The Paddy Fields at the south end of Lawson Park were created as a site for our ongoing trials with experimental farming methods, inventive land use and creative approaches to ecology.The project was a test to ascertain whether it was possible to achieve productive workable soil at the site without the use of artificial additives and fertilisers. The cultivated central two acre area which is now in use was completely barren, unworkable soil, able to sustain only bracken and grass. In the intervening years it has been cultivated through entirely organic means, with green manure, mulching and endless weeding. Despite all predictions, the area is now fully productive and, although it has been a slow and drawn-out process, we get decent and regular yields of relatively hardy vegetables and soft fruit crops including strawberries, raspberries, potatoes etc. In 2016 further fruit trees (plums, damsons & gages) were planted at the top of the field. Highlights of the annual crops are extraordinarily prolific high bush blueberries and autumn raspberries (albeit both need to be netted against birds now).
The Paddies have become an important resource for group outings to Lawson Park, allowing the wide cross-section of people who visit the site the simple opportunity to work the land - an activity that has become disturbingly absent from town and city living. In a very direct way this can be seen as an implementation of Ruskin's long held belief that everyone should be able to use a plot of land to sustain themselves, and that people should work both with their hands as well as their minds in order to maintain a healthy character. In practice, the experience of working on the paddies among such picturesque scenery can be liberating for many visitors, and on occasion the chance to find out how chips grow in the wild can be enlightening.
In line with the Lawson Park model, the Paddies are constantly evolving as a project, altered with the changing seasons, each new plant trial, and the person who works them. In 2018 for the first time we adopted wholesale the no-dig approach championed by Charles Dowding from his small market garden in Somerset, having met him in person during our 'The Land We Live In, The Land We Left Behind' show at nearby Hauser & Wirth Somerset. His system of annual mulch and no tilling of the soil has proved to be a great improvement in what was a dry summer all across the UK, minimising weeding and watering needs.