Gardening is unpredictable, it keeps you on your toes

Gardening is unpredictable, it keeps you on your toes

Our featured grower this week, Hannah, (@gingergrows1) has enjoyed spending time outdoors around plants and flowers since she was a child. In this blog post, Hannah shares with us her gardening journey. She talks to us about her gardening successes, what she loves to grow, and what she finds challenging. She also shares with us some of the lessons she has learnt along the journey, especially in learning to care more for her plants, and how she finds gardening helps her stay more connected to the seasons and the earth. Read on to find out all about Hannah’s gardening journey. 

When were you first introduced to gardening – was there someone that inspired you?

Ever since I was a small child my mother and Auntie always enjoyed their gardens, so I have always spent a lot of time outdoors around plants and flowers – I think this was where my interests began. My own love for plants really began when I moved into my own home, and I began collecting house plants. A few years after that, my Auntie and Uncle gave me a tomato plant from their allotment, by the end of the season I had harvested over 20 tomatoes from the plant – this is really where my love of growing vegetables sparked. I lived in a flat at the time, so I experimented with what I could grow indoors in a small space, before taking over my first allotment plot in March 2019.

There’s not one specific person I have been inspired by since starting gardening – more like many people. I feel inspired and appreciate the advice I receive from other allotment holders on my site, my friends and family who garden, as well as the community I have found on Instagram since I started my account.

What did you struggle with when you first started? And what was your first gardening success?

I truly had no idea what I was doing when I first took over my allotment, I had never grown more than a few tomatoes, chillies and some herbs on my windowsills and now I had this huge outdoor space to work with. One thing I was aware of though, was that living in the North East of England would mean there would likely be some limitations to what I could grow/what I could grow without a greenhouse or polytunnel. In my first growing season, I experimented with a lot of different vegetables and a range of different varieties to see which grew well in the space and conditions I was working with. I have had many ‘allotment fails’ since I began gardening – ranging from mislabelling to entire trays full of dead plants due to too much or too little watering.

My first gardening success was with squash, I had a selection of different squash varieties in the first year of gardening and almost all the plants had multiple harvests – bush scallop patty pans, uchiki kuri, butternut squash, yellow courgettes, round courgettes and big max pumpkins. My courgettes especially were fruiting amazingly, one plant producing multiple courgettes a week and my big max pumpkin certainly lived up to its name and won a pumpkin competition at a festival that year. I couldn’t harvest patty pans quick enough, despite usually being small I left one on the plant at the end of the season just to see the size it could get – bigger than my head is the answer!

featured grower Hannah 1

How has your garden changed since you first started growing?

Since I took over my allotment over three years ago, I have gained a polytunnel, a greenhouse and a shed, built many raised beds and even taken over another plot! I took over the plot next to mine in April 2020, when the man who had it for over 40 years decided to give it up. I was fortunate that it was in a very good condition – with established rhubarb and fruit bushes. Another huge change since I started gardening is that I now live in a house rather than a flat and I have a garden of my own to grow in! It’s a relatively small space, 6 meters by 5 meters, with no grass. I’m experimenting this year to see what I can grow in three raised beds and buckets/planters – I’ve got potatoes and herbs growing in large plant pots so far and will be seeing how kale and courgettes get on in buckets too.

How has your gardening and growing improved?

Over the years I’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t, whilst I still like to try and grow new vegetables and new verities every year, I’ve learnt what I can grow and what I can’t – watermelons for one. Whilst I have given it a good go, I have yet to be able to get a watermelon to the point of harvest. I now prioritise the space I have in my polytunnel for plants I know usually do well, like tomatoes, peppers, chillies and cucumbers (with maybe one watermelon plant squeezed in, just in case this year is the year I can grow one!)

Over the years I’ve been gardening, I’ve learnt how to care for my plants a little better – throughout the whole process from germination to harvesting. Learning more about the process of when to water, feeding and harden off has helped me lose less plants as the years have gone on. Don’t get me wrong though, there are still plenty of allotment fails each year too!

featured grower Hannah 2

What do you grow? Do you have a speciality or a flower/vegetable/plant you are passionate about?

I grow vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers – some edible/companion flowers and some for decoration only. I grow a range of vegetables like tomatoes, chillies, peppers and cucumbers in my polytunnel to brassicas, squash, corn, potatoes, chard, alliums, leafy greens, beans and peas within raised beds and buckets. I have a herb garden at the allotment where I have lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage and big plant pots filled with herbs at home which currently has apple mint, peppermint, borage, parsley, chives and basil in. I have a range of fruit bushes and fruit trees at my allotment, blueberry, blackcurrant, raspberry and gooseberry bushes as well as apple, plum and cherry trees – last year we harvested over 250 plums off the two trees. Over the more recent years I have enjoyed growing flowers, mainly from seed or bulbs – marigold, sunflower, nasturtium, daisies, dahlia, sweet pea, snapdragons, lilies, gladioli, tulips, anemones, cosmos, rudbeckia, cornflower, echinacea, foxglove, alliums, daffodils and hyacinths.

My favourite thing to grow changes every growing season! Squash will always take first place – I always try new varieties of squash each year, this year its blue hubbard and crookneck. This season I am most looking forward to my runner beans growing, I have sown three different varieties – neckargold, armstrong and borlotto and have made a support for them using tree sticks that were already cut and abandoned in the woods near my house. Of course, I’m looking forward to the plentiful harvest of beans I’ll be getting, but before that I know the flowers will look gorgeous!

What benefits have you found with gardening/gardening with friends?

I find gardening very satisfying; I love eating a meal made of entirely vegetables from the allotment – knowing exactly where the veg has come from and the environmental impacts of that just add to the enjoyment. A few of my close friends garden and have allotments themselves, we love visiting garden centres and nurseries together or swapping plants and varieties when we’ve sown too many! I find it helps clear my mind and help me relax from the stresses of life, I feel more connected with the seasons and the Earth through gardening.

What are your future plans for your garden?

I will continue to experiment year on year with new varieties of vegetables and flowers. I intend to build a new greenhouse – after mine was sadly destroyed in a storm, so I can keep growing plenty of tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers and peppers etc. This year, I have started growing mushrooms – king stapharia to begin with. I have a mushroom bed at the allotment and a few troughs at home, they should be fruiting by summer when temperatures reach around 20 degrees celsius. Over the next few years, I plan to try and grow other types of mushrooms, like oyster and shiitake.

featured grower Hannah 3

Have you used coir-based products in your gardening before and what do you like about them?

I have used coir-based products before. I am always looking to be more sustainable, recycle more and always consider environmental impacts. I am very aware that a lot of things in gardening – are made of plastic, often single use plastic due to the quality. When I found coir products, I was so pleased! I have used coir discs and pots, the discs are great to start seeds off in and it’s easy to plant things out with them being 100% biodegradable!

What tips do you have to offer new gardeners, or those who are struggling to get growing?

The best tip I have for any new grower is – just get started and give it a go! Over the years I have been gardening, I’ve learnt that there will always be failures and successes each year – something that works one year may not even work the next. Start some seeds off, follow what it suggests on the packet on how to sow them and if the plant looks like it’s struggling, “put it in the ground and let it die there”. Gardening is unpredictable, it keeps you on your toes!

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