Interview: Vera from Grown To Cook
Vera Greutink is a Dutch gardening journalist and published author who is a relatively new Instagram aquaintance of mine. But I just love watching her images pop up on Instagram or watch her Youtube videos. So I thought she would be the perfect person and gardener to start off my new interview series.
Vera has a wealth of practical knowledge and grows more food on her 1/4 acre plot than I have ever done in the unlimited space that I have available here on the farm (although I am hoping to change that over time of course) which proves that it is NOT a question of size.
Living in the city or only having a small back yard available is no excuse to not start growing the things you most want to eat if that is something you dream of.
All photos in this post are from Vera and not taken by me (but I plan to visit her garden in the near future at which point I will of course share my photos from that visit here on the blog too :-)
What first sparked your garden interest?
When I was about ten, my parents started a vegetable garden and from the beginning I was hooked. Sometimes I jokingly call myself ‘Flying gardener’ – if I am anywhere for more than two weeks, I’ll probably start a garden. Every summer we spend a few weeks at my parents’ place in the Czech Republic and even when I’m on vacation I garden all the time. Over the years, I’ve added many herbs, flowers and fruit trees to their garden – luckily my parents do not mind!
What is the most beautiful or inspiring garden you have ever seen with your own eyes?
I really love old walled kitchen gardens. There is a lot inspiration to be found there, even for small urban gardens – for example the way every wall is utilized to grow suitable fruit trees. The best example I’ve seen so far is the beautiful garden at West Dean in England. Accidentally, it was the first garden I ever wrote an article about when I was starting as a garden writer.
Do you grow edibles or flowers or both?
Both! I am glad our current garden is big enough so that I do not have to choose. Our previous plot was much smaller and so I prioritised edibles, but even then I had a little strip with perennial cut flowers like helenium, helianthus and peonies along the edge of the plot.
Do you grow organic?
Of course! It has never even occurred to me not to – it baffles me when I see gardeners spraying crops that they’re going to eat and not making that connection. But how we garden has much wider implications than just our personal health. Whenever I start a garden, my goal is to leave the soil in better shape than it was, not polluted and depleted.
Why have you chosen permaculture to be the baseline of your growing?
I learned about permaculture in 1999 and it just immediately ‘clicked’ for me – in my eyes permaculture is a very pragmatic design system that you can use in any area of your life, not just for gardening. For example, the design principle ‘every element in a design should fulfil multiple functions and every function should be fulfilled by several elements’ can be applied to anything from water supply for your garden, a hedge or the way you generate income.
Are you experimenting/growing something new this year?
I am working on a new book which is taking up a lot of my time, so I tried to limit my experiments this years, but I always get tempted by new varieties. This year I’m doing a small lettuce trial and a trial of 12 different varieties of leaf mustard. I’m also growing some new annual cut flowers – you see how easily it gets out of hand!
What challenges do you face in your specific area/country/climate? And have you found a "solution" or a way to work around or with those challenges?
I live in a fairly cold climate with a relatively short growing season. Increasingly, the weather is becoming unpredictable. Last year, for example, we had a very mild winter, very cold spring with severe frost in April and a wet and cool summer. I find the best insurance against the vagaries of the weather is to grow a wide variety of crops – no matter what weather we get, something will do well! Also, perennial vegetables (such as Good King Henry and perennial kale) are generally more robust and we grow a lot of these as well.
What is your favourite task in the garden?
There is honestly no job in the garden I do not enjoy: from spreading compost, sowing, weeding to watering and harvesting. I prefer turning a compost heap to going to the gym since that way I can both get exercise and do something useful!
What is your least favourite task in the garden?
One thing I do not enjoy is washing the wooden edges of my raised beds every spring. They are treated with organic linseed oil based paint and have a very pretty blue colour but get a little muddy in the course of a season. Last year a friend offered to do it and I was very grateful!
How much do your family and friends or others participate in the work in the garden?
My husband and I do most of the work, but we get help from friends and family with occasional bigger jobs like digging a pond or building the greenhouse. My children are teenagers and not interested in gardening at all at the moment. But they have learned a lot about gardening when they were younger and maybe they’ll come back to it one day. In any case, they love the fresh homegrown produce!
Who or what inspires you?
I learned the most about gardening from my favourite garden writers: Joy Larkcom, Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, Sarah Raven and Charles Dowding – I can heartily recommend any of their books. Recently, I’m finding inspiration from fellow-gardeners on YouTube – my all-time favourite channel is One Yard Revolution.
When do you feel most at peace, calm or like yourself?
Apart from my daily meditation practice, I feel most at peace in the garden – I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be!
What is your favourite dish to cook using produce from your own garden?
Every season brings its own produce and I have different favourite dishes at different times of the year. Now that spring is finally beginning, I’m looking forward to cooking with nettles, asparagus and spinach. One of my all-time favourite dishes is this spinach and spring herb torta in a potato crust
What makes you angry/lights a fire under you?
The slow response of humankind to climate change! It is maddening that even now there are people denying it is a severe problem.
What has been your biggest failure/learning experience in your garden?
My very first garden was a plot of about two square metres I made when I was ten – it was under an acacia tree and it failed miserably. I learned that, above all, annual vegetables need a lot of sun to thrive. Every garden I made since has taught me something – about different soil types and microclimates.
What do you dream of for the future of your garden and gardening life?
I want to plant more unusual fruit trees and bushes and test how they perform in our climate. Just this weekend we planted two hybrid rowan berries (hybrids of rowan, chokeberry and Siberian hawthorn). They are handsome little trees with pretty blossom, beautiful fall colour and edible berries that I cannot wait to taste. The beauty of gardening is that there is always more to explore – you’re never done learning.