Wouldn’t it be great to grow food that looks after itself – strong, healthy, and self-sufficient plants that produce food for us rather than insects? It’s frustrating when our vegetables get eaten by bugs, our fruit trees struggle, and we have to rely on fertilisers and pest controls to have any chance of getting a decent crop.

illustration of easy to grow plantWell, you can, by ‘growing from your strengths’!

Growing from our strengths we:

  1. Get to know our growing conditions (sun and shade patterns, drainage, soil, frost, wind, etc.), and map how these change across our land.
  2. Use this knowledge to choose plants that will thrive in these conditions.

‘Grow from your Strengths’ is one of the guiding principles for using eco-logical approaches to growing food. Lettuce, cabbage and other greens, for example, grow best in sunny positions; raspberries and gooseberries prefer partial shade; bananas need protection from strong winds… so we only plant them where we can provide these conditions!

So don’t give yourself an uphill battle trying to change your growing conditions to suit your plants. Choose plants suitable for your existing growing conditions, and you’ll:

  • Produce more in the good times
  • Experience fewer set-backs when the weather plays up
  • Reduce your costs and environmental footprint, less dependent on fertilisers and pests controls
  • Benefit from the ecological support services your plants provide by improving your soil and other growing conditions.

Nature Grows from Her Strengths

Growing from our strengths, we mimic Nature’s innate ability to make the best use of prevailing conditions and modify her goals as conditions change. It is one of the reasons why natural ecosystems are so productive and respond well to changing circumstances.

A walk through any natural woodland or forest illustrates how the distribution of plants varies, reflecting the changes in sunlight, soil, drainage, and other environmental conditions.

You will have seen these patterns yourself. For example, the differences between vegetation growing on the north or south sides of a ridge and different soil types. Being aware of these patterns, you’ll begin to notice other smaller changes, such as how mosses prefer the shady side of a tree and how a hollow can provide a home for water-loving plants.

Patterns in Nature as the vegetation responds to different growing conditions

Graph showing how it is easy to grow when we match plants to their nickhe

Here’s a hypothetical example for a single growing condition like soil moisture or shade. The diagram shows how the population of a particular plant or animal species will be highest where the conditions are ideal. For example, wetland plants prefer waterlogged soil, while other plants struggle to grow in saturated soil.

In reality, a range of environmental conditions influences where different plants and animals live, for instance: climate, soil, drainage, wind and shade. Competition with other species and being eaten also impacts their distribution. For example, some plants only naturally grow along the beachfront where there is less competition from other plants, but do well in gardens growing in all sorts of soils because gardeners reduce the competition.

Getting Practical

Finding information on the preferred growing conditions for plants isn’t hard. Neighbours, local farming and seed-saving groups, seed merchants, and agricultural advisory services usually have a lot of experience to share. There is also plenty of excellent information on the internet – directories covering topics from tropical forages, pasture grasses, and legumes to cultivars of food crops. You can even search online plant directories specifying your climate and other growing conditions.

Many people worry about not having the skills to map their growing conditions. You don’t need to dive deep, get tied up in knots, and spend days mapping stuff! It’s unnecessary, and if you’re anything like me – you have too many other things to do…

The process of mapping your growing conditions is straightforward with a GrowMap, whether you are planning your farm, designing a new garden, or retrofitting an old one.

GrowMap - a publication from Learning from Nature


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