Edible gardening goes trendy

TV presenters and high-profile specialists are helping to promote grow-your-own, writes Matthew Appleby.

A food-growing revolution is sweeping the country. A new society of young gardeners is emerging as the credit crunch and environment top many people's lists of concerns.

Food security and developing a sense of community are the advantages of growing your own, according to Gardeners' World presenter and Thrifty Gardener author Alys Fowler.

Fellow TV presenters Monty Don and Toby Buckland have joined the chorus this week, as has Eden Project founder Tim Smit and food policy professor Tim Lang. They believe that the horticulture industry can lead gardening into a new era of sustainable growing and even food security.

Former HW features editor Fowler - who claims that you can create a stylish garden for next to nothing by raiding skips, recycling oil cans and building your own planters - added that new gardeners must go to garden centres too. She said: "I state firmly that the place you should spend your money on is good compost and good-quality plants in garden centres.

"If you go to a gig you can easily spend 20-odd quid or so. It's fun, but 20 quid in the garden centre buys you a fruit tree or some perennials. I just want people to spend their money wisely on the right things for their gardens or balconies and window boxes."

Fowler is being touted as "the rising star of the gardening world" by her publisher, Kyle Cathie. She said: "In the book there are no sweeping shots of suburbia, no car boots filled with plants, no cosy greenhouses in a sea of green lawn, just an urban view of gardening with the planet in mind."

She said the late Gardeners' World presenter Geoff Hamilton is her inspiration: "I joked that the first line of the book should say, 'Go to a charity shop and find a Geoff H book and read that instead. I hope in some small way it speaks to a new generation."

Former Kew student Fowler believes community gardening can be a career for people from all areas of society as the need for producing our own food becomes more important.

She said: "On the whole, the people working on community gardens are motivated by the love of growing things and that's pretty classless. That's what will motivate the people to start growing on a wide scale in cities. I actually think that will motivate people more than money.

"I hope it'll be something along the lines of a choice between a boring job selling boring stuff in shops or growing stuff outside, being your own boss.

Fowler continued: "I think the service industry is pretty unfulfilling for a lot of people. I hope that skilled work, such as gardening, will become increasingly attractive to more young people, but part of that is creating a slightly more hip image for gardening - hence wasting trees and writing books. It's about saying, look, this is a cool industry to be part of, it's independent, it's outdoors, physical, rewarding and creative, and it's not working for big bosses."

Eden project founder Tim Smit is also behind the industry leading the sustainability trend. He said: "Garden centres are going to be social centres for parents and children." Smit added that garden centres could lead in a food-growing "revolution". He explained: "If I was going to invest in anything I'd invest in garden centres. The biggest issue is food security, not recession."

Smit has announced the plan for "Big Lunch", which is an event that will take place on 19 July 2009, when he hopes that every street in the UK will hold street parties to eat food they have grown with the help of garden centres.

Meanwhile, new Soil Association chairman Monty Don - who gave the keynote lecture at its annual conference earlier this week, and who was a huge influence on Fowler at Gardeners' World before his retirement - said: "This link between healing and pleasure is direct and pretty much explained in connection with the environment and food.

"This energy is not being harnessed at all. If some of it was focused on growing food on a productive scale - albeit at a family or neighbourhood level - that would change everything.

"A more fluid relationship between farmers, gardeners and the public - with local exchanges of land/seeds/produce/labour/skills - would simplify growing and distribution systems."

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, has urged people to follow the example of the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, which starred Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers, by cultivating their own food in their back gardens or in allotments.

"Ultimately, people have to take more control of their food systems," Lang said. "If you depend on Tesco or Sainsbury's or Waitrose, you are a consumer. In other words your food supply is under their control. But if you garden and can grow at least some food to eat, however little, then you are injecting a little food democracy into your food supplies and asserting your food citizenship."

And new Gardeners' World presenter Toby Buckland feels the same. He said he has felt a new buzz around gardening in 2008 with grow-your-own, the economic downturn and environmental concerns combining to make horticulture more relevant than it has been for some time in recent years. And he is keen to appeal to all gardeners through the flagship programme.

"My view of old-style gardening is that it was a little bit of everything. The garden used to be a lawn, mixed border and veg garden. What we all need to do, as gardeners, is celebrate fresh thinking."

He said the makeover TV craze "had good ideas" and was "a great positive thing but the genre was poo-pooed as if it never brought any good to the trade and people's lives."

Buckland believes that the trend towards vegetable gardening and growing will continue "as long as people aren't let down - hopefully there will be no end to it".

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