We asked Ana to share with us her journey into gardening and how she became passionate about growing heirloom vegetables.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, my name is Ana, only one ‘n’, named after my Abuela (Spanish Nan), my insta account is @mrs.r_garden_life and I live in Hooton, Cheshire. I live with my husband David and two teenage children. I love gardening and have always had veggie patches at home, when the teens where younger they’d ‘help’ out and I’d always see them wandering round the garden snacking on something that they’d picked. Once they turned 12-13 years old I didn’t see them in the garden for dust "it’s not cool". I’ve had hens for the last 15 years on and off, always rescue girls that were caged, it’s so rewarding to see them live the life that they were meant to. We also have Darcey a Doberman.
What was your introduction into gardening?
My Mum was always out in the garden, digging and planting, moving shrubs from one place to another. However, I think having a school project to grow something edible really opened my eyes, I decided that I would grow carrots, with my Granddad’s help in his garden. He prepared the bed and we planted the seeds, voila the most amazing carrots grew. Something that I hasten to add I have never been able to successfully grow since!
Who’s your gardening inspiration and why?
Monty Don, Gardener’s World was possibly one of the only gardening programmes on TV when I had my first home and garden. He’s so knowledgeable and passionate about growing it’s infectious. However closer to home it would have to be my Mum and Granddad. Granddad grew the most amazing peonies, one of my favourite flowers, incredible roses that until recently I’ve only just become a lover of, however they must be scented. When I was younger Mum had to be the most glamorous gardener I’ve ever seen, she’d be out in the garden spade in hand wearing wedges digging through pure clay.
What do you enjoy about gardening?
I absolutely love sowing seeds and strangely enough pricking out and potting on. It’s fab being on my own in the greenhouse in a relaxed environment knowing what they’ll hopefully grow into.
My least favourite job must be pulling up bindweed, you just know it’s only a matter of time before it sprouts again! Although having said that it’s finally after almost 3 years disappearing in places.
Tell us about your gardening experiences?
When I’ve grown edibles at home on a smaller scale than an allotment plot, it’s been so much easier as you just have to pop out of the back door and it’s all there. However, when I got the allotment almost 3 years ago, it literally hadn’t been touched for 14 years. There was nothing there of any use which in some ways looking back was good as it was a blank canvas. We have a lot of rabbits about so the entire plot had to be fenced and even now they do sometimes get in and munch their way through beds. Slugs are another big issue, my answer was to put a pond in, in the hope that frogs and toads would keep the numbers down. The growing fails are great, I learn from them and don’t take it for granted that so long as I sow the seeds, I’ll get a crop which is maybe why I always oversow!
How did you get into the growing heirloom vegetables and selling them?
I’ve always loved unusual, so finding seeds and growing out of the ordinary coloured fruit and vegetables was a natural step for me. I’m fascinated by heirloom | heritage varieties given that they’ve been passed down through generations within families or in communities. I stumbled into selling the seeds, I’ve always saved my own seeds, way more than I needed just for me to use so I shared them with friends and it just expanded from there.
What makes heirloom tomatoes so special to you?
That’s quite simple they taste so much better than hybrids, the seeds have been selected over many years for certain traits, size, colour, shape, and taste. Hybrids are mostly bred to have a high yield, good storage, and disease resistance to name a few, however this also comes at the expense of flavour.
Heirloom tomatoes also breed true, so if you save seeds, the plant that you grow will be like the parent plant that you saved the seeds from. Hybrid seeds don’t always breed true, if you saved seeds to grow on you could end up with a plant that resembles another plant entirely. That’s if they grow at all as some will produce seeds that are sterile. You’ll then have to keep buying seeds year after year to get the same hybrid plants.
What are your top 5 unusual edibles and why should we try them?
Heirloom tomatoes, I can guarantee that the taste alone will be like no other tomato that you’ve ever tasted, and the colours are something else.
Oca I grew these for the first time last year, the tubers were gifted to me by an Instagram friend Sam. Originally from South America it’s a root vegetable, however frost susceptible. The stems and leaves are edible as are the tubers that come in several colours. They taste like lemony potatoes when cooked.
Achocha another South American edible, so easy to grow in the UK and will cover a trellis in no time. Great in stir fries with a taste between cucumber and green bell peppers.
Kohlrabi, although a brassica they’re so easy to grow, the purple varieties are absolutely stunning. Can be eaten raw in a salad, or made into coleslaw, they taste amazing roasted or cut into wedges and cooked in the air fryer.
Cape Gooseberry, also known as ground cherry or physalis. They look like little orange cherry tomatoes that you unwrap from their paper lanterns. Unfortunately, they aren’t winter hardy in the UK and I treat them as an annual.
What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life & why do you feel gardening is important?
Gardening is a huge part of my life, the benefits to my mental health and wellbeing are immeasurable. There’s nothing quite like getting outside in the fresh air with your hands in the soil watching everything growing around you. My allotment is my happiest of places, my husband and the teens don’t want to go there so it’s my oasis of calm. I can rattle off a list of jobs or just sit and watch nature at work.
How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?
I practice no dig both at home and the plot, I garden organically and never use pesticides instead I companion plant, sometimes it works and others it doesn’t, that’s just nature. Nettle and comfrey feeds are the way to go. I make as much of my own compost as I can. I plant a lot of flowers for pollinators. This year I’ve seen for myself the decline in the numbers of bees, ladybirds, butterflies etc which is alarming.
What are your future plans for your garden?
The plot is and will always be a work in progress, I guess. Every year there’s something that I want to change or move around or add. This year I moved the compost bays from where I’d initially built them. Next on the agenda is removing half the artichoke bed as it’s way too big for the number that we eat and I let flower.
Thank you to Ana for taking the time to share her gardening journey with us. We stock some of Ana's heirloom tomatoes on our website so go take a look and if you want to try your hand at growing something really special go take a look at Ana's Etsy store, Seed Envy.