With the launch of the second edition of the RHS Step-by-Step Veg Patch published by Dorling Kindersley in February 2020, we met up with the book’s author Lucy Chamberlain who kindly gave us an insight into her interesting and varied horticultural career.
Lucy grew up on her parents’ market garden in Essex, which encouraged her interest in gardening and growing, ultimately leading to her following a career in horticulture. “I have fond memories of polishing tomatoes with a cloth that were destined for London markets – I was about three years old, and ever since I can remember I’ve had a passion for gardening, especially growing fruits, herbs and vegetables. Being brought up on a market garden was such a magical experience. I was immersed in the cultivation of lettuces, courgettes, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and a myriad of other crops – from such a young age that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I did consider floristry for a while but growing was my real passion.”
Having attained a degree in plant science, Lucy went on to have a diverse career in horticulture. “I studied plant science for five years after my A-levels, at Writtle and Wye colleges. I loved soaking up that knowledge, but I do remember my godfather asking me, “When are you actually going to start working?” Soon after that, I landed my first job working as a horticultural advisor at the RHS Lead Garden Wisley. The advisory team would answer all RHS member enquiries at shows, RHS gardens and via letter, phone call and email. In the six years that I was there I was at the coalface; it’s given me a strong understanding of exactly what gardeners want to know about, and how to provide them with the knowledge and skills to enjoy their hobby.”
Following her stint with the RHS, Lucy went on to pursue a successful career as a garden writer working for Amateur Gardening magazine and as editor of Grow Your Own magazine. This is something that many women aspire to, but not all are confident enough to successfully pursue a career as a garden writer. Lucy, however, encourages people to have a go.
“I would say just go for it. When I first started out in professional horticulture, I would come across personalities who, either due to my age or gender, would assume I didn’t know or couldn’t do as much as my peers. Gentle persistence changed those perspectives. Gardening itself is such a rewarding career, and when you then have an opportunity to convey your enthusiasm for it via the written word, that’s pure joy. Keep pitching ideas, start an eye-catching blog, build relationships, and never take rejection personally. Being a busy magazine editor helped me understand the industry.”
After ten years working as a writer, Lucy felt it was time to head back outdoors and she now works as Head Gardener at East Donyland Hall, home to a Victorian walled kitchen garden.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time as an editor, and still write freelance articles on fruit and vegetable cultivation today. But I’m an outdoor person at heart – the lure of those childhood memories was too strong! Fresh air suits me better than an office, and I was also keen to apply my knowledge to the practical environment. Studying, working at RHS Wisley and then for gardening magazines allowed me to convey information, and now being Head Gardener for a property with a walled kitchen garden enriches that knowledge considerably. Nothing beats hands-on gardening experience.”
With the relaunch of the updated RHS Step-by-Step Veg Patch, we asked Lucy what is it about growing vegetables and fruit that gives her the most pleasure: the actual challenge of growing or eating the fruits of your labour?
“I do adore my food, and when you cook something that you’ve grown yourself it adds an extra dimension of satisfaction to the whole thing. The grow your own movement is continually strengthening and evolving – new crops, improved varieties and different growing methods develop all the time. Small-space and urban no-garden plots are increasingly being used to raise home-grown food. If I can help people enjoy a hobby that brings me so much happiness, then that’s the ultimate pleasure, I’d say.”
For anyone keen to learn more about growing your own, the RHS Step-by-Step Veg Patch by Lucy Chamberlain, 2nd edition, is just £16.99. This informative book contains simple instructions on how to grow more than 50 different crops. Simply look up the crop you want to grow, and follow the photos and practical advice on starting, nurturing, and harvesting. Choose your variety from more than 275 covered across the book, with galleries featuring unusual, exotic, or heirloom options for the most popular crops. Discover how to plan your space, whether it's a vegetable patch, a small raised bed, or just some containers (outside or inside!). Explore different planting themes to suit your needs and maximize your harvest. This updated edition contains the latest popular new cultivars and heirloom varieties and expanded troubleshooting information to help keep your plants healthy.