When we bought our two acre field in 2015 it was essentially a pony paddock that had previously been a cider apple orchard. Whilst we still have some of the fifty-year-old apple trees and the stable block is still there, the land itself is otherwise quite transformed.
We have planted hundreds of trees to create hedges, wind barriers and to add diversity to the land. There is now a small pond, a perennial flower area and, of course, several vegetable patches that have become the heart of the garden. From early spring to late autumn the land is teeming with insects and bird life.
To create the market garden, large areas of grass paddock have been turned into productive growing space over the past five years, three polytunnels have been put up and the general infrastructure has been greatly improved.
Putting sustainable and regenerative land care first is central to our growing practice, so we have deliberately left around half the land largely untouched. These areas are being gradually re-wilded to leave plenty of space for nature to thrive alongside us.
We appreciate our land deeply and, as it continues to evolve, we are given the opportunity to evolve our growing practices as well by learning from the natural world. It nourishes us in so many ways, not just through the food it provides for us and the local community, but also for the constant connection it gives us to the earth and the cycle of the seasons.
Wild Garden is run by Tia and Nick, who have been partners for over 30 years, and have both always been involved in growing food. Tia grew up on a farm and loved working in the vegetable patch at home. After university, Nick worked and trained at Tamarisk Organic Farm in West Bexington for three years.
When Tia and Nick first met in 1990 they worked together on a small farm at Southwick in Wiltshire. Following this they spent two years in West Cork, Ireland where they grew herbs for restaurants and herb and vegetable plug plants for general sale. After returning to England they were unable to afford the acre of land they dreamed of owning and so, for many years, had to make do with being enthusiastic gardeners on an allotment or veg patch at home.
In 2013 they rented part of the old walled garden at Hadspen House, near Bruton in Somerset, whose grounds were largely unused at that time. Tia spearheaded the project, focussing on seasonal salad production, and from this Wild Garden was born. When Hadspen House was sold in 2014 the new owners invited Tia to join them as Garden Manager which presented a great learning opportunity. This culminated in Tia achieving a RHS Level 2 qualification and working for two years as Head of Productive Gardens, setting up and managing the new kitchen garden and a market garden plot for what is now called The Newt.
In 2015 Tia and Nick were finally able to purchase a two acre plot of agricultural land near their home in Somerset. Despite having their own separate careers, they both worked together to prepare the land together and turn it into a working garden. Throughout this time the call of Wild Garden remained strong and, after overseeing the successful launch and first season of The Newt's productive garden, Tia left in 2019 to take on the running of Wild Garden at their own land as a full-time business venture.
The Wild Garden business is now a project they run together, finally realising the dream they have both shared for 30 years to work on a beautiful piece of land, doing something that genuinely feels like good work.
OUR VISION TO GROW MARKET GARDENING
We have been inspired by many amazing growers over the years, some of who are listed in the Resources section of the website, but recently the most formatively inspiring direction has come from the vibrant and thriving micro-market garden scene in North America and Canada. Through studying the methodology of these gardeners we have come to develop a system that works for us at our scale and in this country's climate. What makes these small-scale growers so interesting is that they are working harmoniously with the land and soil at a human scale. Through the application of good techniques, good sense and good efficiency they are able make a viable business, ensuring their produce is naturally grown and of high quality, and therefore in high demand to customers who are willing to pay a fair price for it.
If we want to encourage more small-scale growers to produce good quality naturally grown food in this country and across the world – as we believe can and must happen - then they must be able to make a viable living from their labour, which has historically often not been the case.
Our longer-term aim is to create a viable, scalable model for this way of growing and making a living in the UK. This is something we are focusing on a lot this year on our land in order to encourage and support others to learn how to start up their own projects. We plan to do this by creating opportunities for people to work with us directly, as well as through running workshops and open days.
GROWING WITH THE SEASONS
We like to work with the Celtic calendar in mind as this supports and encourages a close awareness of the natural cycles of the growing year and feels appropriate for our land and the seasons. The Celtic seasons follow a different calendar rhythm to that which is considered the norm today. This is how the year unfolds:
Spring is thought to begin at the start of February and is marked by the ancient festival of Imbolc. Although we can still have very wintry weather at this time, it is nonetheless the case that this is the time when seeds, plants, trees and wildlife are all starting to wake up. The earliest flowers begin to appear, shoots emerge, and we start sowing early seeds under cover in the polytunnels. There is a sense that life is returning as the new growing year begins.
The summer starts at the beginning of May and runs through to the end of July which feels right to us based on observation. The best of the weather often arrives in these months, the ground warms up fully, and the majority of rapid plant growth takes place. This is our busiest time of year in the garden trying to keep up with the abundance of produce available at this time.
By the beginning of August, which is considered the start of autumn in the Celtic year, growth slows down. Fruits are in their ripening and maturing phase and the vigour of summer has passed. Between August and October we are harvesting and storing, collecting and saving seed, and preparing our garden for the start of winter by protecting the soil with mulches of straw and cardboard, compost or green manure.
November brings the start of winter and by December the shortness of the days, marked by the winter solstice, brings growth almost to a standstill. This is when we settle in to endure the cold, dark months and make our plans for the next season. Despite the weather we always aim to be outside as much as possible. It's funny how it is always better to be outdoors on a cold, grey day than inside looking out at it!