Papier’s aptly-named designer Paige first stepped onto her bramble-covered allotment two years ago when she and her partner Adam moved to Sevenoaks in Kent. She’s quickly transformed the once overgrown plot into a fruitful source of homegrown flowers and veg.
Taking a well-earned break from her desk, we joined Paige on the allotment to note down some of her many gardening tips.
My allotment has become such a sanctuary for me. As it’s so close to my house, I sometimes pop in a couple of times a day during the growing season, especially in mid-summer. There is nothing like a blue-sky morning spent at the allotment – it is so calm and peaceful. Since I’ve been working from home, it’s become a morning ritual to go there to enjoy my first cuppa of the day, soaking in the view of the surrounding Kent Downs and listening to the birds.
All year round I’m pretty busy either planning or planting! Winter is full of excitement, spent dreaming of sunnier days and preparing for the next growing season. Spring is full of hope. The allotment bursts into life with blossom, daffodils and rhubarb and my ideas for the year’s garden start coming to life. Summer is an abundance of fruit, veg and flowers, and I’ll be at the allotment most days to keep on top of the watering and harvesting. Autumn is full of gratitude, harvesting the last of the summer veg and buckets of gorgeous dahlias and cosmos.
Each harvest inspires a season of new recipes and finding ways to preserve every drop of what we’ve grown. There is no joy like eating your own freshly picked, homegrown food, and knowing exactly where it’s come from – no chemicals, no carbon footprint. You won’t find a tomato or strawberry in the supermarket that tastes as good as the one you’ve grown yourself!
Last summer, I fell in love with growing flowers. I created mini-bouquets to give to friends and family. So this year, I’m ambitiously planting 4 beds of successional cut flowers, with a tunnel of sweetpeas through the middle. As well as providing me with armfuls of seasonable blooms to fill my home with, the mix of shapes and varieties will attract a huge range of pollinators. I garden organically and I rely on a healthy ecosystem to keep my plants pest-free, so my planting plays an important part in attracting wildlife and beneficial insects.
Climate change and living a more sustainable lifestyle is the main reason Adam and I wanted to start an allotment. I am constantly learning about ways I can garden to help the planet. It’s amazing the impact we can have in our gardens, however big or small. Attracting wildlife is so important, not only to keep our crops healthy but to help reverse the devastating decline in biodiversity on our planet.
This year I’ve created a wildlife pond and an insect hotel which will provide habitats for different predators and insects. With the increase in milder winters, we've seen pollinators like solitary bees emerge earlier and they need flowers so they don't starve. So planning a patch with flowers all year round is a way to protect the insects vital to the ecosystem of the plot and the planet.
I’ve also started gardening ‘No Dig’. This means I’ve completely stopped digging so as to avoid disturbing the important microorganisms that we rely on for healthy plants. Instead, I create beds by layering cardboard as a weed suppressant and top with a thick layer of compost to plant into. As well as saving time, this is an amazing way to improve the soil structure.
Gardening is healing! There are so many benefits to both your mental and physical wellbeing. Taking the time to slow down and connect with the nature around me is as important to me as getting the jobs done. Visiting my little plot has become an essential part of my self-care routine. If I feel any stress or anxiety, getting my hands in the soil is the best way to ground myself and calm a racing mind.
It’s also another place I can express my creativity – from designing the garden to dabbling in floristry. Then there’s the social aspect which was wonderful over the last year of lockdowns. Chatting away to new people, swapping tips and connecting over a shared passion for growing.
I keep a gardening journal as a record of what I’m growing – the joys and the failures. I use it for making my plans in the winter, sketching layouts of new beds and keeping an inventory of my seeds and timings of when everything is sown.
Paige’s Tips for First-Time Growers
Start small! It’s so tempting to sow the full packet of seeds and try growing every veg at once but you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. In your first growing season you want to keep it manageable and most importantly, fun!
Start with easy to grow, high yielding veg like potatoes and tomatoes. Both taste so much better home grown and can be grown in small spaces like a balcony.
Create a bed or container of quick cropping home grown salad, with mixed leaves, radishes, spring onions, and keep it near the kitchen so you can easily pop out and grab what you need. This is a great way to cut down on supermarket packaging and get you hooked on the taste of home grown food. It’s how I got into growing my own!
Plan, plan, plan – when and where you will plant everything and when it needs to be sown.
Always use peat-free compost and check the labels on the bags. The harvesting of peat is hugely damaging to the environment and I highly recommend reading about it.
Save your money and the planet by recycling yoghurt pots and plastic tubs into seed trays and plant labels.
Don’t dig! Learn about No Dig gardening by reading books by Charles Dowding and you’ll have your veg beds created in a day.
If you want to get a taste of having an allotment, you could try square foot gardening which is essentially a mini-allotment within a 4 x 4 foot bed.
Follow Paige’s allotment adventures on her Instagram account Paige’s Patch.