Q&A With Derrick
With extensive experience working within the edible garden at Wynyard Hall and the Glass House, Derrick chats to us about what it means to him to provide a sustainable, plot to plate dining experience alongside Head Chef, Kleo Tabaku using seasonal produce.
How do you partake in and maintain sustainable practices within the edible garden?
There are many practices and ideas I like to follow to promote sustainability in the garden. One of my favourite practices is to grow lots of flowers amongst the vegetables in the garden, which helps to promote biodiversity in the garden. All the colours and smells attract beneficial insects to visit the garden, as well as providing pollen for bees. These beneficial insects also attract birds to the garden, who will hopefully eat some of the bugs that want to eat our vegetables! A lot of the flowers I plant are also edible, which make a nice garnish for the dishes in The Glasshouse. Simple practices that provide multiple benefits are always a big thumbs up from me!
What are the biggest seasonal challenges that you face when gardening throughout the year?
Each year is very different, so learning to adapt to the changing conditions we face is one of the biggest challenges. Some summers can bring drought like conditions, whilst over summers can be a washout! Likewise in the winter, if it’s very wet throughout, it can make working with the soil very challenging in the spring. When the soil is too wet, trying to cultivate and plant out can compact the soil, which can be detrimental for the following years. Luckily during this winter we had a nice dry spell, so I was able to spread farm yard manure in the garden to feed the soil, as well as incorporate it into the soil, so I am one step ahead for this coming spring. Other years this may not have been possible, meaning planting will be a bit later than I would like. Even when everything goes well, it is never quite perfect for a gardener!
How do you feel about seeing the life cycle of the produce you grow? from a seed to a dinner plate
This is one of the most rewarding parts of growing produce, which I think everyone who grows their own produce can relate to. It is also something that I hope the edible garden at Wynyard can inspire others to do, because it is so rewarding and fulfilling! It is such a journey, and sometimes a battle, to get to the point of harvesting and eating produce. Preparing and feeding vibrant soils, nurturing a tiny seed into a strong seedling, planting out into open soil, watering, protecting from pests and months later, the moment when you can finally harvest homegrown, super fresh and nutritious produce with zero food miles! If anyone is considering growing their own, please try it! If you have any questions, I’ll be in the edible garden!
How do you make sure that the produce in the edible garden will be ready when the menus change?
I think this is something that Kleo and I work together with, to develop a plan for what the garden can grow, and what the restaurant needs. The seasons can be very variable, crops can be late or early. But that is the beauty of having an edible garden with a restaurant on the doorstep, the chefs can see what is available, I can speak with the chefs every day, and we can adapt and change very quickly if we need to. Even if one crop isn’t ready as expected, we grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers, so there will more or less always be something available!
What are your main responsibilities as a gardener for a restaurant?
Having been growing produce for a number of years, trialling different varieties for a range of purposes, I need to bring that experience to the edible garden and grow the crops that I know grow well and taste the best! However, I also need to listen to what the chefs want, and experiment with different varieties with different tastes, textures and colours, for an evolving menu. There are always new and exciting varieties of crops coming out every year, so it’s good to keep an eye open and try new crops, as well as growing the tried and trusted crops, such as a Nantes Carrot, which never disappoints! Tastes evolve, menus change, produce trends also fluctuate, so the edible garden also needs to be fluid in that sense too.
Describe your daily routine as a gardener?
This fluctuates a lot depending on the time of the year, and it can be the lack of routine and the variety of the tasks at hand that makes the job so interesting! However, when the spring and summer is in full swing, I can roughly divide my day into sowing successional crops regularly (as crops are harvested, I need to have plants ready to fill the beds), planting out seedlings, harvesting produce for the restaurant and farm shop. as well as moving the sprinkler around the garden to make sure everything is nicely watered. Whenever I have a gap between jobs, I can run the hoe through the garden to keep everywhere well weeded.
What is the best thing about your job?
I am very passionate about producing top quality crops. The fact that the crops I grow go to The Glasshouse restaurant is very fulfilling. I also really enjoy the interaction with visitors to the garden, some who are already gardeners themselves, some who are considering growing their own, and those that just appreciate visiting our lovely gardens.
What are the main qualities you need as a gardener to be successful?
I think being pragmatic is important as a gardener, as no matter how much you try to stick to a plan, things will inevitably happen that mean you have to do things differently. What you want to do, harvest, or plant may be delayed due to poor weather, or maybe there has been a visit from some hungry badgers! Being able to adapt to different situations and still get the best results possible is really important.
Where did you learn the skills to become a gardener?
I started off by volunteering on some organic farms in New Zealand, where I discovered my passion for growing sustainable food. I came back to the UK and started working with some amazing growers on commercial organic vegetable farms, where I learnt a lot about working with the soil and growing sustainable produce. I managed a 5 acre market garden in Norfolk, which was also a big learning curve for me, putting together all my past experiences and ideas and being completely responsible for the outcomes. Thankfully it was a great experience where I learnt a lot about how I want to grow produce and manage soils sustainably.
Do you feel as though your job is rewarding?
I definitely do feel as though it is a rewarding job. The results of your labour as a veg grower/gardener are never instant, it takes a long time to achieve the result you want, so when it all works out and you get an abundant harvest from months of labour, it is definitely worth the wait!