Katrina's 'Meet the Gardener' is full of so many lovely takeaways and lots of advice for new gardeners, and I can feel her passion for Sweet Peas. I was in awe of the flowers she grew for her siblings wedding- they were simply incredible. If you don't follow her already give @summerfield_plot_and_garden13 a follow!
Tell us a bit about you and when did you start gardening, and why?
I’ve grown up with a very passionate gardener for a mum but it wasn’t really until we brought our first house and had a garden of our own that I really started to take a proper interest in all things growing and gardening! Without realising it my mum taught us a lot about gardening and plants just from being out and about and making a game of naming trees and plants. It’s something I still do now and I’m so grateful that she planted that seed but never forced it into anything, she just let me find my gardening feet on my own. Now we have a wonderful time visiting different gardens, garden centres or just walking around each other's gardens talking about our plans and the jobs we need to do etc. I’m a primary school teacher by trade but since having my two little boys Oscar and Ollie I’ve been lucky enough to drop part time. I got my first allotment when Oscar was about a year old and I think it was a combination of not having enough growing room in our garden for all the ideas in my head and wanting Oscar to have somewhere to come where he could pick fruit, dig holes and explore without me worrying about my plants getting ruined – watching Oscar drive his ride on toy tractor through one of my favourite David Austin Roses just as it was coming into bud was a painful experience so having the allotment means he can be a bit more ‘hands on’ without the damage making me cry!
Which gardeners inspire you and why?
I recently read Arthur Parkinsons book ‘The Flower Yard’ and came away with so many good, easily transferable ideas for my garden. Growing Millet for the birds has been a real delight this year. Watching them flying back and forth stripping all the seeds from the beautiful seed heads has been wonderful and the boys love watching them too. I’m hoping it will have self-seeded and I will have lots more next year but I'll certainly be sowing more. He also gave me the idea to grow Crown Prince Squash up and over our chicken coop which looked fabulous – like a jungle and growing winter kale and wall flowers as pot toppers for spring flowering bulb containers. I will soon be planting them up and I’m excited to see how they turn out next spring.
It’s hard to grow flowers and not be inspired by Erin at Floret Farm. I love her mini courses and all the information she shares. It’s fascinating watching how they work at their beautiful farm and all the different projects they have on the go! I wish I had her energy!
What's the most ambitious gardening project you've completed or have planned?
Without a doubt it has been creating our garden at home. The previous owner had been a lovely old lady who was very dedicated to the garden but she was in her 90s and the majority of it had been paved over with crazy paving. After we had an extension done, I set about turning the paved garden into a garden with a country cottage feel. Soft and flowing, with different areas, lots of fragrance and flowers for cutting and interest all year around.
I did it all myself, bit by bit and it was at times back breaking! I remember getting the grass seed down on the lawn in the freezing cold January rain when I’d just found out I was pregnant and thinking I had to get it down now because the next 3-4 months could be fun in the first trimester and I might not feel like doing it and then I would miss the ideal window for sowing the seed. I figured if it didn’t work and was too cold for it to germinate, I could just try again but the gamble paid off and it worked! There’s still a lot to be done and I don’t fancy laying a patio single handed, with no experience and with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old trying to ‘help’ so I think that’s one for the professionals!
It’s coming to the end of its second summer now and it’s really starting to establish and become the garden I imagined it being.
What is your favourite thing to grow?
Sweet Peas! I love growing Sweet Peas, just the fragrance alone is enough to make me smile. I love giving the flowers I grow away and have a little flower stand in the village where I sell flowers too and it is always the Sweet Peas that fly off the drive. Sweet Peas seem to evoke a lot of emotions and memories in people and transport people back to another place or time. I can’t tell you how many times I've heard ‘my grandma used to grow these’ or ‘these where my mums favourite flower’. My Mother-in-Law has an unusual form of Dementia called Frontotemporal Dementia, it’s a cruel and horrible condition that has totally changed her. Sweet Peas are her favourite flower and when ever see her when the sweet peas are flowering, I always make sure she has a big bunch, it’s really special to see her transported to a happy, simpler place by a simple bunch of beautiful flowers.
Anything new you want to try in the next growing season?
We aren’t allowed structures over 1m at the allotment so I don’t have a greenhouse or covered growing space. At home I have several large cold frames and zippy greenhouses but it’s never enough space! So, this year I treated myself to a First Tunnel mini polytunnel to have at the allotment. I haven’t built it yet but hoping it will be built by the end of October in time for me to plant out the tulips and daffodils I’m going to squeeze in one end and my chrysanthemums at the other. I’m so excited because the middle section is reserved for Ranunculus and Anenomes! I’ve not had huge success in the past because I just don’t have the space undercover for them unless they are in pots and I always cram in too many and they are divas who like conditions to be just right so I am hoping growing them in the tunnel at the allotment will be a recipe for success!
Where is your favourite garden in the world, and why?
I have a bucket list of gardens to visit that is longer than my arm! And I feel like with the pandemic and then before that having a little baby I haven’t visited many new gardens recently but I did spend a wonderful morning out at Riverford Organics near Buckfastleigh meeting Penny their head gardener, exploring their beautiful cutting garden and putting together a beautiful arrangement. It was a wonderful space and kept beautifully by Penny, it was really inspiring and proper soul food.
A garden that isn’t far from me but that I don’t visit nearly often enough is RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. As you would expect from the RHS the garden is beautifully kept and full of wonderful areas and different styles. Their kitchen garden is a thing of beauty, like living art and the roses in June are just heavenly.
What do you wish you'd known earlier about gardening?
That it’s all a game of trial and error and if something doesn’t work one year it doesn’t mean it won’t the next! Also, you can never have too many plants. There’s always a way to fit them in. I wish I had discovered gardening before I had the boys because I had a lot more time on my hands back then!
What advice would you give someone new to gardening? Oh, there are so many so here are just a few:
1) It’s a hobby not a job, if you don’t get round to potting on or sowing seeds the moment you think you should be doing it don’t worry and stress about it. I used to get really stressed over the fact I had a never ending to do list with the allotment and garden until somewhere on Instagram I saw a post saying ‘remember it’s a hobby not a job’ and while I’m just growing for me and sibling weddings (I have 9 siblings!) it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get round to everything there and then! I’ve actually just started Grace Alexanders new book and the introduction talks about embracing just being out in the garden and enjoying it. The work and to do lists will never be finished because it’s a never ending cycle with the seasons, so you’re best to just enjoy it and not worry!
2) Don’t feel guilty for investing in things that make you happy when it comes to the garden. Every year my spring bulb order gets larger but I know that while it feels like an indulgence at the end of summer to be buying so many bulbs my future self is going to be so grateful in those wet dull days of spring to see those happy little flowers arriving. Similarly, every year I add one large hellebore plant to the garden. They are fantastic for flowers in the bleakest months but they are EXPENSIVE to buy large flowering plants but take about 6 years to even start flowering from seed so adding one a year means I have something to smile at out the kitchen windows without bankrupting myself!
3) Find your people – I have made so many wonderful ‘Flower Friends’ through Instagram and it’s a really special, wonderful community. It’s such a great place to learn, chat and be inspired. Although warning.... when it comes to encouraging you to resist new plants and seed varieties you will find they are more likely to enable more plant growing and buying rather than dissuade you!
When not gardening, what do you like doing?
I have to say there never seems to be enough hours in the day anymore! I was a very keen runner and Crossfitter up until I got very ill during my first pregnancy and I have dabbled much since but it’s been really lovely to start the couch to 5k app again inspired by Amelia from Amelia’s Flower Farm. I’ve got a long way to go until I’m back running any sort of distance for fun again or competing at Crossfit but slowly, slowly it will happen. I also love to read! I’m dyslexic so when I was little I had to work really hard at reading but all the support and encouragement from my parents paid off and now I can easily finish a book in a day given half the chance! But most of the time I’m outside with the boys having some kind of adventure. Living in Devon we are so lucky to have the most beautiful countryside and coast lines all around us that whatever the weather it’s wonderful to be out exploring.