We asked Jenn to share with us her journey into gardening and how she became passionate about growing trees...from seed.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My names is Jenn and I live in the West Midlands with my husband and two kids, and our cat Lila. I run an Instagram space @jenn_taft where I share a love of growing vegetables, flowers and particularly trees. I love to grow from seed and have a real interest in showing others that growing from seed is achievable.
What was your introduction into gardening?
I got in to gardening through a love of a simpler, and more sustainable, way of living. I wanted to grow more of the food we eat and so started to learn to sow seeds to do so.
Who’s your gardening inspiration and why?
My greatest inspirations are the allotment owners, garden and balcony grower and market growers who happily share all their knowledge so freely. People like Jack and Chris from Food Grower Academy, who are passionate about helping others to grow their own food. That willingness to pass on all they know is inspiring and really refreshing. Seeing others doing what I’m doing and making it work is always a great drive to try harder, to try new methods and to just give growing a go.
What do you enjoy about gardening?
I love seeing seeds that I have sown starting to grow. Seeing those first tiny green shoots poking above the soil surface is always wonderful! Nurturing seedlings and helping them to grow is always a real pleasure. I don’t think I have a least favourite job, because all the garden jobs have the same goal – to help the plants to grow well. The one thing I find I am not good at is taking cuttings and propagating new plants from ones I already have, and that’s been frustrating at times! It’s still an opportunity to learn though, so I will persevere happily.
Tell us about your gardening experiences?
My greatest success is growing so many trees. I would never have imagined being able to do so but I absolutely love it! And I love that I haven’t been growing for too long – only a year properly – but I have learned so much. Every growing success and failure is a chance to improve and do better.
How did you get into growing trees and why a target of 500 trees for 2023?
I got in to growing trees by accident! My daughter had some apple seeds from eating an apple and asked if we could sow them. The seedling that appeared grew quickly, and we became curious as to what other trees we could grow from seed. That was in 2020 and that first apple tree is thriving in our garden. It’s still only about 15cm tall, so doesn’t take up much space, and that’s taught me that we can grow so many more trees because they don’t all become the size of mighty oak trees over night!
The target of 500 trees came about because I wanted a challenge. It didn’t take long to reach 50 tree seedlings early in 2023 and I wanted a target that would push me a bit. We are now at 175 trees and counting, and they still don’t encroach on our garden at all, so 500 trees feels achievable. These trees are in pots, dotted around the garden as companions to other plants, and have also been given away to school gardening clubs and friends. The thought that some of these trees are helping to create greener spaces, and are teaching children to grow their own, is really encouraging and motivating.
Why fruit trees and what is your favourite to grow?
I want to grow as much fruit and veg for my family as I can, so we have less to buy. Growing fruit trees is a great way to achieve this, and we have apples, cherries, grapes, red currants, figs and kiwis all growing together in our garden. Though some of these will take a few years to produce fruit, it’s a lesson in patience to see them grow and to know that one day they will.
Apple trees are definitely my favourite to grow, because the seeds germinate so quickly and seeing those little green seedlings appear is always a pleasure!
What are your top 5 tips for growing fruit trees?
Use the seeds you have to hand – most of our apple trees are grown from the apples we eat. Those seeds are free and very easy to sow and germinate. Will the apples be perfect? Maybe not, but we get these beautiful green trees even if they aren’t. The health benefits of trees are profound, and it can all start with just throwing a seed in a pot. You can also collect acorns, conkers and sycamore ‘helicopters’ to plant, and the trees that sprout from these really are beautiful.
Get kids involved – my son and daughter are both expert tree growers, just through having a go and getting their hands dirty, and they always have a tree or two growing on their windowsills. They have learned how important it is to be able to grow our own food and now know where fruits and vegetables come from, just from getting involved in the growing process.
Grow trees alongside other plants – it is well known that trees help other plants to grow because their root systems can help regulate the water in a growing space. Every pot I have has a tree growing in it, regardless of what else is growing in the pot. Time and time again this has proven to aid the growth of my plants, as well as the tree.
Don’t be afraid to have a go – there are plenty of seeds that I have sown that haven’t germinated, or that may not germinate as quickly as I thought they would! I have seeds that I thought would produce seedlings quickly but in fact won’t be above ground for a year! The lessons are in the trying, and the making of mistakes, and to me that’s what makes gardening so interesting.
You can use any space – we’ve grown trees on windowsills, in raspberry tubs and in tiny little pots that we had going spare. You don’t need a garden to grow trees, you can just pop a seed in a yogurt pot and leave it in the sun by a window. Trees take a long time to grow, so you don’t need to worry about an impending forest when you sow the seed! Most trees stay quite small in size for a few years, so are actually a lovely addition to a home.
What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life & why do you feel gardening is important?
The mental health benefits of gardening are probably the most obvious benefits to me. Focussing on the garden means I can’t focus on anything else at that moment, and that’s extremely calming for the mind. The fresh air and constant movement are also greatly beneficial to my health.
Gardening is important to me because of the impact it has on us as a family. It gets my children outside, it teaches them new skills, and will also provide fresh food for us to cook with. The simplicity, and slower pace, that this helps afford our daily life is much needed in such a busy economy.
How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?
I try to make sure all waste is re-used. Nearly all garden waste finds it’s way to the compost bin, and any packaging is reused, usually for storing seeds or as a brown layer in the compost bin, or as liners for pots and baskets.
The trees we grow are also having a big impact on the environment – in their lifetime they will each remove around 10kg of carbon dioxide from the air, as well as other harmful particulates, giving us some really clean air. If I hit my 500 tree target that’s 5000kg of carbon dioxide! If we all grew a handful of trees imagine the impact that would have on our climate.
What are your future plans for your garden?
I plan to grow even more vegetables, and to grow a wider variety of trees. I know we can grow fruit trees easily from seed, but I would love to experience the growing process for other trees as well. And, of course, the future holds a couple hundred more trees, so I will be finding homes for them in our garden and hopefully with others too.
Thanks to Jenn for taking the time to share her journey with us, don't forget to continue to follow Jenn's journey on Instagram @jenn_taft