped space which is intended for the gardener to access the herbs and vegetables without disturbing the soil. On top of the card board went kitchen scraps in their pre compost phase, so mostly peels, cores and egg shells. Nothing cooked.

I thought about the food that was being prepared for us as we worked. What we were using had come directly from the OmVed kitchen that morning.  Next, the actual compost which we topped off with mulch. In all, the bed stood about 30cm higher than the ground. The outer circle of the bed, slightly raised, would be home to sage and lemon grass – sage is apparently a slug repellent. The middle, leeks and onions and the inner circle basil and tomatoes. The taller plants would gather dew which falls back down to the lower plants meaning that the garden needed little watering. It was an eco system within itself created entirely from by products of the kitchen. One could not help but wonder why doesn’t everybody have a permaculture vegetable bed in their garden?

Nena Foster, Natural Chef
"I came away from the weekend with some techniques to help me stop and take notice, connect with my body and surroundings—something that was sorely needed and missing from my everyday life. And being surrounded by the beauty of nature at the amazingly serene OmVed Gardens in Highgate, proved to be the ideal place for such a workshop. The learning space, the food and gardens made it feel like we were away on a retreat. When it was all over no one wanted to leave."

Prepared by Arthur Potts Dawson, OmVed Garden’s Executive Chef, our four course vegan lunch that afternoon was literally bursting with life.  A starter of quinoa, alfalfa sprouts, kimchi, and miso quenelles really set the tone.

Lori continues teaching the Five Elements throughout the spring and summer this year. The first in a series of five weekend courses will be on April 6th and 7th which will explore spring and the wood element. More information and tickets, which include the full four course lunch on both days, are available here.