We’re celebrating Earth Day with Kew Garden’s Kitchen Gardener, Hélèna Dove
Each year on 22nd April communities across the globe come together to celebrate Earth Day. A day that isn’t just about celebrating the amazing planet we have but also a day to reassess our ways and look at how we can make our planet a healthier and happier place to live. The first Earth Day was recognised back in 1970, and ever since Earthday.org have made it their mission to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide, all year long.
This year we have partnered with up Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to chat to their resident Kitchen Gardener, Hélèna Dove, to learn about how climate change is affecting our gardens and what we can do to make the most of our home-growing plots.
Frugi Meets Hélèna Dove…
“My name is Hélèna and I am the kitchen gardener at RBG Kew. I manage our kitchen garden which is around half an acre and is on the site on the original Georgian Kitchen Garden. My work involves sowing the crops and tending them until they are ready to be harvested. Then the crops go to either the restaurants on site, for sale to the public, or to foodbanks.
I also get to try out new crops and see how well they perform, often alongside work being undertaken by our fantastic scientists who work in the field of food. Some of their research includes looking at how we will feed ourselves in the future with a growing population and changing climate. One of these projects was the Crop Wild Relatives project where they are saving seeds of the wild cousins of our cultivated food crops and banking the seed in the Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst. To highlight this work I grew some of these wild relatives alongside my normal crops to see how they performed.
As well as this, I am trialling other crops that are not commonplace in a UK garden or diet, but come from hotter climates and may thrive in the kitchen garden now. One of the issues I have with the hotter summer, and the walled kitchen garden at Kew is very hot in the summer, is that lettuces tend to need too much water and bolt. Last year I trialled new leafy crops that could potentially replace lettuce in the salad bowl, but that are drought tolerant and enjoy the heat of summer.
Plants such as dandelion and plantains, which are mainly thought of as weeds, both grew incredibly well and the leaves were delicious. I also trialled callaloo, whose young leaves can be used like lettuce and older leaves as spinach. It is popular in the Caribbean and performed really well in the kitchen garden at Kew, plus with its yellow and pink leaves, it was stunning to look at as well.
Growing vegetables on the windowsill is a great way to engage families, as they are prominent and can be fast growing. A fun project is to plant peas for their shoots. Simply put dried peas, the ones bought for mushing, in a shallow pot, cover with a thin layer of soil and water.
Once the shoots are around 5-10cm tall which should take around 2 weeks, snip them back to the base and add to a salad. The shoots will re-grow a second time as an added bonus, then add the soil mixture to the compost, and start again. Herbs are also great to grow on a windowsill, such as basil, coriander and mint. As herbs are used little and often, children will enjoy their produce being used daily.
Sunflowers are fantastic to grow in the kitchen garden as they attract pollinators to the area, such as bees. Sow sunflowers on a windowsill in April, or directly where they are to grow once the frosts have passed, around mid-May. If growing inside, plant these outdoors at the end of May. They will get very tall, so will need something to support them, such as a bamboo pole, stake, or side of the house. Keep them well watered and tie them in regularly. Sunflower petals are edible and a few can be scattered on a summer salad. The seeds are also edible and can be dried in the oven for eating, although I like to leave them on the plants for the birds to eat in Autumn.
Hopefully growing your own food will inspire children to eat their vegetables and enjoy time being active in the garden. If they decide they would possibly like to work in a kitchen garden when older, then help them to find a site to grow, such as part of the garden or a small section of an allotment plot. There are many apprenticeships available, at gardens such as Kew, but also on market gardens and farm where they can nurture their skills.”
We’re celebrating Earth Day by giving our customers a free packet of bee-friendly Keylime Pie Sunflower Seeds from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew & Wakehurst*.
Plant them in your garden to encourage wildlife to thrive.
*on UK orders over £20. T&Cs apply.
About Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew & Wakehurst
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation, and sustainable development in the UK and around the world.
Kew Gardens expands over 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, are two of the top attractions when visiting London and the surrounding areas. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 260th anniversary in 2019.
Wakehurst is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world! And expands over 500 acres of the world’s plants including temperate woodlands, ornamental gardens, and a nature reserve. It is situated in the High Weald of Sussex, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and focuses on wild plant collections. The Millennium Seed Bank houses and protects seed from the world’s most substantial and diverse collection of threatened and useful wild plants, making it the most biodiverse place on earth.