Living Vital Information Trail

What is Living Vital?


Living Vital is a community led organic food and herb garden growing plants in a way that is sustainable and supportive of the local ecosystem. We do this by applying the principles of permanent agriculture (permaculture).

We are building a nurturing and supportive growing community that we have opened up to the local refugee and migrant community. We offer a safe welcoming space to anyone where they can meet new people, forge new friendships and share their skills, stories and ideas.

We are always expanding our offering to include other opportunities to help people not just to stay healthy but to live energised vital lives, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. The focus is always to help deepen our connections with our bodies, thoughts and emotions, to dwell fully in the present moment and recognize the value of our connection to each other and our entire ecosystem. This paradigm shift in our awareness of interbeing is the foundation from which we can build a truly sustainable way of being on this earth.

What is Permaculture?


The word permaculture comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and it’s all about growing food sustainably. At the heart of permaculture are three principles:
Earth care – rebuilding natural capital by restoring soil and ecosystems
People care – looking after self, kin and community
Fair share – setting limits and redistributing surplus

In the context of this garden it means thinking about ourselves and the plants as a part of our wider environment, and using methods that will improve the health of our soil and our ecosystem.

This includes using methods like:

  • Rotating crops to ensure nutrients are returned to the soil.
  • Companion planting, which means planting different species together that complement one another. For example, insects love to eat nasturtiums so we plant them near our vegetables to tempt the slugs away from our lettuces!
  • Composting as much of our waste as possible to turn it back into soil that can enrich the next generation of plants.
  • Making our own fertilisers e.g. using stinging nettles to make a nitrogen rich feed and avoiding manufactured fertilisers or pesticides that deplete the soil and have unintended effects on the wider ecosystem.

Our Polytunnel


Just poking your head into our polytunnel can make you feel like you’ve travelled to a tropical jungle. The air is warmer and more humid, and there’s no direct sunlight or breeze.

The polytunnel helps extend our growing season – it means we can get several harvests per year because we can start earlier and finish later than we could if plants were exposed to all the British elements. We can even grow brassicas like mustard greens, mizuna and mibuna over winter.

The other advantage of the polytunnel is we can grow things that would struggle to grow outside in the UK, like chilli peppers, Cape Gooseberries, aubergines and grape vines. We are growing the vines not for the grapes, but for the leaves, at the request of members of our garden community, because edible vine leaves are hard to find in UK supermarkets.

Behind you, you can see our smaller polytunnel, where we keep seedlings that have just been planted. They stay in here for their first week or two, until they are strong enough to go outside in the ground and brave any weather that’s thrown at them, as well as the hungry slugs, caterpillars, birds and rodents we share the garden with.

The Workshop


We love being outside in nature, but it’s quite nice to have somewhere to duck into when it starts raining – it means we can have enjoyable, longer days at the garden all year round. We built our workshop in 2020 using reclaimed wood (from the building work at Sussex University), and it is clad in sustainably sourced English larch wood. We now have a gas cooker, water supply and solar-powered lights and water heater, enabling our communal tea breaks and lunches.

Our workshop is always at the heart of our gardening sessions, a busy hub of food preparation, washing up, life catch ups or showing off our latest spoon whittling projects. We also keep a few books here that enable us to identify any bird, insect, wildflower or mushroom that we find during our nature explorations.

Our Food Forest


Did you know you can eat a forest? Many trees grow fruit and nuts but they also give us herbs like sumac and spices like peppercorns. Here we are also planting edible roots like liquorice, an array of savoury and medicinal herbs, shrubs like the goji berry, mushrooms and hanging vines.

Our food forest doesn’t look much like a forest yet. Trees can take years to reach full maturity. Can you spot some that are just one or two years old, and others that are much older and provide us with apples, damsons, cherries and greengages every year?

A food forest is planted to imitate the way plants grow in nature. Instead of just one huge field of the same kind of crop, we are growing lots of different plants beside one another. All the plants are different heights so they won’t crowd each other out but instead will create the right kind of light and shade, enrich the soil and attract a mix of insects and other wildlife to help them all thrive.

Food forests are easy to maintain once they’re established, because you don’t have to replant every year. We can just sit back and enjoy this beautiful natural space while we wait for the food to grow.

The Pond


It might look as peaceful as a painting, but this pond is home to a thriving community of plants and wildlife. The lilies provide cover for frogs and newts, while dragonflies, beetles, pond skaters, water boatmen and snails play on or around the surface. Blackbirds, water snakes, hedgehogs and even foxes and badgers also pay visits.

There are three badger setts around the edges of our garden and we also have mice, voles, moles, common lizards and slow worms (technically these are legless lizards not worms), though sightings are rare. Our most frequently spotted residents are the squirrels and robins who don’t wait till we’ve gone home to scavenge for our lunch crumbs!

The pond is currently getting too much sunlight which is giving intense algal blooms so our next project is to bring more shade to the area, with decking covering one end and more tall plants around the other sides of the pond. As the lilies grow they will help provide more shade.

What do we Grow Outdoors?


All the beds you see surrounded by this fence are for vegetables and the occasional herb. The fence keeps out the rabbits and other hungry foragers. Near the gate are our salad beds, where you can see crops like lettuce and sorrel, as well as fennel and thyme. Here we also have recently made a raised bed, which makes gardening possible for people who can’t bend down. Further up, you might see squashes and courgettes. Right at the back, you can see canes where our beans are growing.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the edges, where you might spot treats like wild strawberries, nasturtiums, roses and sunflowers. And all along the path next to the polytunnel, we’re growing potatoes on the outside of the fence.

The paths in between the beds are covered in woodchip, which helps retain moisture and breaks down to enrich the soil. It also helps limit the soil erosion from being on a slope. This needs to be replenished regularly by the wheelbarrowful – it’s hungry pre-lunch work for our gardeners!

Cooking Outside


Welcome to our cooking area. We can build a fire here that’s big enough to cook for up to forty people. Participants of our Voices in Exile sessions alongside our gardeners regularly cook up a feast here, sharing soups, tagines, curries, stews, and savoury sides from every culture. We’ve even made falafel, baba ganoush, french fries and donuts here. Friendships have been forged, stories told and cultures explored around this fire.

We have shared Eid feasts after Ramadan and we believe sharing food is the foundation of community. Luckily for us there always seems to be plenty of leftovers for people to take home!

Mindfulness and Ritual


Our Saturday sessions start with a mindfulness based nature connection exercise in this ritual space. The garden also hosts fire ceremonies, sweat lodges and the occasional sound bath and reiki session. This is an area we are hoping to develop as we explore more ways of tuning in; to the present moment, the natural world and the cycles and seasons of life. 

Mindfulness practices have been shown in clinical trials to:

  • Reduce stress by decreasing the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Greater emotional stability and resilience.
  • Reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
  • Lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality, and boost the immune system.

Developing our connection to nature has been shown to:

  • Reduce stress levels.
  • Enhance mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Improve cognitive function such as memory, attention, and creativity.
  • Increase physical fitness, and weight management.
  • Boost our immune system.
  • Increase social interaction.
  • Promote environmental stewardship and sustainable behaviours.

Combining mindfulness with nature connection, such as through mindful walking or outdoor meditation, can amplify the benefits of both practices. The combination can lead to:

  1. Greater overall well-being – by addressing both mental and physical health through a holistic approach.
  2. Improved Recovery from Mental Fatigue – Nature’s restorative effects combined with mindfulness can speed up recovery from mental fatigue and enhance overall mental clarity.
  3. Greater Sense of Purpose and Meaning – Both practices can contribute to a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life, enhancing overall life satisfaction and happiness.