Meet the Gardener: Lily @zero_waste_garden
Lily @zero_waste_garden shares her love of gardening, how it soothes the soul, and that gardening in a small space is possible! Lily's passion for growing vegetables comes through so strongly and sharing it with her daughter is amazing. It sounds like we have a mini gardener on our hands!
Tell us a bit about you and when you started gardening and why?
My family moved to a smallholding on the West Coast of Ireland when I was five, so I grew up in polytunnels, among seedlings and eating food I'd picked myself moments earlier. When you're a kid, your life just seems normal to you, but I look back now and realise how lucky I was to have this.
I didn't take a lot of interest back then but it must have been going in somewhere! When I moved out and into rented student houses I would always try to have a little bit of garden, even if it was just a couple of houseplants (which mostly died) or herbs on the windowsill.
When my daughter was born I got into growing with a real passion. I wanted to provide nourishing food for her, teach her where food really comes from and what it takes to produce it - you just don't get that from picking up a plastic bag of tomatoes from a supermarket shelf! I've had a steep learning curve but I see every failure as an opportunity to learn something!
Now I have an allotment as well as beds and a greenhouse in our little back garden. I adore growing, everything from sowing a tiny seed to harvesting delicious food, to, yes, even pulling weeds (I think of most so-called weeds as misunderstood friends, however couch grass and bindweed are a different story...).
It's such a magical thing to do and it works wonders for my mental and physical health.
What’s the most ambitious gardening project you have completed or planned?
Probably turning our little, concreted back garden into a lush and productive growing space that's also enjoyable to be in and meets my family's needs. I singlehandedly tore down a rotting old shed and lifted concrete slabs, made no-dig beds, built a patio and BBQ area for my partner - we even managed to squeeze three rescue chickens in!
It's a great example of how you really can make the most of a small space, you don't need acres and acres to be able to grow your own.
Although that would be nice!
What is your favourite thing to grow?
Oooh that's a tough one. Growing anything that I or my family loves to eat makes me very happy, so aubergines for my Italian partner, and cucumbers, raspberries and strawberries for our daughter.
I love growing corn and globe artichokes as they're so much better eaten fresh.
I grew melons in our tiny greenhouse last year which I was very excited and proud about!
Anything new you would like to try in the next growing season?
I've got some exciting new (or, old but new to me!) varieties of cabbage, tomatoes and carrots from the Heritage Seed Library which I'm looking forward to. I like growing things you'd never be able to find in a shop. And I'm going to try watermelons.
Where is your favourite garden in the world and why?
I should probably say Beth Chatto's or Kew but honestly, my own garden is always going to be my favourite. It's certainly not perfect but that's its charm! It's my happy place.
Having said that, the magnolias at Kew in spring are magnificent...
What do you wish you’d known earlier about gardening?
How it soothes the soul. And how much better everything tastes when eaten fresh and seasonally!
What advice would you give to someone new to gardening?
Grow what you love to eat - there's no point growing half a tonne of leeks just because you can, if you can't stand the taste!
Think about the environmental impact of your garden - choose peat free, don't use pesticides, and give over part of your space to wildlife. Bird boxes, hedgehog highways, bee hotels and a pond are possible even in the tiniest of spaces and they make such a difference.
Enjoy it! Experiment, try again if things fail, eat beetroot every day for a month because you've got a glut, make jam, give fistfuls of runner beans to your neighbours, dig up your lawn and sow a wildflower meadow instead - the possibilities are endless and even when things don't go how you expected, you still get something magical.
When not gardening what do you like doing?
I'm a writer by trade, I get to work with small businesses, independent entrepreneurs and creatives, playing with words, so I feel very lucky to be able to do a job I love. When not working or in the garden, I'm usually hanging out with my partner, our daughter and our dog in a woodland somewhere, or at home watching films or baking together. I'm a voracious reader so any spare time is spent with my nose in a book. Or planning what to grow next!
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