Ellen Mary is A Gardener, Writer, Presenter and Social Media Influencer for all things Nature & Gardening. She regularly writes for Grow Your Own Magazine and has appeared on countless programmes in the UK and abroad. She presents the fantastic Plant Based Podcast with fellow grapevine Michael Perry (Mr Plant Geek) A native of Norfolk she grew up surrounded by nature and to show her true dedication to nature she is a Vegan so her diet is all plant based!
Hi Ellen, and welcome to Who’s on the Grapevine. How have you been during these troubling few months?
Thanks for asking! We should all ask each other so much more. It’s been a challenge as it has for most, but I always try to make the most of any situation!
How do you think we can best keep hold of this positive attitude to gardens and the environment around us?
The gardening scene has been through a massive shift during the lockdown period. Allotments have never looked so good, online suppliers have come to the forefront, along with social media and online versions of many things. And the thirst for gardening is continuously growing as people are finding the enjoyment of growing their own food and being absorbed in the natural world. I think the fact the industry had to react so quickly to such a sudden change, gave everyone a push to think about how to reach a wider audience in super quick time. We need to keep up the pace, understand what is important to gardeners old and new, plus be prepared to shake things up and not be stuffy.
Ellen we all have a Veg that grows well for us and some that just never seems to happen what is your Veg Heaven and Veg Hell?
All veg is veg heaven! Hmmm veg hell is a tough one but I am not so good at growing peas. They either get eaten, I forget to water them or something ends up happening to them before I harvest.
Have you one growing tip for readers that you find is always a winner for you?
Take inspiration and eduction from the amazing horticulture community online, read lots but mostly enjoy it and go your own way. Never mind what anyone else is doing, no need to compare or worry, go your own way and enjoy every moment.
You are a Norfolk born and bred and grew up surrounded by nature and your parent’s kitchen garden? Tell us more sounds very idilic?
I wouldn’t say it was idilic! Although Norfolk has my heart. I did have the opportunity to be engaged with the outdoors on a daily basis, which was a magical place for me in childhood. It was actually my Uncle’s garden that really inspired me. He had an old council house garden, really long with lawn in the first half and a full kitchen garden at the end plus an old greenhouse and brick shed. His greenhouse was full of tomatoes and he used to send me off to the cabbage patch to pick caterpillars off the brassicas. He used to grow loads of Marigolds as companion plants which is why they are my favourite.
How is your garden at home laid out? And is your Allotment part of your garden or offsite as such tell us more about your patch of heaven? Is it good soil?
My allotment is on one of the largest allotment sites in Europe (apparently). It is a thriving community of diverse plot holders. I have two half allotments that are separated by someone else in between – it was just the order they became available and the second half had been offered to numerous people who declined it as it is difficult to access and also a state! But thats part of the challenge to me plus no dig meant it really hasn’t been that difficult to get back under control. My allotment is my haven, its my happy place. I have the brightest coloured shed on the site, a Rhino Greenhouse, Vegepod, containers and very strict plans! There is a vegetable bed, fruit bed, perennial bed, herb area and bulb space. The second half is new for this year but will be full of cut flowers and mostly perennial vegetables – although I am going to give Quinoa, Amaranth and Soy beans a go.
The soil is very sandy but again the no dig approach has helped retain nutrients and moisture really well. I have watched many of my plot neighbours struggle to keep their veg watered while I’ve had my feet up sipping a herbal tea!
How did The Plant Based Podcast Come about? It must be fun working with Mr Plant Geek? And its been a godsend to many these past few months
We literally bounce off each other! We’ve been friends for some years now and when we are together ideas just come up and neither of us procrastinate and neither are we fearful about going for something. So I think it just came up in conversation and we went for it. It’s been so much fun, we’ve met some incredible guests (I never thought I would be sitting in Chris Packhams garden), and the podcast has been well received. We are now in the process of recording series 4.
Ellen you’re a self-confessed Plant Addict, but what is the greatest lengths or depths, your addiction have taken you too in the name of plants?
Oh, wouldn’t that be telling!?
Ellen, can you talk me thorough one of your favourite veg to grow. How you sow it for instance, along with any good advice through the growing stage, and finally your preferred way to enjoy feasting on your crop after all your hard work.
Honestly I don’t have a favourite. But this last year, my brassicas have been immense!! The cabbages were absolutely huge. I sow them in modules in the greenhouse, harden them off them plant them with cabbage collars under a netted frame. They are then watered as necessary but otherwise, that’s it. The mulch used for no dig provides all the nutrients needed and apart from any large weeds that might appear I just leave them to grow. We have very few snails and slugs on the plot so thats helpful too!
Ellen your marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere, but luckily you have one book, one song and most importantly one packet of seeds with you what are your choices for your Desert Island Veg?
Can I have a whole album? Fat boy slim so I could dance all night. I’d take a packet of Squash seeds and plant ID book so I could be sure what I am foraging!
If you had to what is your favourite season of the year? and why?
Autumn – for the abundance of harvests, still many flowers but also many seed heads, putting beds to sleep for winter, planting bulbs full of hope, feeling immense satisfaction for the year and looking forward to some mulled wine, feet up and planning for the following year.
With you splitting your time between the USA and UK. I’m guessing your in a perfect position to say what you see as the main differences between the two countries and their approaches to gardening and fruit & veg growing. I imagine the sight of a traditional UK allotment is a rarity over there?
To be honest, we moved to the US (part time for my husbands job) in January 2020 with the intention of splitting time between UK in the spring/summer and the US in winter but that hasn’t gone to plan because not long after we moved, we went into lockdown. So, if I am honest I don’t know a great deal about US gardening but what I do know is, no matter where I have travelled – all over the world – the one common language is plants. If you meet someone who loves plants, nothing else matters.
Who has been the biggest influence in your horticultural journey so far, and who do you if anyone aspire to be like in their influence over a certain field in plants and horticulture?
I don’t aspire to be anyone, I just do my own thing and whatever makes me happy and hopefully others.
Ellen you’re a Vegan, was it your love of nature that helped steer you down this path? Tell us a bit more about your approach to Veganism and its principles for you?
I hadn’t eaten meat for many many years when I decided to try veganism. At first it was purely selfish as I kept getting indigestion and someone mentioned a plant based diet might help. So my husband and I both went head first into it a few years ago and while it has helped the indigestion unquestionably, it has also opened up a whole new world of empathy and understanding. I think most people who give up meat and dairy go on a long journey of discovery and growing your own food is a huge part of it for me, it all goes hand in hand. I grow so much food, I don’t need to add meat to it anyway!
Ellen, Permaculture are you an active user of the moon as your planting and harvesting guide?
No, I have never done this but from what I have read it sounds interesting!
Ellen great news Henry VIII has just turned up in a time machine! And he wants you to design and plant up Hampton Court Palace gardens. He has said you can have three people to help you, and as he has a time machine you can chose people from the past or present. So Ellen who is on your Garden Dream Team?
Elizabeth Lawrence from Winghaven in North Carolina. Her life story about her immense love of nature and how she transformed practically a neighbourhood to be wildlife friendly is simply inspiring. I’d choose Michael Perry (Mr Plant Geek) to add some pizazz and creative jazz plus Kenny Higgs from Bolwick Hall in Norfolk. I think his logical approach, fun sense of humour and knowledge would be fantastic.
Ellen, with all this attention working for Henry VIII you are in demand. But what show will it be Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice, SAS Who Dares Wins or Bake Off?
None, I couldn’t handle the pressure! But if I HAD to, it would be bake off. I love baking. Beetroot cake, courgette cake…anything with veg.
We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens, estates and areas to visit all around the country. Where would you recommend people to visit once if they get the chance? And why?
There are so many! I love Beth Chatto, the dry garden especially is worth a wander because it’s the future of gardening, as it the one at RHS Hyde Hall. Otherwise, a local community garden. It’s where the magic really happens.
Ellen you write, present on Tv & Radio, Lecture are active on social media, but which medium do you enjoy most? And which one do you feel delivers your message best?
I think it is a blend of everything, they go hand in hand and help to spread the love of gardening and the joy of plants as far and wide as possible.
Finally, what’s the future hold for you? Are there any projects or plans you hope to get of the ground in the near future?
I’ve just launched a new wellbeing studio on my website which is a resource of people, plants, products, art and live webinars about how gardening is good for wellbeing plus my new book is due to be released in May – all about gardening for wellbeing.
Ellen writes regularly in GrowYourOwn magazine, hosts a gardening radio show on Future Radio, hosts the Plant Based Podcast and appears on TV in the UK and USA.
You can follow Ellen on Twitter: @EllenMaryGarden
On Instagram: ellenmarygardening
And Facebook: Ellen Mary Gardening
Her website is www.ellenmarygardening.com
New wellbeing studio: www.ellenmarygardening.co.uk/wellbeingstudio