Hi, my name is Derrick and I currently work for Wynyard Hall, located in the beautiful North East of England. I am the ‘edible gardener’, planning and maintaining the fruit and vegetable garden. The garden will supply the new restaurant at Wynyard Hall, called The Glasshouse, offering a ‘plot to plate’ dining experience. There are views of the garden from the restaurant, so diners can see exactly where the produce is coming from!
My journey into gardening would have been far from a safe bet for anyone who knew me when I was younger. I grew up in suburban Leicester, with little or no interaction with gardens; I didn’t even like eating vegetables until my late teens! Something must have clicked, as I started to cook from scratch, using fresh ingredients. I enjoyed looking up recipes and rising to the challenge of using ‘strange’ ingredients such as fennel, or the ugly one, celeriac! Of course, they not strange, but they were to me!
During my early twenties, whilst studying, I developed a strong interest in the environment and climate change. I had no idea what my future career would be, but I had a strong inkling that I would explore this avenue and try to make a difference somehow. I decided that whilst on a gap year it would be great to volunteer on environmentally friendly farms, as a cheap way to travel and learn new skills. I was so impressed by the farms and gardens I visited! Whilst helping I was able to learn about environmentally friendly ways of farming, as well as witnessing the results. The produce was amazing and tasted great! I knew that once I finished my travels I would look for work on a farm and try to make a career out of it.
Since then, I have worked on some large organic vegetable farms, as well as therapeutic farms and gardens, whilst providing gardening workshops for vulnerable adults.
Now I am at Wynyard Hall and I am really enjoying growing produce for a restaurant, whilst also welcoming visitors to the garden. This is a great opportunity for me to showcase a beautiful veg garden, local and seasonal produce, all whilst using environmentally friendly techniques. I try to avoid disturbing the soil with digging and rotovating by layering compost or well-rotted farm yard manure on the surface of the soil. This helps to promote the ‘soil food web’, a network of fungi and micro-organisms, which enable a ‘living soil’ with access to plenty of nutrients for the plants I want to grow.
I grow lots of flowers amongst the vegetables to promote biodiversity in the garden. There are lots of beneficial insects attracted to the flowers which can help to keep pests under control, as well as attracting bees who will do lots of pollinating in the garden! Bird boxes, insect and hedgehog hotels, or a pond, are other great ways to make the garden look nice and help to attract beneficial birds, insects, mammals and amphibians to the garden. Rather than using insecticides, I can use very fine nets which will keep things like the cabbage white moths off the brassicas. I also follow a crop rotation, meaning that the crops I grow will be in different parts of the garden year on year. For example, legumes (peas and beans) have the benefit of fixing nitrogen, so I would follow them with brassicas who would appreciate a larger quantity of nitrogen. Moving the crop families around will also help to prevent the build up of diseases and pests attracted to each crop family.
One day I would like to have laying hens on-site. Not only would we enjoy the fresh eggs, but their straw bedding with added chicken poo (brown gold!), would be a great addition to my compost heaps for the veg garden, as it is very high in nitrogen! This would help to keep the fertility of the garden ‘in house’.
Although gardening has been a great job for me, it would also be a great hobby which can be really healthy and rewarding, as well as contributing to helping the environment. One of the things I love about gardening is that almost everyone can relate to it somehow. We all have a flower, fruit or vegetable that we really enjoy. If we try to grow it ourselves it only magnifies how much we love it! Choosing the variety, watching it grow, and then eventually eating it, or putting it in a vase! As I grow produce for a restaurant, I have the luxury of selecting varieties of fruits and vegetables for their amazing taste rather than yield; such as a Nantes carrot, a Black Cherry tomato or a Cerbiatta lettuce. I would recommend that when growing produce for yourself, search out the ‘heirloom’ or ‘traditional’ varieties that are identified to have the best taste, as it makes your work in the garden so much more worth it!