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Endangered Vegetables with SheGrowsVeg

Endangered Vegetables with SheGrowsVeg

Lucy Start is best known as SheGrowsVeg. The former couture jewellery designer shares her passion for growing endangered vegetables with over 70k instagram followers and is also an ambassador for the Heritage Seed Library.

Lucy is spending Earth Day in the garden (of course!) planting out her crops for 2020. “Getting the crops in the ground really marks the start of the season for me and I can’t think of a better way to mark the day than with my hands in the soil.”

Garden Escape caught up with Lucy to find out how easy it is to grow the colourful, rare bounty filling her instagram.

HOW DID YOU START GROWING VEG? HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN GREEN FINGERED? 

I’ve always loved growing edibles. As a uni student I had pots of herbs in the kitchen and attempted various crops in pots. At one point I had a little container veg garden on a 12th floor balcony in London.

Wherever I was and whatever I was doing with my life, I always seem to find a way to grow a bit of food with very mixed results, I had no idea what I was doing, it just made me happy to muck around and see what I could produce. Then at the start of 2018 I went through a really stressful period and needed a good distraction, growing food was perfect!

I started researching more and more into heirlooms and unusual edibles and putting a little more effort into actually learning how to grow properly. My sister signed me up for instagram telling me how much I would love the Insta gardening community and the rest is history!


HOW DID YOU BECOME AN INSTAGRAM SENSATION?

I’m not sure I’m really a sensation but I have been very lucky with the overwhelming support and enthusiasm I’ve received for my account. I think one of the reasons people follow my account is that I’m not a conventional gardener, I like to break the rules a bit and don’t think lack of space or even a garden should prevent you growing.

I really feel that gardening and growing food can be put in 2 different camps. There are a huge number of food conscious people out there these days who, for health, humane or eco reasons, are very aware of the provenance of their food. I think a lot of these people would be very interested in ways that they can grow some of what they eat, however if you asked ‘are you into gardening’ they would likely answer no. It is these people I’m trying to appeal to, to move away from the traditional, slightly old fashioned image of gardening.


 

I READ YOU USED TO DESIGN JEWELLERY FOR CELEBRITIES – HOW HAS YOUR PREVIOUS CAREER HELPED YOU IN YOUR CURRENT WORK?

The basic principles of aesthetically pleasing design remain the same no matter what you are designing. I think my previous career in fashion allows me to find ways to not have to compromise beauty over function. There are many incredibly beautiful ways to grow food.


CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHERE YOU GROW?

My growing area has undergone some serious expansion over the last couple of years. I have a relatively small garden which is around 98% edible plants including all the ornamental borders and I have managed to cram no less that 3 greenhouses into it. I also have 2 full size allotment plots.


HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN RARE AND UNUSUAL EDIBLES?

I’ve always liked things that are a bit unusual and so that’s probably what led me down that path. I had grown a lot of generic veg varieties and was really interested in what else was out there. Once I started researching it I became fascinated and I just had to try it all!


WHAT’S THE RAREST OR MOST UNUSUAL VEG YOU’VE GROWN?

I think the rarest thing Im currently growing are 3 trial varieties of tomatoes that are not going to be released until next year or the following one.

Im one of only 3 people in the world growing them and the only person in the UK, and one of those people is the man who is developing the varieties, legendary tomato breeder Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms.

WHAT MORE CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT ENDANGERED VEGETABLES?

Traditional heirloom veg varieties were grown in our kitchen gardens for hundreds of years, but with the invention and rise in popularity of F1s (i.e. hybrids made from crossing 2 different varieties and are the type of seed sold in most garden centres) these traditional varieties went out of fashion and suppliers therefore gradually dropped them from their catalogues. As a result some have sadly been lost forever and many exist only because of the incredible work of the Heritage Seed Library who work tirelessly to seek out and preserve these endangered treasures and the piece of history that they represent.


YOUR INSTAGRAM FEED IS PEPPERED WITH THE MOST INCREDIBLE MONSTER VEG – WHAT’S YOUR SECRET TO GROWING EXTRA LARGE VEG?

Despite loving growing edibles I’m quite tough on my plants, they do not get pampered and are only sporadically fed. I don’t put any special effort into growing large veg or massive harvests, I prepare the growing area well with lots of compost, select good seed and varieties and the plants do the rest.


YOUR FEED IS ALSO FULL OF THE MOST COLOURFUL BOUNTY…DOES THE VEG YOU GROW TASTE AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS?

It does! Despite the unusual colours of many things I grow, I never choose a variety just because of how it looks. Many heirloom varieties are seen as ‘quirky’ because of their unusual colour which I hate.

Carrots are a good example, carrots were traditionally purple, white or yellow in colour and were selectively bred to be the orange we are all used to in tribute to William of Orange in the 17th century.

Black and purple tomatoes are also seen as a novelty but the black colouring is caused by a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin which is the same stuff that makes blueberries superfoods. Darker colourings in tomatoes literally means they are better for you!

Lockdown Life

HOW ARE YOU COPING WITH LOCKDOWN?

I’m almost ashamed to say that we’ve been coping extremely well. There is obviously an abundance of fresh food here and always a load of jobs that need doing, particularly as we are in spring. Additionally lockdown has caused and unprecedented surge in interest in grow you own so I’ve never been busier.

WE’RE ALL WISHING WE WERE MORE SELF-SUFFICIENT RIGHT NOW AND THERE’S A REAL TREND TO START “VICTORY GARDENS”. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WANTING TO START GROWING THEIR OWN FOOD?

First of all, I would say look a the space you’ve got and be realistic about how much time you are going to want to spend tending it once the world starts again. Don’t start a massive veg patch only to abandon it when you return to work and likewise don’t think you can’t start growing some food because you don’t have an outside space. Secondly, think about what you actually eat. There’s no point in planting a load of radishes because everyone says they are easy to grow, if you’ve never eaten a radish before in your life. It’s better to take the time to learn to grow the staple items that you eat all the time than to just shoot for what’s apparently easy.

DO YOU THINK GARDENING & GROWING FOOD IS IMPORTANT?

I do and I think its going to become more and more important going forward. As a result of the panic caused by the corona pandemic, for the first time in most people’s living memory, their food security was threatened and I think that will stay with people beyond the end of lock down. I think a huge amount more people will be looking for ways to be a little bit more self sufficient.

WHAT’S THE IDEA BEHIND #gardenglowup2020?

It started in America with a small group of Instagardeners and a friend asked if Id join in and post a picture of myself in full evening wear for a bit of lockdown fun. I thought it was a great idea and knew a lot of UK gardens would really enjoy getting all dressed up with nowhere to go. So I really went for it, ball gown, ridiculous shoes and I cracked out some of my old jewellery designs and the response has been fantastic, people are really making an effort and it lovely to see how much fun people are having with it!