Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Stuart (aka MrGoodRootsBarn). I was born in South Africa and lived there until I was 14, when I moved to England with my family. I’ve been married to Sandy for 8 years now and have a son, Noah who is 19 months old. Being born in South Africa, kind of means you are exposed to the outdoors, so I have always loved being outdoors and often barefoot too (so much so, that about the 3rd or 4th time Sandy’s mum saw me, she pulled Sandy aside and asked her “Stuart does own shoes?” – this still makes us chuckle to this day). I love sports and currently play cricket for a local village called Chagford.
What was your introduction into gardening?
Depends on what you call gardening. Having such an outdoor lifestyle in South Africa I was exposed to garden maintenance and maybe the odd ‘gardening’ when playing sports in the back garden. Growing up in South Africa, we had a gardener, who, as I got older (between 10-14), would allow me to ‘help’ out, I mean, I am not sure how much help I was. Helping out involved mowing the lawn and raking up leaves or building forts from branches and sticks that were from the pruned trees.
I would say the major introduction would be my granddad’s farm, where he grew several crops, which were taken to market. Yes, I did get to go with him and yes, I did get to ‘drive’ the tractors on the farm.
I suppose what I would call “the true” introduction to gardening, would be when I moved in with Sandy in a rented house with a garden. Sandy loves gardening and it was here, in our first rented house, that she shared her passion, skill & knowledge of growing vegetables and having house plants…and as they say, the rest is history.
Who’s your gardening inspiration and why?
For me, it is a no brainer. The biggest inspiration is Sandy because of her passion, knowledge and love of growing everything & anything and giving things a go. She is also passionate about the planet and set up Good Roots Barn, to spread the word about the amazing plastic free gardening products that are out there but seem to be being kept in the shadows. She also quit her well paid office job to pursue a career in horticulture, which I think takes a lot of guts and in itself is very inspiring. The other big inspiration would be my Granddad and what it took to farm the land.
Away from family, I think there are a number of people on social media that are inspiring, to name a few; Freddie Borland, James Martin, The Bearded Growers, Skinny Jean Gardener, Nik Coleman. Further afield, I would say Monty Don, Adam Frost, Nick Bailey, Frances Tophill and Arit Anderson.
And of course, all the gardeners that send their videos into Gardeners World…they are all inspiring and I can always take something from those videos.
What do you enjoy about gardening?
I am not sure what I enjoy about gardening specifically…there is just something about it, about being in the garden, about planting a seed, harvesting or cutting flowers and seeing nature do its thing.
I suppose just sitting back and taking the time to look at what I or we, (as it is most certainly a joint venture, adventure, and labour of love with Sandy) have done, what we have achieved and what we would like to do next weekend, season, or next year.
If I had to say favourite thing to do in the garden, I would say harvesting our produce or watering. My least favourite, would definitely be picking up and clearing the cat mess, which now seems to be all over the garden and raised planters, not a fun job.
Tell us about your gardening experiences?
There have been lots of ups and downs.
One of the best experiences was growing 20 chillies in a North West facing flat…our window ledges were full of chilli plants and that year we made a lot of chilli jam and chilli dipping sauce. Since then, we have moved to Devon, where we rent a house with a decent sized garden. As we are in rented accommodation, we have built around 16 raised planters and have two “Victorian” wall style wood greenhouses.
Since moving to Devon and building our raised planters, we have grown so many things (and failed at some things too). It is exciting planning and choosing what we want to grow. We haven’t grown anything outrageous yet (there is still time) but probably the most exotic thing we are growing is an avocado from a store bought avocado, which has been amazing to see (we have had a number of false starts with the avocado growing).
It is wonderful watching the garden evolve over time, either by natural growth or by us changing the patio area or the pots in the boarder.
What are your 5 top tips for gardening with a child?
Let them explore and have fun
Be prepared for damage to plants, seedlings and crops
They WILL eat the soil
Give them a set of tools and an area to garden
How do you transfer your plastic free lifestyle into gardening?
This is a challenge…it can be both easy and difficult. The easy part is there is actually a lot of alternatives out there but the difficulty is finding them and getting them delivered plastic free too.
Obviously, I am in a lucky position of being involved in Good Roots Barn and this has certainly helped with bringing my attention to the alternatives out there.
I would say that doing the research and asking questions is the best way to gardening plastic free. There are also plenty of garden centres that now offer loose bulbs and potatoes and there are certainly seed and bulb providers that are slowly moving away from plastic bags.
The biggest issue I have is that there are alternatives, yet they are “hidden” away or plastic bags are still being used when, for example, paper bags are just as good.
We can do better…and we should do better. But don’t get me wrong, we can’t just “throw away” our existing plastic…this would be worse than reusing them until they break and would be irresponsible of us to do so.
What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life & why do you feeling gardening is important?
Gardening has given me a better perspective on life. The biggest is the importance of nurture, in general, if you want your seed to grow, you have to nurture it…look after it by watering, feeding and giving it light. The same should be done for oneself. To be the best you can be, you need to nurture yourself, taking care of yourself is important, both physically and mentally.
How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?
Where do I start?!
I obviously I try garden plastic free as much as possible, for obvious reasons, but I think there is so much in the garden you can do, and most of it is probably second nature, like making compost to saving seeds.
We make our own compost, leaf mould and worm tea & compost. In 2023, we have only bought about 4 bags of peat free compost. We have raised planters and use a no dig policy in these planters and rotate our crops through the years/season.
We try up-cycling as much as possible in the garden, giving things a second life, usually as a planter of some sort. All our planters are made from old pallet wood.
When it comes to plastic, we reuse the pots and trays for as long as possible, before we look to replace them.
The smallest of things can ensure that your garden is contributing to the environment rather than adding to environmental issues.
What are your future plans for your garden?
There are so many plans but because we are in rented accommodation, we really have to think carefully about what we can do. The biggest I think, is to grow less but of better quality. The other ‘wants’ or ‘would be nice to have’ are some more fruit trees for the patio, a few more trees like a Sorbus (mountain ash), getting a hot bin and a, what Sandy would call, a proper greenhouse and potting shed.