Ipswich-based property developer doubles as self-sufficient organic gardener


Isn’t it funny how, at a certain age, you realise that many of the people you’ve known for years have apparently ‘suddenly’ got into gardening? I’m not sure if it’s actually an age thing – it clearly isn’t as the growing number of young gardening bloggers shows – or just the fact that you’re hearing more about your friends’ gardens and seeing the results of their gardening endeavours thanks to social media.

I recently noticed that an old friend (‘less of the old’, he’ll say!) was posting some amazing pictures of his garden and the things he’s been growing on Instagram (@jemsgardening). I’ve known Jeremy and his wife Julia for years, since our children were in junior school, and as far as I knew, Jeremy was a very busy businessman, and not someone I’d imagined digging a veg patch or pottering in a potting shed, so I got in touch to find out more.

I started by asking Jeremy when he’d got interested in gardening? I was interested to find out if it was a new thing for him or if he’d gardened with his parents or a grandparent?

“I really started gardening about fifteen years ago. When I was a child, my father grew some vegetables and fruit, but I was more interested in getting him to play football with me than actually helping him in the garden! I did a day’s gardening course some years ago with my wife Julia, and having eaten the freshly-grown food as part of the day, we realised that home-grown food is just so much tastier than shop-bought food. So it’s fair to say that my real interest started in my adult years.”

Jeremy lives in a lovely house just outside Ipswich in Suffolk and I wondered if he had laid out his beautiful kitchen garden or if it had already been there when he and his family moved in.

“I actually started with just a small area of the garden where I planted some herbs, along with a few simple salad and vegetable seeds. I quickly learnt some simple lessons – like don’t plant mint without restricting it! Although the amount of produce was initially small, it was, as I’d hoped, so much tastier than anything we could buy and I quickly became hooked. After a couple of years, I had outgrown my mini-plot and decided to convert the old ‘kitchen garden’ back to its original use. I prepared a simple plan on paper, creating a design of raised beds and fruit cages. I already had a greenhouse (actually a vinery) with a mature grape vine inside – but this was just loads of work and produced grapes that I am sure would have made excellent wine, but really weren’t sweet enough to eat raw. So I took out the vine and installed some simple wooden benches. This became my working area under glass, although controlling the heat was a bit of a problem on occasions. About three years ago, we built a potting shed which gave me a few more options and took the messy side of gardening away from the garden itself.

I had seen from Jeremy’s social media posts that he was gardening organically and so I asked him if he’d set out right from the start to keep his garden organic and what his motives were.

“I definitely set out to garden organically as it was quite clear that shop-bought salad leaves in particular simply don’t stay fresh without some fairly serious ‘additives’ being applied. Knowing more about what we were eating as a family and knowing how it had been grown suddenly became more important to me. There has been the odd occasion over the last fifteen years where I have resorted to using a non-natural pesticide, but this is now pretty rare. I think the only times I have resorted to chemicals is when I have been confined by time – as I am still pretty busy with work – or if I really can’t deal with the issue with an effective natural or organic solution.”

I wondered which were Jeremy’s favourite vegetables to grow and which he finds to be the most successful.

“In my earlier gardening years, I tried growing all sorts of things and whilst I am always experimenting, the basic premise is that I only grow things that we as a family want to eat. So there are a few things we no longer grow at all, although I have been known to grow things just because they look nice! My standard year’s crop would comprise about five varieties of lettuce, four or five different varieties of tomato, cucumbers, beetroot, onions, shallots, broad beans, sweetcorn, artichokes, leeks, aubergines, various varieties of squash, marrows and spinach. I rarely grow carrots as my predominantly clay soil is not conducive to growing good carrots – and to get the right conditions for them will require a bit of extra hard work – which will have to wait until I have a bit more time to spare! I also have a bed which provides a constant supply of fresh herbs.”

Jeremy says that he also grows lots of fruit…and has time to grow and maintain a wonderful cutting garden.

“I have fruit cages where I grow redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries and some cultivated blackberries. We have some apple and plum trees in the garden which I largely leave to their own devices – pruning probably every three years, rather than yearly which I would definitely not recommend, but I do get a good crop from them occasionally!”

“As well as growing flowers in the cutting garden, we deliberately allow certain of our vegetables to go to seed to produce wonderful seed heads which we combine with other flowers from the garden to decorate indoors. Leeks and artichokes are our favourites for this.”

I was interested to know how Jeremy and his wife, Julia, managed the gardening chores – including dealing with their abundant crops.

“Julia and I share the bottling, blanching, freezing and preserving of our crops – whatever we don’t eat! We live off salads in the summer and always have a bowl of Sungold tomatoes available for ‘Scooby snacks’ from July to October. If there was one thing I would recommend growing lots of, it would be these – they are just like sweets and you don’t feel guilty eating them!”

Knowing that Jeremy is generally busy with a number of business projects on the go at once, I asked him how much time he is able to spend in the garden.

“Depending on the weather, I probably spend about six or seven hours a week in the garden between March to October. I do have some help at the end of the season when we have a clear-up and dig in our own compost, which we carefully create over a two to three year period.”

He adds:

“I find gardening a very relaxing pastime – watching things grow and sometimes helping them along if they’re struggling, is very therapeutic. Sometimes I put on some music or listen to some sport while I’m gardening; other times, I just use it for thinking time. It entirely depends upon my mood and how much time I have available. It is without question a de-stressing time of the day for me and, except during periods of really bad weather, I will usually make at least two trips out to the garden during the day to either do something specific, or just to potter!”

A big thank you to Jeremy and we look forward to hearing more from him. All the images in the blog are from Jeremy’s instagram account @jemsgardening

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