Meet the Team

Fran Smith - the quirky gardener (or so she likes to think)

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I come from a long line of gardeners in my family. I can remember my granny digging up paving stones outside her front door so she could plant a garden. It was abundant and full of wonderous plants all year round! My granny never went anywhere without a pair of sharp scissors, a wad of kitchen roll, a plastic bag and a bottle of water. These were her ‘that’s a nice plant’’ and with a snip she had a little cutting tucked away in her handbag before anyone could notice. It’s a wonder she never got caught, but she never did and she grew fabulous plants for her friends, neighbours and family at very low cost. I learnt everything I know about taking cuttings and propagation from her, so thanks Gran.

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My mum and dad kept up the family gardening tradition, with 5 young children in a tiny flat with a concrete yard they made the most of every inch of space using pots, pans, buckets, welly boots, kitchen sinks and old bathtubs in which to grow, and grow and grow!!! I remember our old bathtub full of the most magnificent strawberries. Oh, their joy when they finally got an allotment and my mum could grow flowers galore and my dad could indulge his obsession with growing food, food, food. He was a war baby and I think he just wanted to keep us all well-fed (and save money)! Their first harvest ever on that allotment was green lentils! Most people were growing potatoes, but my parents had to be quirky. 

I grew up on that allotment absorbing gardening knowledge left right and centre including all about wildlife gardening, native species and making habitats. My sister built dry stone wall habitats, dug ponds and planted a native wildflower meadow, so in its time it was quite a ‘quirky’ plot.  I wasn’t really into it as a teenager, I sort of lost the plot (sorry about that pun) but when I rediscovered it later on, well there was no stopping me. I even had to go off to College and do a bit of training in Horticulture.

The photos above are of my sister, who I think is a quirkier gardener than me, and my grand-niece who is starting to learn about herbs. My sister is currently into making dyes in her garden with vegetable peelings - something I hope we can do in our Community Plant Nursery!

I still have that lovely allotment and its where I test out my gardening ideas and nature experiments, many of which I have used as activities with We Can Grow. I like to think I am really productive on the allotment but often its where I just hang out to relax and get in touch with nature. I listen to the birds and watch the frogs and foxes. This year was going to be the 40th year on the plot, give or take a year or two as no one can agree when we got it. The Big Party, well that will have to wait now as this business with that coronavirus has put those plans on hold, never mind. I shall just keep on gardening and know that my grandmother would be really proud especially as I have 2 nephews working in horticulture now and we have got the newest member of the family interested too.

My best tip; on creating gardeners for life - start them young! Let them play and absorb nature. Learn together, share knowledge, make habitats, grow food, discover bio-diversity. Every gardener has their own way of doing things, has their own story to tell, different advice to give, take it all in and work out what you want. Work with the space you have and never ever stop gardening. I was going to include a photo here of my half blind, half deaf 89 year old father on his mobility scooter still weeding with an ergonomic hoe so his 85 year old wife (my lovely mum) could plant the runner beans but I thought that was going a bit too far.

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