The north-west facing dunes rise to a maximum height of over 60 metres,fully exposed to the force of Atlantic gales. They are tenuously held together by a delicate mix of coastal plants, and pock-marked with old mine spoil heaps. Official agricultural land classification maps give the Towans the lowest possible quality rating, labelling it as “land unsuitable for agriculture, with no scope for improvement”.
Despite they are being officially written off for cultivation, Raymond and Sylvia's predecessors bought the house and its South facing garden in the 1950s hoping to grow vegetables. They brought in earth-moving machinery to create terraces at four different levels that persist to this day. The vegetable experiment was unsuccessful however, and the garden ended up an outdoor kennel to the previous owner’s two large dogs instead. Bramble, privet and the all-conquering marram grass dominated the sparse vegetation.
Raymond and Sylvia arrived here in 1975, with a quite different vision. “I was driven on by the awareness of the first oil price spike in the 1970s and, looking for solutions to our energy crisis came across the work of Masanubo Fukuoka and Eve Balfour, the founder of the Soil Association. “My dream was to see a temperate coastal rainforest, and after several years of experimenting with annual crops started to put a mini-model in place in my own garden.”
“Initially I experimented with growing vegetables in growbags and raised beds. I adopted Mel Bartholomew's concept of 'Square foot gardening' and brought in seaweed on trolleys from the beach as a fertiliser. The crops did quite well, especially the root vegetables who liked the sandy soil.” Raymond later stopped using seaweed when he became concerned about the rising levels of oil contamination and publicity about radioactivity accumulating in them from radon present naturally in local granite rock and from nuclear reactor incidents further around the coast. *
“Later we began to implement Fukuoka's methods which I had been studying for a while. I wasn't aware of Robert Hart's garden at that point. Apart from four established Monterey cypresses and some privet there were few shelter trees around the garden, so our first priority was to establish a windbreak. The most successful species were the sea buckthorns, eleagnus ebbingei and umbellata. Together with the original privet and euonymus they now make up the first line of defence against the wind around the edge of the garden. I also tried honey locust as a nitrogen fixer but had no success with that at all. Inside that, there are other windbreaks made up of rosa rugosa.
Trees are planted without resorting to clean cultivation around the plants ( as discovered by Fukuoka ), and more recently a proprietary mycorrhizal has been introduced with each new planting, one of a number of its virtues, the capacity to move water from a wet to a dry area was successfully tested during the unprecedented hot dry spell in the late summer of 2014. Well aware of the garden's marginal conditions, Raymond viewed any ground vegetation as good vegetation. The soil is almost purely sand, very loose and prone to being blown away.
“The biggest challenges are to hold the land together, and to keep fertility and water from blowing and draining away. Despite the high rainfall at the Cornish coast, he faces many of the same challenges as desert dwellers.