Making your living off your garden is a dream for many of us — but it needn't be a dream, as Anna Tyzack found when she spoke to some people who are already doing it.
In the first piece, Anna spoke to flower grower Rachel Siegfried; here, she turns her attention to fruit and vegetable grower Jane Scotter.
Jane Scotter, biodynamic gardener, Herefordshire
Before Jane Scotter moved to Fern Verrow, her farm in Herefordshire, 23 years ago, she was a partner at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and grew pot plants — badly.
‘I didn’t have a clue,’ she says, ‘but I did have an interest in good food and proper growing — and I was prepared to work hard to create something beautiful and genuine.’
From the outset, she used biodynamic principles in the beds at Fern Verrow — no pesticides or chemical fertiliser — and took a holistic approach to growing, studying the position of the sun and moon.
‘The farm was just fields when we started and nothing had been cultivated for a number of years, but it was 700ft above sea level, with clear air and spring water,’ she explains.
In the first few years, Miss Scotter learnt from her mistakes, often in costly fashion, but, before long, she had a profitable business, with a stall in London’s Borough Market and customers including the chef Skye Gyngell, who shares her passion for proper growing.
Fern Verrow now supplies all the vegetables and flowers to Miss Gyngell’s restaurant, Spring. Every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Miss Scotter loads up a van with seasonal vegetables, which will be served at Spring within 24 hours. ‘We don’t go in for refrigeration,’ she says. ‘A strawberry straight out of the garden will be ruined in a fridge.’
It is, of course, relatively stressful supplying one of London’s top restaurants: if Miss Gyngell requires 50 lettuces, Miss Scotter must plant 80, but any excess is mopped up by her vegetable and flower boxes, which are delivered to 20 local customers each week.
‘I’m always striving to find something new: salad leaves, edible flowers, different varieties of bean,’ she reveals. ‘I don’t believe in superfoods — nothing you eat is going to stop the wrinkles.’
Her biggest fear is extreme weather: during last summer’s six-week heatwave, she was up at 4am each day to salvage crops. ‘A few years ago, there was a terrible hailstorm that tore the spinach, but, thankfully, Skye took it anyway and made it into purées.’
There’s no quiet time of year at Fern Verrow. ‘It’s like having a child — you can’t leave it and you always want a bigger family,’ Miss Scotter says.
However, she doesn’t mind that growing is undervalued and she doesn’t have the trappings of life. ‘I like working all the time,’ concludes Miss Scotter. ‘I suppose that’s why I have a reputation for being a bit of a warrior.’
Pulling up entire salad plants seems like madness once you've moved on to 'cut and grow again' as Mark Diacono