Kirsty Ward - The Gardener Teaching Us How To Grow Our Own

Posted by Amber Williams on 1st Feb 2023

Kirsty Ward - The Gardener Teaching Us How To Grow Our Own

Want to learn more about growing an allotment with success?

We've spoken with the allotment lover, Kirsty Ward, asking for her top tips for growing an allotment for beginners while sticking to a budget!

Looking for a calming outlet and hobby, Kirsty found her way to gardening. With next to no experience, she's grown her allotment and flower garden from the ground up (literally!) and shares her new-found knowledge on her Instagram and YouTube channel.

Thank you for speaking with us! What has been your favourite part about starting your own allotment?

It feels like yesterday I started my allotment plot, but it’s been 6 years and the time has absolutely flown. I’ve loved every second of having my own allotment and I took on the plot for personal reasons after suffering a bad mental health breakdown in 2017. In March 2017 I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) following a difficult and traumatic pregnancy and birth with my second daughter.

After doing lots of reading about PTSD, I found that focus therapy was beneficial. I had undergone Cognitive behavioural therapy which helped me get back on my feet, but I needed something long-term that could help keep me well. Gardening is an amazing focus therapy hence me taking the plunge and applying for my first plot in April 2017. I have to say the favourite part of starting my own allotment is the fact that it saved my life, it continuously provides me with the space I need to keep my mental health/well-being on the right track and keeps me smiling.

Before you started growing your own produce and plants, did you have previous experience in the garden to help you begin?

When I took on my allotment plot, I had zero experience and the only link I had with growing my own/gardening was spending time with my dad on his allotment when I was a toddler and helping my grandma in her garden watering and deadheading her hanging baskets. I think the great thing about gardening and growing your own fruit and vegetables is that you can just give it a go and learn a lot from your mistakes going from season to season.

In the six seasons I’ve had my plot I’ve grown in confidence and knowledge and feel I can now get on with my growing without really thinking about it.

What would your top gardening tips be for someone with a small garden or a simple terrace/patio?

Small, spaced gardening is one of my favourite topics to talk about, after moving into a house with a small garden and patio area it was a real challenge having a go at growing as much produce as I could in a smaller garden. The main thing to think about is vertical spaces and using any vertical spaces to add more area to grow your own. I made use of fences to add trellis, wall baskets and hanging baskets.

Most small gardening areas like patios, terraces and balconies will mean growing your own in pots and containers, you can use bamboo canes and netting to grow your own climbing plants and vegetables. A top tip for growing in pots and containers is that the soil will dry out quicker so be sure to water well and mulch to the top of pots to help retain moisture.

What are your absolute must-have fruits, vegetables, or plants to grow in the allotment or garden?

I always find it hard to narrow down my favourite things to grow and it does tend to change season by season as I grow more varieties and find even tastier vegetables and fruit.

I think my top 5 currently are:

Mini munch cucumbers - These are amazing snack-sized cucumbers, not only are they just so tasty and fresh when homegrown but they are very prolific and easy to grow. Perfect for starting out on your growing journey and getting children involved.

Strawberries - Must be on the top of anyone’s grow your own; the taste of homegrown strawberries is just spectacular!

Alliums - Easy to plant, easy to care for, perennial, great for bees and pollinators and you can allow the allium flowers to dry out in the garden borders and then use them in dried flower displays.

Garlic and onions - Such a staple in the kitchen and very easy to grow. Garlic cloves and onion sets are planted in the autumn, and you just leave them to it and by the end of spring start of summer, they will be ready to harvest. Onions and garlic store very well so you can grow yourself enough to see you through the year.

Honeycomb cherry tomatoes - Not only are homegrown tomatoes just off the scale in taste, compared to supermarket ones, but this individual variety is incredible. They are really easy to grow, they have lots of vines per plant and their sweet taste is absolutely divine.

What are your favourite plants and produce to grow?

My favourite produce to grow is pumpkins and squash and there are lots of reasons for me to pick this as my top one. Firstly, the number of varieties of squash and pumpkins out there is huge, they come in some incredible shapes and colours, and all have slightly different tastes to them.

They are a fun vegetable to grow, and I find are a great way to get children involved with gardening and growing their own. They are great to grow for decorations at Halloween/autumn and make the best soups. I just find that from sowing that tiny little pumpkin seed and following its incredible growing journey into a seedling, rambling vine, and then producing a wonderful pumpkin is such a wonderful experience to watch.

Do you have any useful tips for beginner gardeners looking to start their first allotment/vegetable patch?

It can be very overwhelming getting started on your allotment or with a new vegetable patch so here are my 3 top tips to get you going.

One bit at a time - When starting an allotment or vegetable patch start one bit at a time, complete it and then move on to the next bit. I made the mistake of starting lots of areas all at once when I first got my plot, and it became so overwhelming as I never finished a job or felt any sense of achievement as I was always chasing my tail trying to get too many areas finished. When I broke it down into smaller spaces and completed a task before moving on to the next it really helped me see the progress and change in my allotment.

Soil prep - Soil prep is key to having a great growing season, make sure you read up on the benefits of digging and no-dig gardens and how you want to prepare and look after your soil throughout the season. I would say that personally going No Dig and Mulching my allotment has made a huge impact on growing seasons.

Frost dates - Make sure you don’t get caught out, it’s very exciting once your seedlings are growing on the windowsills and it can get very tempting to want to plant them out but here in the UK, we can get frosts overnight up until May. Please check online for the frost dates for your local area and only plant out once the risk of frost has passed. You don’t want to lose those lovely little plants you have spent months growing.

What are your top money-saving tips for budding allotmenteers?

There are so many ways you can save money on your allotment plots, and I am forever looking for bargains. One of the main things you can do to help keep costs down is to make your own compost, make this a priority when you get you first get your allotment plot and build yourself a compost bay. You can easily source free wood and pallets by searching on Facebook marketplace and asking other allotmenteers and local businesses. I find that Facebook marketplace is a great place to source lots of freebies and materials that you can use in your gardens and on your allotment plots.

Do a seed swap online, or with other allotment holders. Seed packets always have way more seeds than you need for the season so it’s easy to arrange seed swaps to get more varieties and help reduce costs. The other way to then reduce costs for seeds and plants is to save your own seeds at the end of the season and collect them yourself. You can also propagate plants and divide tubers, all of which help to save you money. You may also find that on most allotment sites there are share benches where you can pick up free items and you can leave things for others.

What gardening trend are you loving at the moment?

I just love how accessible gardening information is now, you can hop on any social media platform and watch a 1–3-minute video that has all you need to know on any subject when it comes to gardening. I feel that social media reels and videos have really helped make gardening fun again and show how gardening can be accessible to everyone.

When you first started your allotment, was there anything that you were most excited to start growing?

Mostly my allotment was for me to grow my own fruit and vegetables and give myself the head space I needed but it didn’t take long for me to realise how much joy the allotment brought me in so many other ways. Growing flowers, watching the birds, and just thoroughly enjoying and immersing myself in the allotment. I thought growing my own fruit and vegetables was what I would enjoy the most but have to say very quickly I started to see how much joy growing my own flowers gave me.

It all started off with me having no knowledge of what I was doing and picking up some gladioli bulbs and dahlia tubers sort of by accident from my local garden centre a couple of weeks after getting the keys to my plot. Little did I know this was where the obsession for dahlias would start, now I have a huge bed on the allotment where I grow my own dahlias, filling it with around 20-30 different varieties of tubers. I’ve started to really enjoy growing other flowers from seed and filling all the gaps with lots of different types of pollinating flowers I can. I now grow cosmos, zinnias, lavender, nasturtiums, cornflowers, calendula, alliums, crocus, dahlias, and borage.

Do you have any big plans coming up, either in the allotment or career-wise that we should look out for

I have lots of big plans for the allotment, there are a few areas on the plot that need sorting so I can use 100% of my allotment space, ready for the 2023 season. I’ve just started my new YouTube channel, and I am excited to be showcasing my growing journey on the allotment and in my garden on there as well as on my other social media sites.

I am also working on a big gardening project for a company in Lincoln, turning their unused outdoor area into a big allotment, garden, and wildlife space. I hope to be showcasing more of my gardening work online too. I would really love to do another show garden again so that may be something I will be looking into and hopefully doing again this year or next. 

Want to learn more about Kirsty Ward and stay up to date with her allotment successes? You can follow her on Instagram, or keep up with her YouTube channel to learn more about gardening!