Helen Tuckfield @seedpod_farm is about to start the restoration of their historic Walled Garden at Stinsford House. Located in Dorset, Stinsford House inspired literary great Thomas Hardy, and his heart is buried at the church which is next to the house. We caught up with Helen to find out what inspired her to garden and take on the challenge of restoring the Walled Garden at Stinsford House.
Is gardening a profession or a hobby?
It started as a hobby but – once our youngest son started nursery – I realised I could ‘work from home’ and so began Seedpod Farm, a micro flower farm, at our previous home in Cornwall. We erected a poly tunnel on a difficult north-facing sloping site, which was a mile from the rugged Atlantic coastline but sheltered enough from salt winds. This flower field soon expanded into more raised flower beds in our own garden.
Garden gate sales boomed and demand for local seasonal flowers grew into wedding and funeral orders through both word-of-mouth and Instagram. My Florist friend made the bouquets and buttonholes whilst I concentrated on the growing, creating table arrangements and doing the weekend deliveries (mostly with a little helper aged 3!).
Was gardening a thing in your household when you were growing up?
Yes, my parents were keen gardeners. I can remember my Mum gardening by moonlight with the help of a head-torch. An enjoyable Sunday would be cycling to a plant nursery with my Mum and brother. I should confess though, that my brother and I had zero interest in the plants; it was more the lure of the vending machine selling hot chocolate!
Who else gets involved with your plot? Is it a family affair?
The slugs are too involved! However, luckily for us the toads/frogs from the River Frome tributary are also part of our garden family. My husband and I work in the garden mostly, whilst our sons prefer playing badminton and football on the lawn. We keep a bonfire going for dropped marshmallows from sharpened sticks to keep everyone happy.
Where do you get inspiration and gardening advice from?
Inspiration comes from anticipation of seasonal changes and a range of practical gardening advice that I source from everyday people who are posting online what they are growing from seed.
My favourite celebrity gardener is Alys Fowler; her book “The Thrifty Gardener’ is full of budget and wildlife friendly tips which are excellent. I like to listen to her being interviewed on podcasts along with the RHS garden podcasts.
What are you planning to grow this season?
A mix of my own seed plus some I have ordered online: Sweetpeas, hollyhocks, cosmos, verbena, veronica, soledago, alchemilia mollis, ridolpha, ammi majus, bleuplerum, cardoons, echium, agapanthus, delphiniums, echium, pride of Madeira, echinacea, helenium, rudbekia, achellia (yarrow).
How does gardening have an effect on your lifestyle?
It slows down a busy lifestyle and gardening is to reject instant gratification. Simply being in the garden without gardening is in itself joyful; especially on a beautiful clear weather day.
What do you find most challenging in your garden?
We have no running water in the Walled Garden, so we have to rely on harvesting rainwater and choosing mostly drought tolerant plants. The roses climbing our old church garden wall seem not to be so thirsty but do like a regular feed.
There is an enormous London Plane tree said to be between 200 and 800 years old (depending on which villager you talk to!) which cloaks half the garden in shade. Growing in dry shade around the roots is a problem. The other half of the Walled Garden is either in part shade or full sun against the south facing wall.
What has been your greatest success?
At Seedpod Farm, we promoted sustainable wedding blooms and, in doing so, created a diverse flower field teeming with wildlife in our first year. I was so happy to also work with my youngest son’s school next door to the field, when they helped cultivate butterflies and released them into our flower beds.
I was also happy knowing that in a small way, Seedpod Farm was supporting The Fisherman’s Mission charity. A percentage of each gate sale would go to them as they did a great job after the big storms of 2014 when many local fishermen lost their livelihoods in our local town of Porthleven.
Any big growing challenges you plan to take on in the future?
Yes, the restoration of our historic Walled Garden at Stinsford House.
We are building ourselves an affordable, large lean-to greenhouse against the old wall to ensure it’s in-keeping with its surroundings. We’re using recycled Perspex and reusable materials. My kitchen windowsills are currently crammed, and we desperately need the space the greenhouse and makeshift cold frames will provide. Then I can start growing a serious amount of seed without having to curtail my wish list of plants. I would like to produce flowers like carnations for people to lay on their loved-ones graves as our garden is next to a lovely small Dorset church.
Three top tips you would give someone starting out?
1. The generation of sustainable compost supply. It’s all in the soil!
Compost heaps need not be expensive. Wooden Pallets would make great compost bins. It’s essential to turn the heap occasionally so two or three adjacent bins are ideal and layer grass cuttings, green waste, food compost with woody brown material, cardboard etc.
2. Adopt the Charles Dowding ‘No Dig’ methodology.
3. Quality seeds will reward you with healthy strong plants and provide you with a year-on-year supply. In our case we order from Sarah Raven and Higgledy Garden.
Any feedback on your experience of using Natural Grower?
We use Natural Grower as it’s an organic fertiliser and compost supplement which naturally fits into our garden cycle.