Think limited outdoor space makes gardening impossible? Think again! Here organic urban gardener Claire Ratinon talks finding space to grow in the city and which plants every gin lover should have on their windowsill.
Where does your passion for gardening and nature stem from?
While I was living in New York, working as a documentary film maker, I chanced upon a rooftop farm called Brooklyn Grange. I became completely infatuated with the place and started volunteering there every weekend. The time I spent on that sunny roof, picking tomatoes and peppers in sight of the NYC skyline, led me back to London, in the hope that I could make growing a bigger part of my life.
When I moved to Hackney, I started volunteering with Growing Communities, a social enterprise working to bring organic produce to the city and support farmers growing sustainably. As a Patchwork Farmer, I now run a small Organic certified site in Stoke Newington, where I grow salad leaves, fruit, herbs - and whatever I can find room for!
What are some of the tricks and techniques you’ve learned that keen gardeners, wherever their patch may be, can learn from?
I would encourage anyone with a little space to grow outside to plant some perennial herbs, like rosemary, and to find some room for raspberry canes. They are simple to take care of and so generous in their abundance.
Also, if your garden has been paved over, don’t despair. It’s simple and inexpensive to build a straightforward planter. They’re great for getting kids into growing, as the plants have a bit more protection, and for those who struggle with kneeling or bending down.
What are your tips for people keen to get involved with gardening in the city?
If, like me, you don’t have any outside space to grow, think creatively!
There are plenty of herbs (parsley, coriander, basil) and salad plants that will live happy life as long as you’ve got somewhere bright to put them and keep them watered. Plants in pots have a limited amount of nutrition in their soil, so don’t fret if you can’t keep your herbs alive for months and months.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny balcony, even more is possible. There are some varieties of tomatoes that will produce an impressive amount of fruit even when they’re grown in a pot or hanging basket, as long as they get plenty of light and a regular feed.
The most important thing is to not be afraid to give something a try! People often get worried when things don’t go to plan, but nature isn’t predictable. Shelter your plants from hail storms, give them extra water when it’s hot and don’t worry too much.
What are some of the easiest things to grow – inside, in the front garden, or on balconies – that can be used to garnish or infuse gin?
Herbs, herbs, herbs! They’re stupidly expensive to buy from the shops and many are super easy to grow - plus there are way more exciting varieties than the supermarket ever stock. There are so many types of mint, it’s incredible. If you haven’t tried pineapple mint or apple mint, add it to your to-do list!