In Their Shoes - With Alice Vincent
Alice Vincent is an author and gardener, who’s also worked as a journalist for the past decade. She’s penned How to Grow Stuff, Rootbound and Seeds from Scratch, and is currently working on another, that we’ve already book-marked, Why Women Grow.
An inner-city gardener, she’s always believed that you don't need a garden to garden organically, having taught herself to garden on balconies and in community gardens in South London.
For this month’s In Their Shoes we turn to Alice to dig a little deeper about her love of gardening.
Over to Alice…
Where did your love of plants and gardens grow from?
That's a good question! It's something I'm exploring at the moment while researching my new book, Why Women Grow. But as I write in Rootbound, I started gardening in my mid-twenties when I moved to a flat with a very empty balcony that had an amazing view. I had no idea what I was doing, and promptly killed most things, but I carried on regardless. It wasn't a very cool thing to do at the time, but I loved the sense of freedom and satisfaction it gave me that I just couldn't get in other parts of my life at the time. When, some months later, my life fell apart wholly unexpectedly, it was gardening that helped me build a new way of living.
What is it about planting from seed that you love?
Growing from seed is like rolling a dice: you never quite know if they're going to take. You put something tiny and full of promise into the ground, or into a pot of soil, and wait. Often, when you least expect it, signs of life appear. This summer is the first I've had with access to a garden, and I think the growth of flowers - poppies, cornflowers, cosmos, calendula and more - from seed I've thrown around with great abandon has been my favourite surprise. It never fails to delight me.
What's your garden like at home?
It's new! We moved in last July; in my mind gardens take years to find their feet and for gardeners to do so with them. I feel like we're at the very beginning of a long conversation, and have possibly just got past the niceties. It was something of a black canvas and for the first year I've treated it as a big experiment before I embark on anything more designed or formal, so there's three large beds and the planting is kind of a remixed-cottage style. There's plenty of foxgloves and poppies, and some tomatoes, beans, rhubarb and plenty of herbs have snuck in among the flowers; but it's a decidedly urban garden - we practically live between two nightclubs. Still, we are visited by goldfinches and foxes and there are insects galore. I welcome them all in. Currently, it's midsummer, and some things are taller than my head. I think, though, it will be at its most beautiful as Autumn nears - there are lots of grasses and late-bloomers yet to get into their stride.
Do you have a favourite garden in the UK and also in Europe?
So many! The one I go to most regularly is the Beech Gardens at Barbican, designed by Nigel Dunnett. They're a 30 min cycle from me and always so interesting and effortless in their planting. Against the brutalism of the Barbican - one of my favourite buildings ever - this wild planting is perfect. Last October I went to Piet Oudolf's Field at Hauser and Wirth Somerset and I honestly felt I was in a dreamscape, it was beyond beautiful. As for Europe, I'd like to go to any right now, to be honest! But I love Hortus Botanicus, the botanical gardens in Amsterdam.
Do you have a favourite time of year in your garden?
It's all new so I'm still discovering! The past few weeks have been pretty great - my partner and I love to entertain and the garden has a massive table in the middle of it. It's been a long, sunny run of good meals and laughter of late. Whatever the time of year, I like to go out shortly after dawn. Even Brixton is quiet then, and it's just me and the birdsong and, at the moment, the bees. Everything is fresh and shining.
What’s your top tip for a novice gardener?
Give it a go. I was so daunted by the sheer amount of things I had to know and fear of getting it wrong that at times it was a bit scary. Accept you might lose some things. Growth and pest prevention start from the same place: the soil. Improve what you have with well-rotted manure or green compost, and if you can, make your own compost at home. Plant what makes you happy and will encourage you to keep growing, rather than what you think you should.
Tell us a bit about your most recent book, Rootbound? What inspired it/what’s it about?
Rootbound is the story of a year in my life when everything fell apart and I built a new way of living by connecting with the earth and the things that grow from it. It's an urban nature memoir, and it brings together stories from previous generations of people who found solace in the ground and gardening when life was turbulent and traumatic. It was very interesting to follow these stories and write this love letter to nature in South London and then see how many people came to gardening as a result of the uncertainty and difficulty of the pandemic: once again, when life got hard, people went to ground.
What are your garden jobs for this weekend?
Enjoy it, mostly! It's the end of June - you could sow some seeds, such as foxgloves or dwarf beans, that will grow over the summer, you could pull out some weeds, or plant up a hanging basket. But it's a time of long days, I prefer to linger in them. A little bit of watering here and there, cutting the flowering stems of the sweet peas, shoving them in a jam jar and taking a great big huff every now and then. Perfection.
And finally, how do you style your Salties?
Simply. A beloved, very old, pair of Wrangler shorts, a similarly well-loved and used Breton top, and, ideally, a bit of sea breeze in my hair.
Thanks Alice for joining us! To follow more of Alice’s adventures head to @noughticulture