I’M A HAPPY URBAN GARDENER
You don’t need a huge garden or allotment to grow your own. A few pots and grow bags, a nurturing mindset and the time to nurture can produce an epic harvest – and a great deal of happiness.
Two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I was very lucky as it was caught in the very early stages. Each time I’ve had surgery I’ve had to slowly build my energy levels back up again. It’s been so important to me to eat well and that’s one of the reasons I started growing my own food in my back yard. Being able to eat organically and knowing where everything is coming from and that it’s fresh matters so much. You can’t get more fresh than just picked.
I live near central London, directly on the A1. The flat has no front garden and at the back there’s a yard which is a great space but mainly concrete so I’d never really entertained the idea of gardening until a few years back. But when the succulent trend started, I wanted to give growing them a go. I’d tried to grow some pot plants indoors but it was too dark and I could never keep anything alive. Anyway I got myself some tiny weird-looking succulents and plonked them on the sunniest windowsill.
“Being able to eat organically and knowing where everything is coming from matters so much”
To my utter surprise they thrived! I was thrilled. I started to learn how to look after them and before long I had a whole family of baby succulents on a now very crowded windowsill. It felt amazing to have these little green critters growing and they made me smile every day. As you know, talking to plants helps enormously and as they happily grew I would tell them just how brilliant they were and the feel-good vibes definitely rubbed off on me and made me happier too.
I started getting the urge to grow more things, so the following January I bought myself a bunch of seeds – tomatoes, peppers, chillis, and kale. I’d also previously done a bee keeping course so I bought some bee-friendly flower and herb seeds ready to scatter in Spring.
Every day I nurtured the earth in the seed trays and watched for signs of life. For me it’s a very joyful experience watching tiny green seedlings push up through the soil. It’s so magical that all it takes is simply some water and sunlight. The more the seedlings grew, the more I found myself marvelling at nature and feeling closer to the earth somehow.
“The more the seedlings grew, the more I found myself marvelling at nature and feeling closer to the earth somehow”
When it came time to plant the seedlings outside I wasn’t going to be stopped by the concrete. I bought some big old plant pots, filled them full of compost and planted in the little plants. Everything grew, and grew, and grew. And that was it, I was hooked.
I got married recently and my husband Chris is really keen on urban gardening too. Last year we grew tomatoes, peppers, chilli peppers, fennel (the herb), borage, basil, parsley, rosemary, coriander, chives, mint, wild strawberries, baby leeks, courgettes and kale and I bought a Black Elder plant at the end of the summer which should flower and fruit next year. Everything is growing in pots, grow bags, hanging baskets or a small homemade flowerbed.
I love pottering around out in the garden. I live so near the city but growing my own things has made me feel so close to nature. I find it such a mindful activity to do and when I’m out in the garden I can really shut off and just ‘be’. I work a lot at my desk so having to go out into the garden gives me time to get fresh air and some lovely sunshine too. I know you can get that by popping to the shop but for me picking homegrown crops and then sitting in the garden to eat them is SO much more feelgood and rewarding, and has made a massive difference to my post-op wellbeing.
I’ve learned a lot about the seasons and when to trim/ chop/ cut back/ plant seeds etc. I’ve also had to find friendly ways to manage the onslaught of wildlife; from the squirrels that like to dig up the roots, to slugs and snails who LOVE the produce as much as me and caterpillars who munch their way through kale leaves at record speed. I’m really committed to organic gardening so I don’t use any pest control other than ingenious methods learned from the internet.
“I find it such a mindful activity to do and when I’m out in the garden I can really shut off and just ‘be’.”
I think I’m a bit of a hippy at heart and urban gardening has allowed me to access the earth mama in me. Obviously, one of the very best things about growing your own is collecting in your treasures when they are ripe and ready to eat. I love popping a wild strawberry into my mouth every time I go out into the garden. Or picking a kale leaf to add to my morning smoothie, or harvesting courgettes for soup. Tomatoes are fun to grow, I haven’t had a huge crop yet but they’re so lip-smackingly tasty. And the smell! Reminds me of being in my grandma’s greenhouse growing up.
Out of all the things I grow the kale is my prized crop – I haven’t shopped for kale for the last two years because my plants have provided enough. It’s much more tender and less bitter than shop-bought.
My burgeoning delight in gardening got me into foraging. I live near some pretty woodland spaces and over the spring, summer and autumn I go on long walks and collect blackberries, crab apples and elderflower. I made my first batch of Elderflower wine last summer and now I’ve bought my own tree I’m already longing for next spring and filling my fermenting buckets up again. At Christmas we have jars of green tomato chutney, fennel and onion chutney, and blackberry and apple chutney to gift to our friends which have been maturing since we made them in August. And, we still have some bubbly bottles of Elderflower wine to toast in the New Year. Bring on 2019!
Images: Lucy’s urban garden
Words: Lucy Williams.