Home   Homes and Gardens   Article

Gardening: The Suffolk women making history with heirloom seeds




Lucy Hutchings quit a London career designing jewellery for the stars - including Rihanna and Kylie - to start the Suffolk grow-your-own brand SheGrowsVeg. Now Lucy’s teamed up with Kate Cotterill, marketeer and music festival organiser, to launch a range of rare and wonderful heirloom seeds, as the two tell Alice Ryan

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

Congratulations on the launch of your seed brand! Why heirloom varieties? And how are they defined?
Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties - produced by seeds that have resulted from the natural pollination of the parent plant - that have an interesting history. Unlike man-made hybrids, heirlooms have been grown for many years, almost exclusively because they taste and often look amazing.

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

There are some amazing varieties in the range. . . the watermelon radish, for example! Can you tell us the stories of a couple of standouts?
One would have to be Beetroot Red Toad. The oldest beetroot still in existence, estimated to be a 1,000-year-old variety, it looks a bit more carrot-shaped than normal beetroot. Like its namesake, it has a rough skin resembling tree bark and so definitely needs peeling, but dive inside and you'll find beautifully rich red flesh that really delivers on the earthy beetroot flavour we know and love. Coveted by chefs, this variety pairs beautifully with cheeses as a chutney or jelly.
Another would be the Storage Tomato, commonly used in Italy to allow people to eat fresh tomatoes well into winter. We love the idea of people being able to eat their own tomatoes in winter and wanted to bring a variety to the market with a new approach to tomato growing.

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

To recap: how, when and why did you start growing?
All through her life, Lucy has grown some food as it was something that made her happy. She had no interest in ornamental plants - just useful ones. This wasn't even a hobby at the time. When she was going through a stressful period in 2017, she turned to food growing and this triggered a deep dive into heirloom varieties and food growing. She set up the SheGrowsVeg instagram account, connected with other like-minded growers and never looked back.

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

And how did the seed brand take shape?
We only started talking about launching a seed company in June 2023 and it's been a rollercoaster ever since. We started selling our seeds in November 2023 and are now proud to have an online shop that sells more than 150 varieties that are taking off fast.
We saw there was a gap in the market and we are so excited that the response has been above and beyond what we expected. We now have a little HQ which is literally a 7x5m space filled with hundreds of packets of seeds! Everything is based in Suffolk: our office is in Suffolk, we both live here, all our staff are local - we've just taken on four brilliant team members who are all women - and our seed packing and marketing companies are also Suffolk-based.

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

Why did you want to start selling your own seeds? We know, from your socials and writing, that you're keen to inspire others to grow. . .
Lucy has been obsessed with the more unusual side of edible plants for years and has collected and grown and shared all the rare varieties she's managed to find over that time. We knew there was a gap in the market due to the number of people contacting Lucy asking how to get hold of all the seed she grows.
We don't consider ourselves to be traditional gardeners; we wanted to mix things up a bit and open up veg growing to people who are put off by all the jargon and don't know where to start. We also want to disrupt the seed market a bit by having a really modern offering - an edgy brand, QR codes on the back of every seed packet linking to a YouTube video on how to grow the seeds, inspiring content that helps people on their growing journey.

SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds
SheGrowsVeg launches heirloom seeds

Grow-your-own is booming, isn't it? What's driving that boom, would you say? Wanting to support both human and planet health must be big drivers?
We know grow-your-own grew by about 40% during Covid, plus people's awareness of wanting more control over where their food comes from is on the rise. Add to that the cost-of-living crisis and it's a no-brainer to start growing at home.
There are also some really interesting varieties out there - particularly heirlooms that you just can't buy in shops and supermarkets. So the true foodies out there who want those great ingredients are realising that they have to grow them themselves.

If a newbie is reading this, which seeds should they start with to get growing?
A great starter is chard: easy to grow, productive and hardy - you'll get food in summer and winter.

What's the reward of running SheGrowsVeg for you?
Seeing the excitement as people recieve the seed packets and the anticipation as they grow the seeds for the first time is incredible. We also have thousands of people watching our 'How to grow' videos on YouTube, so we know we're helping people to start growing in an accessible and no-nonsense way. The other great reward is that we know we are popularising some really amazing heirloom varieties that deserve their time in the limelight again!

To find out more and to shop, head to shegrowsveg.com


Read more

More by this author