Gardener Hollie Newton started growing veg, flowers and herbs from the pint-sized garden of her rented London flat. Realising that there wasn’t much advice on the market for the aspiring urban gardener, she decided to write her own book – How to Grow – full of practical advice as well as recipes to inspire you to cook with your homegrown produce. And now that Spring is on its way, Belle sat down with her to grab five minutes of inspiration.
We’re all after ways to make our lives less stressful and more mindful. How has gardening given you a better sense of well-being and how do you think it can help others?
At its simplest, you find yourself going outside more. Popping out to check on the sweet peas before work. Quickly picking a few tomatoes for dinner. Merrily covering yourself with dirt after on a Tuesday evening as you plant some baby beetroot. It might only be a few minutes here and there, but the cumulative effect is enormous. A proper reconnection with the natural world that has, over the years, proved a constant source of calm happiness in the face of a stressful life in London.
When and how did gardening take hold as a hobby for you? Was there a particular flower or plant that changed everything?
It was the joy of our first tiny balcony that did it for me. Roughly the size of an Asda checkout, railings rusted through, and the reason we rented the flat. It wasn’t flowers that sparked my obsession so much as food – we grew trailing tomatoes from a hanging basket, strawberries in a wine box, and tiny yellow courgettes in a large tub. All wonky. All tiny. But to us… Glorious.
Where did you go for advice and help when you were starting out and what were some of the biggest mistakes you made?
Actually, it was downright befuddling when I started. I had all sorts of books, but they seemed to assume a basic level of knowledge that true beginners simply don’t possess. I didn’t even know how to get a plant out of a pot! Mainly, I learnt through spectacular failure. Accidentally using neat tomato feed and frying the tomatoes. Planting a lovely camellia in the wrong soil and killing it. Getting drunk and falling onto the beetroot. Alan Titchmarsh would despair.
How and why did the idea for a book begin to grow in your mind and how did you go about developing its modern approach with clear design and lovely photography?
When I began there simply wasn’t a gardening book written for me. They were all too technical, too austere, too intimidating, too boring. I needed something that was more like a cookbook – a pic n mix approach, full of colour and inspiration, that let you start with one or two things that took your fancy, then build from there. So I wrote one!
Young, fresh, bright – and written by someone with a tiny, narrow, 18ft long urban garden and a full-time job. I’m a creative director by trade, so design, photography and layouts occupy roughly 80% of my brain at any time. This book needed to feel modern, accessible and above all… Joyful. In many ways, though evidently a book about gardening, it is in fact a book about happiness.
Have you inspired friends and family to be more green-fingered?
I have! Mainly by foisting plants and trees on them as presents. I often give design and layout advice over a boozy dinner. As is traditional.
You’ve got an urban garden – what are your top tips for a beginner urban gardener on plants to grow and plants to avoid?
I’d start with easy, disease-resistant pre-grown little plants. Tomatoes, courgettes, rainbow chard and beetroot. You have enough to learn without worrying about seeds.
- How to Grow by Hollie Newton is published by Orion Spring and is on sale now for £20, eBook £11