Gardening: Learn how to grow your own at Alexandra Palace garden show

Love the plot you've got

Love the plot you've got - Credit: Archant

Growing your own food is great, especially if you have never experienced the pleasure of eating really fresh salads, vegetables or fruit.

But over the last decade there has been a lot of hype around the subject, some of it counter-productive. I mean, the tendency to exaggerate how easy it is to grow food.

Naturally, if you want people to try something, making it sound difficult is a bad idea. But implying surefire success has drawbacks too. Sales of vegetable seeds, soaring a few years ago, have been slipping back again – which sounds like the fruits of disillusion.

So I responded to the announcement of a “Grow Your Own” fair at Alexandra Palace with some reserve, wondering if it was more about leading people up the garden path, than anything else.

However, having seen the website for twin shows, The Edible Garden Show and Good Life Live I have relented. The event does sound fun, full of interest, with a lot of expert advice on offer.

Scanning the publicity for the many groups which will have stands, my eye was caught by a campaign, aimed at people between 30 – 45, called Love The Plot You’ve Got.

I like the sound of that, particularly in relation to the desert of paved and concreted front gardens of our residential streets. So I got in touch with David Arnold to hear more.

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David used to work for Suttons Seeds and is now managing Love the Plot You’ve Got for the Garden Industry Marketing Board (GIMB).

I asked why the industry was worried about the 30 – 45 age group’s lack of interest in gardening, since working and bringing up children is quite enough to be getting on with at that stage and, for most people, gardening can wait till later.

The worry, he said, is that that old assumption does not seem to be valid any more, there are too many other activities to choose from, and if the industry does nothing to attract younger customers, it will decline.

So the GIMB carried out research (focus groups and individual) in different parts of the country.

The people they included, some renting, some owning, had outdoor space, even if it was only a balcony.

In general, these spaces were a bit scruffy and overall people said they would like to have more enjoyable gardens but they didn’t know how to start.

They weren’t looking for hard graft, they wanted somewhere nice to relax, the women, especially, were keen on a quiet place to get away and read.

Those in rented accommodation were often unwilling to make improvements because they didn’t want to benefit the landlord.

How understandable, how human, and how much a comment on modern life all this sounds, but what can the campaign offer?

It is offering encouragement, in the form of a roadshow, with pop up gardens to illustrate how simple things can be – you don’t want to mow grass? Well fake grass is fine, you don’t want to plant things for the landlord? Then plant them in transportable containers, you didn’t realize that annuals would only last for a year? Don’t give up, knowledge is the key and we’ll try to make things more accessible with, for instance, clearer labelling.…

This is the first year of the roadshow, and Alexandra Palace is one of its early outings. Chris Collins, the Blue Peter gardener will be on the Love the Plot You’ve Got stand, helping children plant things they can take away free – a sound move, since many children have a natural affinity with gardening and can encourage their parents.

I think it sounds spot on – knowledgeable gardeners can, without meaning to, be intimidating, and it is not in any gardener’s interests for the horticultural industry to dwindle.

The Edible Garden Show and Good Life Live

20th – 22nd March, Alexandra Palace, N22 7AY. Children under 16 free. Tickets in advance are cheaper than on the door.