Pebble Garden is a site of forest regeneration, soil-building and seed conservation work, stewarded by Bernard and Deepika.
"A Garden for Everyone" is a seed conservation and sharing initiative for home gardeners.
It has grown out of 18 years of regeneration work on 7 acres of lateritic wasteland in Auroville, Tamil Nadu. The land is severely eroded and forms part of nearly 8000 hectares of wasteland marked in many places by deep gullies caused by extreme erosion.
The larger work
Our land regeneration work encompasses:
- revival of the ancient forest species
- protecting its natural fauna
- creating life-nurturing water bodies
- building soil where there is none - from organic inputs grown on the site, and gathered from the neighborhood and home
- setting up a garden and fruit tree area with a large diversity of plants for all needs
- conserving and sharing seeds of hardy varieties for home gardens suited to poor soil conditions
- creative interactions with like-hearted people.
We deeply value the rich and complete learning made possible by physical work on the land and are grateful to let this experience shape and transform us as we work.*
"A Garden for Everyone" is an inseparable part of our larger work of wasteland restoration. It is an effort to conserve and spread non-commercial plant varieties that have done well on this wasteland and are ideal for home gardens.
The entire plot of land is characterized by a total absence of topsoil. Its surface is a dense and compact mass of pebbles, laterite chunks in a red or yellow clay, waterlogged in the rainy months, rock hard and heavily compacted.** Considering that cultivated plants, especially vegetables need a balanced soil, rich in humus and well drained, many have doubted if such land can support even a forest, let alone a garden.
How the garden was built
The intense process of soil building for the garden area started with protecting the plot, followed by establishing pioneers or ‘start-up’ species (A. coleii, D. viscosa, S. hamata). Every bit of established pioneer vegetation was recycled in various ways, together with silt collected from ponds, to create built-up layered beds, heaps and circles in the garden plots. The process of soil building still continues, with creative modifications every season. Apart from using biomass grown on the site, we manually gather leaves and organic matter from the neighbourhood and make full use of home resources (ash, urine, grey water, kitchen waste). We do not use cattle manure, no deep digging, no purchased compost, no bought seeds.
Today Pebble Garden, with more than 1000 square metres of built-up soil, is home to more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, cover crops, root crops, medicinal plants - that grow and flourish in spite of the difficult terrain on regenerated soil.
Why we need to grow a garden and save our seeds
The varieties we grow and share are primarily selected for their robust nature. Most of them are endangered, rarely grown, not seen in markets, nor are their seeds easily available. They have qualities that home growers and users value, such as:
- taste and flavour
- nutritive value
- interesting and diverse shapes, colours and sizes
- staggered fruit production
- keeping quality
- long-producing duration.
Market varieties on the other hand are bred and selected with commercial priorities such as uniform ‘looks’ over food value, easy transportability over taste and texture, response to heavy chemicals, single-phase harvest - qualities of no use to home growers - and they do not produce tasty, healthy and nutritious food.
At Pebble Garden we grow a seed collection of 90 varieties every year using simple methods to maintain varietal purity. We are also glad to share these skills with sincere seekers.
Food, in our modern world, with all the heavy chemical and water inputs, not only fails to nourish us, but ruins the environment beyond measure. Not to mention the peril that lurks behind transgenic crops and the uneasy fact that food is crossing oceans and continents before it reaches consumers.
What can we, as individuals, do?
A home garden is a simple response, well within the reach of many of us, to insecurities arising from this strange food situation. Moreover, any ardent home gardener, or even a sincere novice, however tiny your garden, can be an active seed steward and conserve endangered plant varieties handed down to us by nature and tradition.
We offer you our seeds and hope that they will urge you to start your garden right away or continue to work with fresh vigour.
These seeds also carry a dream - that one day there will be a ‘garden for everyone’ on this planet.
“Even a pebble kicked in an idle moment has its effects on the hemispheres.”
“It is possible to count the number of seeds in an apple, but you cannot count
the number of apples in one seed.”
An old proverb
“The best fertilizers are the footsteps of the gardener.”
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops
but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
*We, Bernard and Deepika, give our complete effort to this long-term work. We receive student volunteers, co-learners and only occasionally take hired help. We maintain ourselves and the land by donations from individuals, for which we are always very grateful.
**Almost half of India’s cultivable landmass is seriously degraded. Our small experiment has convinced us that the productive potential of wastelands can be restored with simple methods, local skills, on-site inputs and traditional plant varieties. The only ‘high’ technology needed is love for the land.
- Charcoal at Pebble Garden - three short documentaries