Harvest: Why we dig Suffolk's She Grows Veg
She quit a fashion career - which saw her design jewellery for Rihanna, Kylie and Cheryl - to start growing her own. Three years on and Suffolk’s Lucy Hutchings, better known to her 132,000 Instagram followers as She Grows Veg, has just made her Hampton Court show debut, as she tells Alice Ryan
Take a tour of Lucy Hutchings’ flower and foliage-filled Hampton Court show garden and it’s hard to believe that every last plant is edible - right down to the dahlias. Best known as She Grows Veg, the Suffolk gardening guru with 132,000-and-counting followers on Instagram, Lucy painstakingly selected consumable varieties for the project. (The dahlias, if you’re wondering, “were originally cultivated as a root crop”, can be stored like potatoes and cooked like artichokes.)
“I think it’s my background in design, but I’ve never understood why there has to be a distinction between planting being ornamental and edible,” says Lucy, formerly a London-based jewellery designer who, under her own label, created bespoke pieces for Rihanna, Kylie and Cheryl Cole. “I wanted this garden to prove the point that plants can be both beautiful and edible - and also that, no matter how small your space, it can be productive.”
Inspired by and named after her debut gardening book - Get Up and Grow which, hailed “clear, modern and inspiring” by Alan Titchmarsh, published in the spring - the show garden features numerous space-saving tricks.
To prevent paths becoming “planting voids”, for example, they are over-arched with runner beans; instead of a bulky greenhouse, compact glass-doored Ikea cabinets are used as propagators; to create vertical growing room, a wall of reclaimed timber is hung with pots of herbs, chillies and marigolds.
Now installed as a visitor attraction at Sudbury’s Perrywood garden centre, where most of the plants were grown, the Hampton Court design is the culmination of three years’ learning, and in turn teaching, for Lucy.
Having always grown “but not even considered it a hobby”, she found herself drawn out into the garden during “a really stressful time; it was the ideal distraction”. Quoting scientific research which proves that Mycobacterium Vaccae, a prevalent soil microbe, stimulates serotonin production – ie, it’s believed to be a natural antidepressant – “we know that gardening isn’t only good for physical fitness, but also for mental health,” Lucy adds.
Starting her Instagram account initially to chart her progress, she soon found herself becoming “evangelical about it. Growing your own is such a great thing, I want everyone to have the chance and the confidence to try it”.
And so She Grows Veg began to take shape. The popularity of the Instagram feed, where Lucy posts her successes, tips and tricks, reflects the wider increase of interest in home-growing, she says.
Concerns around the provenance and environmental impact of food were on the rise even pre-pandemic and Covid then accelerated the trend, Lucy explains, with last spring’s empty shop shelves prompting questions about food security and lockdown providing both new-found free time and a reminder of our need to connect with nature.
Split across veg beds in her back garden and a 6x18-metre allotment, Lucy now grows several hundred varieties, including 55 types of tomato, 15 peppers and 10 chillies, many of them rare and heritage.
Organic and sustainable practice is key. A low-or-no-dig policy preserves soil integrity and reduces carbon emissions - sequestered in the ground, CO2 is released when earth is turned - and weeds are suppressed with sheets of cardboard instead of chemicals, as it simply mulches into the soil at the end of its use.
“I get lots of messages from people who would like to start growing some of their own food but are confused about how to get started and are intimidated by the world of horticulture and the traditional image of the way things should be done,” adds Lucy. “I want to remove that fear and tell people to just give it a go.”
Get Up and Grow: Herb, Vegetable and Fruit Growing Projects for Both Indoors and Outdoors, from She Grows Veg is out now in hardback, published by Hardie Grant and priced £16.99
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More by this authorAlice Ryan