Having spent the last week with my head in her new book, Veg Street, Grow Your Own Community, I rang Naomi Schillinger this morning in order to check a few things before writing this review. It was meant to be a quick call, just five minutes or so, but forty minutes later when I rang off, I realised that a quick chat is a vain hope once two gardeners, or obsessives of any kind, for that matter, get going. There is always more to discuss.
Naomi is fabulously enthusiastic about gardening, and our not-so-little chat was illuminating in many ways. Not least on the question of how she managed to get so many people in her community, many of whom were strangers to her as well as to each other, to start growing vegetables en masse. But, having spoken to Naomi, although I remain impressed that over 100 households are now involved in her scheme, I’m no longer surprised: her energy and her passion for growing vegetables is infectious. Every neighbourhood could do with a Naomi. Sadly that isn’t possible, but her book is certainly the next best thing to having Naomi at your side.
The book (and the community scheme) is the result of Naomi’s decision to turn her sunny front garden over to growing vegetables having been defeated by the shade in her back garden. And as anyone who has ever spent time pottering in a front garden will know, before long passers by will stop for a chat and a little update on what you’re growing. Naomi’s success with runner beans, leeks and lettuces attracted just this sort of attention, and neighbours began to follow her lead. Fast forward four years to last summer, and the front gardens of Naomi’s neighbourhood were brimming with beans, courgettes, potatoes and sweet corn, along with all the usual front garden fare.
Although Veg Street is, at its heart, the story of Naomi’s neighbourhood gardening scheme (and she’s generous when it comes to information on how to set up something similar), the book is by no means limited to community gardening. In fact the emphasis is really on gardening in small spaces: from front gardens to balconies, grow bags to window boxes.
Organised month by month, with seasonal task lists, detailed directions on planting and propagating, as well as regular ‘simple but brilliant’ ideas (the paddling pool plant watering system is particularly inspired), Veg Street manages to be both down to earth and inspiring. I’d recommend the book to anyone who has ever wanted to grow fruit and vegetables, but has either felt overwhelmed by the prospect, or simply frustrated by lack of space. The list of edible flowers in particular, is fantastic: I had no idea that you could eat hollyhock flowers or daylilies.
It’s safe to say that Veg Street has reignited my interest in growing vegetables. After last year’s dismal weather, I’d rather given up on the idea of trying to grow anything to eat in my garden. In the picture above you can see what became known to me as the wigwam of doom — erected last spring in a moment of heady optimism, it remained bare throughout the summer as successive bean seedlings were devoured by slugs.
But Naomi has convinced me to try again, and on her recommendation, I raced out to Wilkinson’s last week and bagged a mini greenhouse. At the weekend I filled it with trays of seeds. And inspired by Naomi’s success with growing potatoes in containers, I’ve ear-marked an old metal dustbin for just this purpose. I shall keep you posted on my progress. And until then I’d suggest that you track down a copy of Naomi’s book and pay a visit to her blog, Out of My Shed (she’s running a giveaway, hurry, hurry, hurry!)