I started using the expression ‘Happy Plants’ a couple of years ago.

It’s a great way to easily describe how to grow food that looks after itself.

I Cambodian students learing about growing happy plantswas struggling to find simple words to describe to a group of Cambodian agriculture students how they could select food plants that would grow well in their growing conditions by understanding and mapping the physical, environmental and microclimate conditions in their garden. The students were keen to grow food for their lunches and for the guest house at their training centre. A project of the Cambodia Rural Development Team.

You can probably imagine the trouble I was getting myself into!

Then I smiled – and simply said, “You need to grow happy plants.”

They understood exactly what I meant! ‘Happy Plants’ explained the concept clearly.

The students quickly caught onto the benefits, and I showed them how to use the GrowMap to look at their growing conditions.

The GrowMap is a site assessment technique that’s quick to do and doesn’t require special skills or expensive equipment.

Every plant and animal has a preferred habitat niche

Environmental conditions they prefer. Where they thrive. It’s a place that has all the physical, ecological, and climatic conditions required for them to meet their own needs.

I have drawn a graph below for a hypothetical plant – showing only four conditions. Note that the plant is ‘in its niche’ where there is a balance between sun and shade and there’s some grass cover.

We have preferred niches too!

Have you ever heard someone say about a friend who is doing really well – “she has found her niche.” They explain how she has found her dream job, where she is thriving, able to use her talents and expertise.

With a good understanding of the ecological needs of livestock breeds, crops, crop varieties, and the other plants you use, you can choose the right ones for the growing conditions on the different parts of your land.

I showed the students some practical examples.

Taro would be happier growing next to the hand basin in wet soil rather than by the wall. Their basil would be tastier growing in partial shade and also their leafy greens in summer.

Using the grey water for bananas was a real opportunity.

I had noticed in my travels around Cambodia that people were making little use of their grey water. Generally, it was left to run across the ground. Chickens were the only things getting any value – scratching around for bits of food. While bananas were growing elsewhere, high and dry.

I would love to go back to the Centre someday to see the changes and visit the student’s home gardens.

Coming from poor families there’s no money for bores, pumps, and irrigation, shade houses, trellises, sheds… They have to make the best of what resources they have available. So getting a helping hand using the GrowMap, made sense. Their plants would be stronger, healthier and independent ‘Happy Plants’.

How to grow happy plants

  1. Use the GrowMap to identify and map your different growing conditions.
  2. Research the preferred growing conditions for the different food plants you want to grow. This is relatively easy. Ask your neighbours, check the instructions on the seed packets and plant labels at your local nursery – full sun… part shade, well-drained soil… etc.. There’s also lots of useful information on the internet.
  3. Look at your GrowMap and match your plants to your different growing conditions.
  4. Get your spade and plant out your Happy Plants!

Then give yourself a pat on the back! You’re growing food better able to look after itself, saving you expensive trips to the garden or agricultural supply store…