An ‘edible meadow’ designed to improve gut health will be on display at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
The two gardeners behind the “microbiome garden” say it will be filled with flowers that can improve gut health by being eaten or simply passed by.
The human microbiome – the billions of microbes that live on and in humans, primarily in the gut – is influenced by the bacteria and other microorganisms that people encounter every day.
“Everywhere outside, on every surface of a tree, a plant, leaves, they all have microbes. Some are good, others are harmful. If you have a diverse landscape, then you come into contact with various microbes,” said Chris Hull, who co-designed the garden, which will be unveiled in May.
Just as eating yogurt can improve the health of gut flora, so can interacting with plants. Research on this topic is still in its early stages, but peer-reviewed studies have shown that gardeners have healthier intestines than non-gardeners.
The gut maintains balance in the body, eliminating bad bacteria that can make people sick and maintaining good bacteria that help break down food and keep organs functioning. The importance of the gut to overall health is the subject of increasing research in the medical community, with links to other organs, including the brain, having been identified.
“Digestive problems are very common these days… but by working with the microbiome and our health, we can solve many of these problems. Health issues are often linked to the imbalance of our microbiome,” Hull said.
The key to the microbiome garden is diversity: the more different types of plants, the more different types of microbes. The designers also attempted to demonstrate how to maintain healthy soil, because healthy soil contains more beneficial microbes, which are then transferred to the plants we grow and the foods we eat.
“One of our key plants is lupine and it’s a legume, so it’s really good for fixing nitrogen in the soil,” Hull said. “In typical gardens that one might consider a ‘pretty garden’, the diversity is far from being comparable to that which one would have in a meadow. Planting in our garden would be much more diverse than in a conventional garden, and we hope visitors can take inspiration from this.
After Chelsea, the garden will move to the Apricot Center in Totnes, Devon, which welcomes looked after children, giving them space to play and learn on the sustainable farm.
Playing outdoors in a diverse, plant-filled natural environment is crucial for children’s health, said Sid Hill, who designed the garden with Hull.
“There is a Finnish study where they assessed children’s skin microbiome before inoculating forest soil into a sandbox located in the playground. They reassessed it after the children played in the sandbox and found that harmful pathogens on their skin had decreased and beneficial microbes had increased,” he said.
Many plants grown in the garden are edible, and eating wild foods has also been linked to a healthier gut. The “edible meadow” brings together a selection of plants including Persicaria bistortaCamassia and Yellow lupine, which creates a rich tapestry of yellows, blues and pinks. Although this trio of plants is commonly grown in gardens across the UK, few people know that they are traditional food crops.
Hill said: “Persicaria bistorta has traditionally been harvested from English meadows to make quayside pudding since the mid-1800s. Lupines have historically been harvested around the world as a food source for gut health and were so sacred to the Egyptians as lupine beans have even been found in tombs dating back to 2000 BC.
“Camassia bulbs have been harvested by native tribes across America for hundreds of years. They were often cooked in earth ovens or on hot stones, making them very tender and sweet. They would be harvested using a specially made stick made from wood or wood.
“Autumn sesleria offers a green blanket this time of year, covering the ground and acting as the glue that holds the entire composition together. Silenus vulgaris was selected as the filling plant. Its habit is to weave around plants filling in the gaps and offers beautiful white oval flowers with leaves that can be eaten in salads and taste like pea shoots.
Hill said: “There are certain plants that you can eat, ancient cultures used them throughout history, and we’ve lost touch with that. Our garden explores many of them and brings them to the forefront. It draws on the history of foraging, of nurturing the land around us for our food… here in the UK we have a long history of using grasslands for our food.
This agroecological system is very different from many modern agricultural methods, which involve growing a sterile monoculture, he said: “When we grow plants in an agroecological system, which supports or hosts diverse microbial communities on the soil , on plant roots, on leaves, and even in the air around plants. When we spend time in these landscapes, they seep into us and when we eat these plants, they act as a probiotic. Industrial agriculture produces food lacking these beneficial microbes. So when we eat this food, we lack the necessary nutrients and vital microbes.
When asked what readers can do to grow a gut-healthy garden, Hull responded: “Grow your own food…perennial crops to attract more wildlife (and) grow more diverse plants.” »
Hill said: “The amount of things we are discovering with the microbiome is fascinating; we know more about space than we do about the microbes in our own gut.
Playgrounds need to be designed with microbial diversity in mind, he said, “so that people understand that we need green, wildlife- and biodiversity-friendly playgrounds for their health at home.” long term. If (a child’s) microbiome is compromised due to a lack of access to nature, it will impact them for the rest of their life.