Q&A with vegetable gardener Francis Smith

May 7, 2012

Francis Smith was born just after his parents founded Veggies in 1984. They ran the vegan catering service straight out of the family kitchen throughout his childhood – it’s still thriving today – so he really knows healthy, sustainable food.

One aspect of the business is its long-time association with environment-lovers’ haven Glastonbury. Francis has been to the festival at least 15 times.

Since moving to London, he tells me, he’s been hankering to try his hand in an urban environment, and three years ago he found a house with a garden and started work on making his dreams reality.  I found out how’s he’s been making it on his own…

Francis at work in his garden



How did you get into gardening?

I come from a very green-minded background, with my parents having set up a vegan catering company in 1984. Having been surrounded by people promoting things like food miles, permaculture, self sufficiency, environmental impact and so forth my whole life, it was somewhat inevitable I would long to grow my own food sooner or later.


How long have you had a garden?

This is my first home in London with a garden. I have lived in London for 7 years and have been in this property for 3 years, so this is my second full season.


What do you use it for?

The crowded vegetable beds of the garden mid-season, at their busiest

My sanity mainly! In a world that grants us so little control (especially as my career is in the performing arts), its nice to have something in your life which keeps you connected to nature and the simpler things. You directly see the fruits of your labour and those fruits are so much sweeter than anything you buy in the supermarket.


What are you growing right now?

I’m currently growing: Onions, Shallots, Garlic, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Aubergine, Chillies, Peppers, Lettuce, Peas, Beans, Pumpkin, Sweetcorn, Cucumber, Carrots, Radishes, Strawberries, and Apples.


Easily my most successful plant has been tomatoes, and consequently this year I have more than doubled the number of plants and added a second variety. Any disaster stories are mainly due to inexperience with pests reeking havoc – the most distressing was a truly beautiful strawberry being devoured by a snail before I picked it!


What do you do with veggies that you grow? Cook, give away, sell?

Either eat it straight from the plant with my morning coffee or cook it. A supermarket tomato with coffee would be very odd yet a home grown cherry tomato, straight from the plant while basking in the sun is heaven. Cuttings from the various Onion family plans make fantastic fresh ‘Chives’ all year round.


How much time do you spend in the garden?

As much as the weather and work will allow. Maintaining a vegetable garden is very time-consuming though.


Describe your garden – what do you like about it?

My garden is behind my house with an initial patio area before the lawn, beds and shed. It is approximately 8m by 20m. Were it my garden rather than my landlady’s, it would be completely re-done, with vegetables and companion plants in mind.


Ready for action at the start of the growing season

What are your future plans?

If I could afford to buy a piece of land large enough to fully support my family so that my children work because they want to rather than have to, I would jack it all in right now. Alas, that dream is still a few years off at the moment. An increase in my harvest compared to last year will put a huge grin on my face through to Christmas.


What have you done to cope with the wet weather this month?

Having been away through the wet weather, nothing. Since returning to London I have had to deal with some waterlogged soil which was due to poor storage over winter, and a similar issue with my young apple tree, but I don’t anticipate major issues as my most fragile plans are still undercover in my conservatory and green house.


You can find out more about Veggie’s vegan catering at www.veggies.org.uk – plus there are lots of helpful and interesting links for anyone wanting to take their interest in veggies a little further.

We’re big fans of Pretty Veggies ethical vegan cosmetics, too!

  • http://twitter.com/veggiesnottm Veggies Catering

    Greetings from Veggies! Just as you were writing about the gardening exploits of Veggies’ Francis, plans were being hatched to kick-start this season’s community gardening activities at The Sumac Centre, the Nottingham home of Veggies Catering Campaign.

    Sumac’s garden is organic and laid out to show the best use of a small space. It is full of ideas you could use in your own garden. We can share seedings and materials. Local food production is an important part of a low carbon society.

    An increasing amount of produce for catering at Veggies and the Sumac Centre, including herbs and some salad, comes from our own vegan organic urban demonstration garden, supporting the ideals of the Movement for Compassionate Living, to promote simple living and vegan self-reliance as a remedy to the exploitation of humans, animals and the Earth, with guidance from the Vegan Organic Network.

    Anyone in Nottingham (or passing through) with time to spare to help build this community resource is much welcomed. We want to encourage, support and learn about food growing in our urban environment.

    Details at http://www.veggies.org.uk/event/sumacgardening/