I am an organic kitchen gardener, chef, writer, teacher and blogger based in Somerset, England where I grow beautiful vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs using no dig methods. Using this abundance, I create seasonal plant based recipes at home and for Charles Dowding’s gardening course lunches – affordable, seasonal healthy food (we worked out that a lunch of 16 different dishes plus homemade bread cost around 60p a head for 20 people!)
Homegrown and foraged plants are key ingredients for my natural non toxic and environmentally sustainable potions for the home, body and garden. Genuinely seasonal plant based food is a particular passion: I love developing (and eating!) recipes based on what I can pick that day and from my home produced store cupboard. I preserve what I can so we can enjoy summer’s bounty throughout the winter – canning, dehydrating, jams and chutneys, wine, oils, interesting alcoholic potions and vinegars.
I write about my work, potions, creations and my home gardening in my blog, NoDigHome.
My work as a kitchen gardener includes working for commercial growers, restaurants, on allotments, in domestic gardens, for transition towns and on large private estates. I am the kitchen gardener for Roth Bar and Grill at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset, supplying the restaurant and bar with seasonal vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
In 2011 I was commissioned to create an almost instant edible garden for Niall Hobhouse, just two months from grassy field to first picking, at the Hadspen Estate (my garden was called “exemplary” by Mary Keen in the Telegraph) and helped to set up, advise and run a Bar Garden for At The Chapel. Until October 2015, I transformed the kitchen garden to no dig at Stavordale Priory for Sir Cameron Macintosh and Michael Le Poer Trench and ran it almost single-handedly for 3 1/2 years. Visiting my kitchen garden in the summer of 2015, Kevin McCloud said that it is a work of “brilliance and expertise“.
I write and take photographs for gardening books and magazines and was consulting editor for Charles Dowding’s Vegetable Diary. My work has featured in many publications including Gardens Illustrated, Permaculture Magazine, Grow It (Now Kitchen Gardens Magazine) and Mark Boyle’s Moneyless Manifesto.
I give talks and workshops on various subjects including gardening and natural potion making across the country for gardening groups, WIs, at River Cottage and other events. As part of this educational work, I’ve created pop up demonstration gardens for festivals and shows and was part a team advising and participating in the transformed Horticultural Village at the Bath and West Show.
Raising a family as a single mum on quite a small income provides many opportunities for using one’s imagination and creativity to live as sustainably and thriftily as possible, quite a challenge at times with teenagers! I love trying out, reading about and sharing ideas to make life simpler and more sustainable.
This year, I am redesigning much of my front and back garden at home to create an even more productive growing space and co-writing a book with Charles Dowding for Permanent Publications and working on a recipe book.
I live in a regular semi detached ex-council house with two teenage sons, a university student daughter who studies in Cardiff for much of the year, two gerbils (my daughter brought them home ‘just’ for Christmas, hmmm) and Bunny the house rabbit. Here I grow in my front and back garden, indoors and at my allotment.
I have always loved gardening, reading, being outside and making things, feeling a deep connection with nature. As a girl I grew plants on my bedroom windowsill and in odd corners of my parent’s garden and as a student in Bristol, in pots dotted about rented flats. After studying for a degree in English Literature and Art History, I trained as a secondary school teacher. Although I really enjoyed working with young people and love teaching, I soon realised that teaching English was not for me.
Motherhood provided many opportunities to really develop my enthusiasm for growing food organically, motivated by the necessity of trying to make ends meet and supplementing our income as much as I could whilst also caring for young children. I also kept chickens and ducks for eggs, manure, slug eating properties and entertainment. All three children spent much of their early childhood ‘helping’ me in the garden, sowing seeds and eating compost!
Keeping on top of the weeds was a constant battle. I dug my garden, as I’d been taught to do by tv programmes and in books, which not only meant I was spending far too much time digging but also inadvertently encouraging a lot of weed growth – both taking up so much of the limited amount of time I had to garden. However it was quite productive and we were the Green Eco Family in a series of articles in the Wiltshire Times – I recycled, up cycled, used washable nappies, hand knitted the nappy covers (and embroidered them with flowers, such a hippy mum!) made food from scratch, bought as much as I could second hand, grew plants to make dyes, made play dough for the children, used eco or homemade cleaning products, chose organic when I could, knitted and crocheted, preserved and made homemade wine.
Like many British families, I chose to home educate my children as I was unhappy with the huge amount of testing very young children were being subjected to at school. There are a lot of home educators in South West England and we formed a dynamic network with other families in Somerset, Wiltshire and beyond. Our group met regularly for activities, field trips and fun. I produced a regional online newsletter which helped to connect everyone and ran regular art classes with some other mums.
In 2006, I separated from my husband. This created the challenge of home educating three children, growing food and also working to support us. Drawing on my love of crafts and making things, I set up a homemade craft business, Astarte Arts and Crafts making home made jewellery using glass beads and sea glass from the Dorset coast, crocheted flowers and funky home accessories made from tea cups and other items of vintage china, sourced from charity shops, in particular garden tea lights. These I sold online, at craft markets, fairs, festivals and in local shops Oates and Musson, Phillips and Skinner and monthly at the Hawthorn’s craft market.
My career and garden changed in 2008 when I started working for Charles Dowding and learned how effective, efficient, economical and beautiful no dig gardening is. Early the following year I converted my allotment to no dig, much to the puzzlement of other allotment holders then. I also worked under Ark Redwood as a volunteer gardener at the gorgeous healing gardens at Chalice Well, Glastonbury. In January 2011 I left Charles’ farm and began other gardening projects, developing my garden writing and teaching. This journey took me to many different gardens including Hadspen Estate, where I set up a kitchen garden and a Bar Garden for renowned restaurant At The Chapel on pasture all with surface mulches, entirely without digging.
A comment about the garden at Hadspen: “Steph has created a productive and beautiful garden in a remarkably short space of time. It was grass and dry soil in April, now just four months later there are beds full of sweetcorn, tomatoes, salad, cabbages, potatoes and sunflowers, with almost no weeds anywhere. And the beds have no wooden sides, the only material purchased was compost which she laid on top. Seeing it believing.”
My pop up no dig gardens featured at several local festivals, where I also gave gardening talks and potion making workshops. This is our no dig pop up garden at the Bath and West Show, 2015. I suggested the idea of the pop up gardens as an interesting addition to the Horticultural Village, which proved to be very popular.
In March 2012 I joined the team at Stavordale Priory as their kitchen gardener, converting the kitchen garden to no dig and from November of that year Charles and I started working together again at his new garden at Homeacres, gardening and running courses, where I make huge lunches from homegrown food.