Green Gardeners’ Guild Chat With: @pumpkins_etc

Welcome back to another edition of our Green Gardeners Guild fortnightly chats with some wonderfully inspirational gardeners! This week, we caught up with Kate from pumpkins_etc on Instagram. We were inspired by not only her wonderful allotment, but her fantastic eco-friendly messages that she commits to.

Take it away and tell us all about yourself and the green gardening space you tend to, Kate!

Kate from pumpkins_etc smiling and showing a rhubarb crop.

“Hello, my name is Kate and I live in London. this is going to sound corny but in the garden is where I feel like myself. Plants don’t judge you, I can experiment and fail and it’s ok. I can be creative and nurturing and there are just so many possibilities to what you can achieve. my plot is my happy space, I love to just sit with a cup of tea and look around knowing I created this little patch. I also just feel so calm when I am gardening.

[I typically grow] veggies and companion plants – the ones that draw pollinating insects towards my crops. There are some really lovely ones, from calendula to my favourite little bee magnets, cerinthe. I only have a small plot so I try to cram in as much as possible! I admit, I do love having dahlias in the garden though, they are stunning and just keep on going ‘till the first frosts.”

Dahlias are a beautiful addition to any garden – and did you know that they will grow in coir? Many who take dahlia cuttings can grow them out in coconut coir. The reason that coir makes a suitable growing media is that its unique texture makes it the perfect base for new roots to grow through. Coir is light and airy with a spongy texture, allowing it to support seedlings and mature plants aplenty. Adding perlite to the mixture – or if you purchase it already added in our Coco Grow+ for example! – makes the mixture even more porous. Take a look at the options available for your garden plants.

Kate’s allotment is certainly beautiful, and she takes a great deal of care to ensure it is tended to well. When asked what type of gardener Kate would consider herself to be, and whether it is a family project, she responded: “Definitely a daily gardener when work allows, little and often means the big jobs don’t feel so big if that makes sense? When I have had a stressful day I often come home and sow a few seeds, do some potting on or pruning etc, or even just walking around to see what has changed since yesterday. It just allows me to take a beat.

Kate and a pumpkin grow in her own allotment.

Most of the time it’s just me, but my daughter enjoys helping out at the allotment. She is chief waterer and has her own raised bed and a little cherry tree that she is very proud of! She eats cucumbers like they are apples, so this year she grew her very own! She also likes to get crafty with leaves, sticks, seeds etc whilst I crack on with a few jobs. In the garden the cats like to keep me company and even have their own beds in the zippy greenhouse.“

Pets are pretty fun gardening companions, if we do say so ourselves! (Even if some of them, like our own, can be a little more ‘get stuck into the mud’ than ‘helping out’!) We have questions at times about the safety of coir being used around pets, and we are happy to say that coir is completely safe for use around your animals! The ‘coco’ in the name is not from the toxic cocoa plant, but from the coconut. Dogs and cats will have no issues with coir being used around your garden. Perfect for keeping their paws and lifestyles safe while your plants make the most of your new soil mixture.

As with all of our featured gardeners, we love to ask about the good and the bad of gardening. We all face challenges along the way, trial and error aplenty, and there are various levels of experience to be found within our wonderful hobby. When chatting with Kate, we wanted to know how experienced she is with her garden, and the sorts of challenges she has faced along the way:

“When I was not much older then my daughter is now, I had a small patch of earth next to my dads shed, and it was mine to do with as I pleased. I think I grew wildflowers and possibly peas in it, haha. The gardening bug definitely runs in my family, from allotmenteers to highly accomplished floral growers, so I think it’s in my blood. I still use quite a few of both my dad and grandad’s tools now which is a lovely connection to them since they both passed away.

Before I got my allotment I had been growing my own food in pots for many years, so don’t let lack of space put you off.  I would say I’m fairly avid gardener, but there is most definitely always more to learn!

I struggle a lot with my mental health and it really is that thing that grounds me (no pun intended!) when I am in the garden or down the plot my mind stops whizzing and I can take a breath. Fingers in the dirt, that honest connection with nature forces us to stop and take note of what is around us, I often find myself sitting watching the birds or butterflies and without realising it find myself with a silly grin on my face!

Growing your own, be it veg or flowers, is so rewarding. Making a meal and being like “I grew that” is awesome, it just is!”

When it comes to those pesky challenges, Kate noted hers: “I think it’s probably space. I have a very small allotment yet I like crops that take up a lot of space, such as pumpkins and squash. To help with this I grow vertically as much as I can. I have archways and obelisks and you would be surprised what you can grow this way. On my arches I usually grow smaller pumpkins (up to about Uchiki Kuri size I would say) along with cucumbers, beans and sweet peas. This year I also tried growing tomatoes up an obelisk and it was such a success, I had hundreds of tomatoes from one plant. Definitely doing that again next year!”

A large tomato plant from Kate at pumpkins_etc.

With there still being challenges to face, it is not deterring Kate from looking ahead to the future of her allotment! When asked how she would score her garden, she told us all about the ways she would love to be able to improve on her overall garden vision, Kate said: “Oh gosh I have so many things I would love to do, from landscaping to chopping half the height off my neighbours huge sycamore tree (honestly it’s taller than my house!) would love a real greenhouse, but I make do with a zippy that serves me well. But having said that I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect garden. I believe they should always be evolving as well as suit the needs of the occupants. So for example, my daughter has a playhouse and a trampoline – not what I would choose but it’s her garden as much as it’s mine and I can soften the play areas with planting.

For one of our final topics, we asked about something we at Coco&Coir are very passionate about: sustainable gardening. Coir is one of the most sustainable (and accessible) peat alternatives on the market for both outdoor and indoor gardening. Switching to sustainable products allows your garden to thrive – without harming the environment. Kate’s green space is particularly wonderful with her approach to protecting and promoting the preservation of wildlife areas: “I definitely try to be [sustainable]. We take a wildlife friendly approach, so no chemicals, we put in a pond, I try to grow a range of native and heritage plants, I do no mow may,  we feed the birds and have bug hotels dotted around. Obviously I use peat free composts, and in pots I mix this with coir. On my wish list is a water butt, this years droughts taught me I really could be much better in conserving water, so that’s something for me to work on. “

Bumblebee on top of Kate's wrist, beside a watered flower.

Lastly – we know, this is sad for us to be saying goodbye too! – we asked Kate our timeless question: just what sort of tropical plant would you grow in your garden if you were able?

“Oooh! I am obsessed with tree ferns, they are amongst the oldest surviving plants in the world and just extraordinary! I do have a baby one but would love an an actual tree sized one! The rate they grow I doubt I’ll see mine become a tree, but hopefully my daughter will!”

A huge thank-you to Kate for all of her wonderful answers to our questions. We were delighted to be able to have such fantastic answers – and hope that our Green Gardeners have all learned just as much as we have from you. Follow Kate on Instagram to keep up with updates to her allotment, and catch up with Coco&Coir too for all your sustainable growing media hints, tips, and tricks.

Have your own story you’d like to share? Get involved and get in touch with us – we’d love to feature you!