Liz Evans on Alys Fowler
Alys Fowler personifies all that is good about gardening. Her infectious passion for the great outdoors is matched with a ruthless determination to educate the masses in the joys of self-sustainability.
She expresses her concerns for the environment with sharp but positive intelligence, delighting in the ecosystem rather than bemoaning the perils of climate change. Driven by her need for solitude, as much as her love of community, Alys is warm, eloquent, funny, and just a tiny bit eccentric.
Known for her signature style of vintage frocks and gumboots, Alys cuts an exquisitely individual figure in the gardening world. But it’s her spirit that makes the most impact. Alys is married to Holiday, an American artist who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a complicated genetic condition that carries with it a shortened life expectancy. This painful personal challenge has given Alys a heightened sense of the rhythms of existence. She finds comfort in being a small part of something very great, and far prefers the sense of interconnectedness offered by her garden over the cult of individuality so often promoted within our culture. She is a slow gardener, focusing on the process, not the sudden transformation, believing in the doing, not the buying-in of gardening.
Alice grew up in the sleepy Hampshire village of Silchester, surrounded by chickens and dogs while her mother gardened. After boarding at the renowned and eccentric Bedales School, she trained at the Royal Horticultural Society and the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, earning herself a scholarship to study at the New York Botanical Garden in 1998. Here, she found her main influence: the punk-rock-permaculture-ethic of the community gardens in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This thrifty, creative approach combined with Alys’s quest to make gardening accessible has informed her work ever since.
Back in England, Alys completed a masters in society, science and the environment, worked as a BBC gardening journalist, TV researcher and presented a TV series, called The Edible Garden, which was filmed in her own backyard at Kings Heath. She has also authored four books on planting, harvesting, foraging and preserving. Now involved with urban agriculture projects in the UK, Alys continues to write a column for The Guardian newspaper, and is currently working on a new book about urban beekeeping. Her punk-rock-ethic remains intact. Backed by rigorous study, inspired by the challenge of the city, Alys makes gardening desirable, and entirely possible. Her permaculture-influenced plots are a delightful jumble of the edible and the beautiful. There’s nothing mysterious or difficult about any of it–it’s all designed to be as simple and enjoyable as can be.