Terry Walton was born in the Rhondda Valley in 1946, he acquired his love of veg growing aged four on his dad’s allotment, and over the years built up his plots selling veg to the locals to help fund his ever-growing business and get that first car. Terry came to national acclaim in 2003 when BBC Radio 2 came calling and his plot came the official allotment on The Jeremy Vine show, and ever since has been helping the nations allotmenters with his down to earth practical advice from a lifetime experience on his allotment. He has won Garden Media Guild Award for Practical Jounalist of the Year
Dan: Terry 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?
Terry: My veg heaven is runner beans and these always grow well to feed me all season and provide a freezer full for colder days. My veg hell is the cauliflower and try as I may I never seem to be able to produce those large white curds.
Dan: You have been turning the tilth on your plot for over 50 years now, over those years many new systems and techniques and tools to do things have come and gone, are there any you have adopted over time and have become a regular feature on your plot?
Terry: My dutch hoe is over forty years old and is kept sharp in my constant battle with the weeds! My ‘hack’ which is a double flat bladed tool on a spade sized handle is great for earthing up potatoes and keeping paths free of weeds. Being organic I am a great believer in natural feeds which come from my wormeries, sheep manure steeped in a barrel of water and occasionally shop bought seaweed extract.
Dan: Allotments over the years have suffered a bit of a boom/bust on their popularity, and there are certainly big waiting lists for most allotments presently but there are far less allotments to feed the demand. What advice would you give to people who are stuck on waiting lists that they can do in any space available to get the veg dream up and started?
Terry: Never say never and one will come your away eventually. In the meantime if you have a small patch of ground at home make a small raised bed and this gives you the ability to grow some of your favourite vegetables. Grow quick maturing crops for maximum pay back. If you have no ground at all then use large containers and you can at least feed your appetite for grow your own.
Dan: Terry your marooned on a 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?
Terry: My book should be my own Allotment Almanac but I have already read that. So I would take one of Lee Child’s page turner s and the latest Night School. My favourite song is The Drifters under the boardwalk as this was the first record I bought. My one selection would be the carrot to munch on raw whilst wiling away the hours.
Dan: My allotment is on sandy soil and I use raised beds as well so although it’s easy to work it doesn’t hold moisture and nutrients as well so copious amounts of compost are required along with feeding and watering regularly over the summer (if we get one that is!) What is the soil like on your plot and have you any good tips for compost making and improving the soil on a plot?
Terry: My soil is clay based but has broken down to some extent by regular cultivation. Annually my greedy crop areas such as legumes, potatoes and onions get a heavy spring covering of well rotted horse manure. I compost all the green material off the plot and all household waste with the exception of bread and meat. My compost heap is formed with a five inch deep layer of green material and sandwiched with a five inch layer of well rotted manure. This is covered with a black sheet to create heat and this is used after two years in salad and root crop areas.
Dan: Every year I try something new on my plot a couple of years ago it was Cucamelons and last year Flower Sprouts. Is there anything you fancy trying next year or would like to try but think they just won’t work in your situation?
Terry: Sweet potatoes would be my goal but with lack of a polytunnel or somewhere warm to grow them they are unlikely to give much return they need warm long days to crop successfully.
Dan: We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens, estates and areas to visit all around the country. Apart from your glorious Rhondda where else would you recommend people to visit once if they get the chance? And why?
Terry: I have to stay in Wales and select Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. This is situated on the Conwy estuary and has 80 acres of interesting planting the year around.
Dan: As much as we all love growing our veg Terry what’s your favourite thing to eat fresh from the ground or plucked from a stalk?
Terry: My favourite veg is the garden pea. Picked fresh and a handful in pocket these sustain me throughout my morning activities and are far healthier than sweets. Also when I break my morning activities for coffee then want to recommence but forget where my tools are I can follow the trail of empty pods!
Dan: You recently won a Garden Media Guild award for practical gardener of the year well done on that, but who/what do credit with giving you your enthusiasm for veg growing? and who if anyone have you admired/respected most over the years for their contribution to the world of veg/plant growing?
Terry: My desire for gardening was matured at the tender age of four by my father and he encouraged me to take my first allotment at eleven years old. My gardening guru was Geoff Hamilton and his ‘down to earth’ ant practical thrifty ways are instilled in me top this day.
We caught up with Terry again in May 2020
Dan: Hi Terry how are you doing?
Terry: Very well thanks I’ve just been down the plot preparing my carrot patch for seeding tomorrow hopefully if we get a drop of rain and I’ve emptied the greenhouse out and started filling it with my Tomatoes plants so we are almost on the last strait now.
Dan: Terry apart from your own great books, what is the best Gardening book you have ever read?
Terry: The best book I have ever read, and I am slightly biased as I’m an allotment gardener is Andi Clevelys The Allotment Book. I often refer to it, he is a practical man and it’s a step by step, seasonal and month by month guide, he’s a very hands on guy and doesn’t suggest anything he hasn’t done himself. And it covers a good range of subjects like keeping chickens on your plot etc.
Dan: Terry polytunnels are becoming a popular sight on allotments nowadays ever tempted by one yourself?
Terry: That is cheating! I never felt they give me anything my greenhouse cannot offer. There biggest problem I can see is the soil, you must replenish the soil every year, as if you don’t the salt content builds up due to lack of natural rain and soon nothing grows. There is no doubt they can give you an edge for a slightly earlier crop or if you grow for showing you can control the temperature to get perfectly smooth Runner Beans. So, for now I will stick with my greenhouse.
Dan: Talking of greenhouses, you have told me before that Anthea thinks it’s a blot on the garden, but to you it is the powerhouse of the plot.
Terry:Yes Dan I don’t sow much straight into the ground on my
plot, I’ve got a problem with keel slugs and birds and, I have roving gang of field mice who dig up any fleshy seeds like peas and beans, so I seed in the greenhouse, for instance my parsnips I pre chit on moist paper then put them in toilet tubes to plant up later when there bigger. So, by early spring its practically bursting at the seams with Beans, Onions, Parsnips and all range of other things.
Dan: And we can’t not mention when talking greenhouses Terry, you hit the National and International news when your greenhouse went up in flames, tell us more?
Terry: Well the weather report said there was a chance of a little frost, and my Onions and Parsnips were all in their early stages. So, I put on the paraffin heater just to take the chill off, I had just settled down for the evening when the young lad from across the road started banging on the front window. Anyway, he said there’s a orange glow coming from the back garden and smoke, So I jumped up and rushed round the back and the greenhouse was ablaze. My neighbour put a hosepipe on it but it smouldered away for a good 25 mins. Sad thing was I had some of the best Onions I had grown in a long while in there. And a week or so later the news somehow went crazy I had phone calls from all over the world wanting interviews etc. But now the new Phoenix from the Flames greenhouse is up and running and I have to thank the generosity of people who offered there help and new plants etc The gardening community pull together at times like that.T
Dan: Terry are you much of a follower of principals of Permaculture
Terry: Well I haven’t studied it that much, but I guess their must be grain of something in it, but I think you need to be guided more by the actual weather at the time. If its dry and cold I wont sow/plant but if its wet enough and conditions suit I will. There is no blueprint to fit all, your local knowledge is your best guide I believe.
Dan: Almost all flower and garden shows have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19 How do you think it will affect them long term?
Terry: Well for many years the small village shows have been struggling, it is the older generation of gardeners and growers that have been keeping them going, and these shows often are the biggest earner of the year for them and a great gathering of like minds, also a highlight of many a person’s year. Hopefully, they can regenerate and come back stronger and encourage the younger generations to get involved. I’m sure the larger ones will bounce back quite fine they have the name and following to a certain extent so can weather the storm better.
Dan: Terry do you have a favourite season in the year?
Terry: I love the autumn the temps are just right, and I find it’s the most relaxed and colourful, and the pallet changes from the more tender summer veg to the courser Swede, Parsnip, Leek and Brussel Sprout. And I have to say Dan I’m a great fan of meat and three veg and gravy. And I find autumn is the perfect time for it. Also, you’ve battled the weeds and hopefully won and the pest disappear. So, you can sit back and enjoy all your hard work you did over the Spring and Summer.
Dan: I often have to sow my Carrots a few times in spring any tips you can help me with?
Terry: Well Carrots have quite a hard seed case so you need plenty of moisture to get them to germinate so if its v hot like it has been you need to keep on top of your watering at that time. And my only other tip is fresh seed and once they have grown past a couple of inches tall don’t water them, let them search out the nutrients and water in the sub soil. I also line the drill with compost and cover the seed with compost to give them a great start.
Dan: How is your garden set up at home, is there many veg hiding in a corner? or is it mainly flowers and shrubs.
Terry: My home garden is mostly shrubs dotted with odd annuals. I have numerous pots which I grow annuals to brighten up the patio.
I do have a tub or two of salad crops for my wife to access in an emergency.
The home garden is also where my herbs are grown as these are used by my wife ad hoc and they would be not at hand on the allotments.
Dan: Finally, what’s the future hold for you? Are there any projects or plans you hope to get off the ground in the near future?
Terry: With all that has been going on of late the nation is turning to a degree of self sufficiency. There are lots of people falling in love with the idea of growing your own.
I am posting lots of helpful tips and videos to help the new comers. I want to expand this help and try to retain these new gardeners to the life of gardening and extol the pleasures and fun it can bring into your life. Now that we have got them I want to retain them forever
So I would love to set up a platform to help and encourage more people to grow vegetables and enjoy gardening.
Terrys books The Allotment Almanac and My Life on a Hillside Allotment can be purchased from all good retailers. You can follow him on Twitter @theterrywalton and find him on Radio 2s The Jeremy Vine show on Fridays Between 12-2pm and on many local radio stations. He also writes for various weekly and monthly publictions with his wise practical advice.