The Paddies are situated to the south of the main Lawson Park site, in a 2-acre, deer fenced south west facing field. We grow fruit and vegetables there in a series of connected N / S oriented terraces, using 'no-dig' cultivation techniques.
The Paddies were landscaped in early 2007 with the rice farmers of the Japanese village of Toge, who were visiting Lawson Park as part of the Seven Samurai project. The villagers laid out a series of linked scalloped terraces based on their native 'paddies' down the sloping field, with raised earth banks in between. These seem to conserve moisture, warmth and nutrients, in what was initially very impoverished soil.
The Toge villagers’ technique has proven valuable: Over the years we have organically grown many vegetable crops here and noticed that though more exposed and with poorer soil than our Kitchen Garden, crops here seem to suffer from less disease and are healthier, if smaller, specimens. Soil improvement has been slow, mainly as we have done this organically and sustainably with small amounts of bracken, garden compost, various green manures and some rotted animal manure from a friend's farm.
The Paddies initially required a good deal of protection and weeding to remove couch grass and brambles in some areas. In 2015 (after a dishearteningly cold and wet season) we decided to move more of the area into fruit production, and have now planted a terrace of Westmorland damson trees, various plums and more gooseberries there. A central area is retained for growing bulky vegetables such as potatoes, peas, broadbeans and leeks, which since 2018 are grown using Charles Dowding’s ‘no-dig’ technique, through a layer of annually-applied mulch with no deeper tilling.
Our small Kitchen Garden nearer to the house is not large enough to produce the volume of fruit and vegetables we have come to need for our visitors and residents, and the Paddies are big enough space to bring on plants for bulking up, or experimentally, in ways which wouldn't fit anywhere else.
A selection of plants
Led by Adam Sutherland with Toge (Japan) villagers & Karen Guthrie & many interns and volunteers
About the designers/maker/s
Japanese paddies are intensively farmed, producing the same crop every year, therefore it made sense that Japanese farmers have a deep knowledge of soil management and also of dealing with the steep, small enclosures that are common in hill farms in both the UK and Japan. Both Karen Guthrie and Adam Sutherland have travelled in Japan and China, with a special interest in finding out about farming and gardening techniques. Many apply to Lawson Park, being a farm with thin soil, high rainfall and a short, cool season.
Adaptions / renovations
Bryan & Laura Davies kindly donated several hundred native hedging plants in 2008 for the Paddies, to carbon-offset the travel undertaken for their project The Wonderful North. We continued planting the peripheries with shelter shrubs and trees for long-term wind protection. In winter 2011 a Coniston village volunteer group planted a small 'orchard' of cherry plums (prunus cerasifera) at the East boundary where the forestry plantation ends. We have also kept pigs for short periods on the lower slopes but found that they tended to damage the young hedge plants.
A local farmer advised us to plant green manure and white clover to improve fertility, which we did on various plots within the paddies. Less successful green manures have included lupins and rye grass.
In winter 2015-16 we planted many of the smaller paddies with stone fruit - including damson 'Westmorland'and plums 'Ouilllin's Gage' and 'Marjorie's Seedling'. These have established well but have not yet provided a harvest. Extending the autumn raspberries has been successful, although, as in all areas of the Paddies, increasing amounts of bird protection is needed to retain the harvest when ripe.
In 2018 we started to establish planting in the final terrace - the lowest. We cleared an area of dense bramble and have planted young blackcurrants and rhubarb.