Head gardener, and our new biodynamic gardening adviser, Lucy Birnie, shares her journey.
Lucy Birnie has loved being outdoors, getting muddy and being amongst nature since she was a child. Destined to make gardening (and growing food) her life’s passion, her gardening career has been hands-on, based in practical experience, firstly working in a garden centre for 8 years before joining Thornage Hall, biodynamic Camphill Community as assistant gardener supporting adults with learning difficulties. It was at Thornage Hall she began her love affair with biodynamic gardening and with growing vegetables, including unusual vegetables such as seakale, and heritage varieties (she’d previously run her own café – bistro for a couple of years). She attained level 3 diploma in Biodynamics from Crossfields Institute and 3 years later became their head gardener, a post she held for 6 years. She made it her mission to sell their biodynamic produce to the local chefs and encouraged them to run cookery demonstrations at their annual Open Day, which is where she met her present employer, Galton Blackiston, chef-patron of Michelin starred Morston Hall on the North Norfolk coast, where she is introducing biodynamic practices, and writes her own blog .
How big is your patch at Morston Hall?
We have a large ornamental garden, a Parterre which I’m hoping to develop as a biodynamic herb garden,10 new deep beds for raising salads and vegetables for the kitchen, and a greenhouse for growing flowers and micro herbs.
Is your boss supportive of using biodynamic gardening methods?
Very much so. Galton became interested when he bought produce from Thornage Hall. He’s held a Michelin star for 21 years and was impressed with their quality and taste, and is looking forward to having his own. We have biodynamic wines on our wine list, so developing the garden sustainably fits into the ethos of the hotel.
How about your guests?
I write a seasonal blog about what I’m doing in the garden, and they love coming into the garden, asking me questions, seeing the vegetables and salads and connecting with the food they’re eating. They’re also curious about biodynamic practices – when I explain them and they see the results for themselves, they get it.
Why is biodynamics so special for you?
I love the way it makes you feel and how it teaches you to be so observant – how it teaches you to absorb everything about the land around you and under your feet. It’s a really special and unique that way. Also the health and vitality it confers to everything – that’s a revelation when you’ve been used to working in garden centres where the answer to everything is a chemical product on the shelf. Once you also start using the BD preparations and the Planting Calendar, for example, it seems to make sense. Treating the garden as an independent whole or living being its own right, viewing it as a ‘closed-loop’ system – was another eureka moment for me. It changes your approach to sustainability forever and adds an extra dimension to gardening in harmony with nature. And it works!
What’s your top tip or advice for members who are new to biodynamics?
I’ve found you don’t need to understand everything about biodynamics. Sometimes it’s nice to believe in something and just trust and go with it. The results speak for themselves – I personally wouldn’t want to garden any other way now.
I really like the new Biodynamic Gardening video shorts they’re the best introduction I’ve found.
PS Lucy’s love of gardening extends to her photograph skills – she was a finalist in the first International Garden Photographer award. Check out her stunning pics on her Instagram page