If I had to describe myself, I would say “I garden, therefore I am”. This describes both my passion for and the deep spiritual connection I feel to the piece of ground lying beyond my back door. I don’t think I’m alone. As a nation we Brits are obsessed with our gardens stemming from a long horticultural history and temperate climate. In addition, coming from Caribbean parentage, parents that grew up in the countryside of Jamaica, I grew up with an understanding of the rich culture of working the land for food. As a child I grew with the of the sound of a spade meeting the earth on Bank Holiday and Summer weekends, the joy of a home grown corn harvest, pumpkin seeds drying out in the kitchen ready for sowing, a joyous crop of tomatoes on the sink-top. With friends, I would escape into country lanes combing the hedgerows in blackberry season, turning over and picking the best fruit, kneeling to pick strawberries and foraging for apples and plums. These childhood experiences formed my love of nature and shaped me, as an adult when I bought my first home it was the garden that stole my heart and sealed the offer.
I believe our desire to garden is deeply human and born of many things: A desire to cultivate life and to nurture a living thing; to grow a seed requires hope, a key motivator in bringing joy to our life; gardening allows our creativity to awaken and run free without critique which is truly rewarding. Finally, I think it is perhaps far more primal; when we garden we return to nature, we once again become engaged with that of which we are part and we are once again connected to source, absorbed in the stillness and magnificent beauty of it. Alice Walker once said in reference to her love of nature and her garden: “This is the only heaven I care for… if there’s another one, go, but just leave me here”. A sentiment that perhaps many a gardener can relate to.
Gardening has been proven to be good for our emotional and physical well-being. It helps to lessen the stress of everyday life, gives gentle exercise and increases mental activity as we learn new knowledge and skills.
Whether we have a windowsill or an acre of land the joy of bringing a seed to life or caring for a plant can bring satisfaction and improve our human wellbeing.
Gardening is also the perfect way to grow your own fruits and vegetables and take control of how your food is produced to ensure that it is organic – that the soil is rich in organic matter and that both soil and plants are free of herbicides, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. It presents the freshest crops rich in life enhancing enzymes. With careful choosing of which vegetables and fruit to grow it is possible to take a harvest all year round. Besides the joy of taking something from your garden to your plate this can also help to widen the variety of raw foods on your table and lower the cost of eating organically. The Grow Your Own movement has taken off in a big way in the UK and Ireland with more of us recognising and experiencing the benefits of being able to grow at least a portion of our own food. Growing Your Own can be as a simple as growing a few herbs on a sunny windowsill to add flavour to your pot. If you have a little more time you can apply to the local council for an allotment enabling you to grow all manner of fruit and veg. I have seen Jamaican pumpkin, skellion and callaloo abound on allotments. If you prefer the idea of growing food as part of a community there are exciting schemes that are available like Community Gardening where neighbours come together to grow vegetables in disused and green spaces. These initiatives have seen some great creativity up and down the country, for example, some streets have neighbours have turned their front gardens, plant pots and hanging baskets into a veritable paradise of different foods which they share with each other. What I love about growing in a community atmosphere like this is that you can often trade produce with your neighbour. An over-abundance of courgettes and be swapped with your neighbour’s over-abundance of tomatoes, rhubarb, lettuce or whatever it may be filling your fridge and freezer with unexpected and welcomed goodness.
Basil enjoying a sunny spot on a kitchen windowsill. I bought this as a small plant in March and it kept going until December by which time it was huge. Lots of lovely raw soups were made with the addition of this wonderful herb.
The best thing about growing your own food is perhaps the taste. Taking a plump sun-warmed naturally ripened tomato off the vine and eating it straight away makes anything you can buy from a shop incomparable. Growing your own food also allows you to experiment with local varieties of vegetables that are native to your area and suited to the growing conditions there. You may be surprised that you can grow local varieties of beetroot (such as Cheltenham Green Top) and they come in all shades from white to gold to a deep, sumptuous burgundy (try the stripped Chioggia variety or the silver leaved Bull’s Blood, my personal favourite).
Beef tomatoes and marigolds growing in a pot in a sun-drenched part of the garden. I don’t have a green-house so I put them in the warmest place I have. I sometimes use an old window pane to cover in a cooler evening to trap the heat.
Growing food is accessible to us all regardless of the size of space we may have, from the urban city dweller with only a window box to a garden in the suburbs with more space. Children love to help plant seeds, water plants and watch things grow and it can be a great way to engage their minds and spend quality time together with the whole family. So, as Summer begins to greet us once more, go on, get a trowel, a bag of organic compost, some organic seeds and grow something delicious!
Veg planting ideas.
Lots of veg like to be planted with flowers to help pollination and discourage pests. Try beneficial plants like marigolds to brighten things us.
Swiss Chard (great idea to grow yourself as this can be horrendously expensive in the shops)
Balcony, pots/grow bags:
Strawberries (for something different try wild/alpine strawberries which are tiny but gorgeous as a sweet treat or on your granola)
Peppers (sweet and chilli)
Large pots/vegetable borders:
Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale)
Fruit trees can come in all sizes. You can buy tiny ones designed for pots or small gardens called “step-overs”.
Step-over apples can be great on a patio.
Under cover (Green house or sunny conservatory):
For ideas on what to grow and to get started check out these websites for guidance and inspiration:
If you’re interested in Community Gardening schemes have a look a the website below to find one in your area:
Have a look at this great story about Sajeda Kadir, truly amazing:
This North London street are growing vegetables in their front gardens and swapping produce:
As you start growing you own food saving and swapping seeds is good fun and help save costs. However, there are some great organic seed companies to have a look at:
Duchy’s Organic Seeds
Buying vegetable plants:
Buying small vegetable plants is a great way to get started. The seed growing part has already been done for you and you are buying the healthiest plants. Visit your local nursery to see their range. Plant nurseries (as opposed to garden centres) are great as the staff usually have an in-depth horticultural knowledge and can help you decide on which veg will grow best for your requirements, size of space and aspect. You will also be helping to support local businesses and trade in your community.
1. Beauty in Truth – Alice Walker
2. Feel better outside, feel better inside: Ecotherapy for mental wellbeing, resilience and recovery – Mind. http://www.mind.org.uk/media/336359/Feel-better-outside-feel-better-inside-report.pdf