Home Grown: Flora and Food

The majority of UK private gardens have some sort of greenery - this could be anything from weeds or a simple patch of grass to trees, bushes and flowerbeds. Although many people like to keep things manageable and maintain very minimalist gardens, others treat their gardens as their pride and joy, and enjoy spending time growing all kinds of their own flowers and foliage to create beautiful scenes outside their homes. For some, growing their own plants from mere seeds can give a sense of worthwhile achievement, particularly as a way of bringing the natural world into perhaps a very urban one.

Take a look at this series of films, which all show the wonderful work of gardeners who are clearly very proud of their art - some of whom have even won awards for their flora designs.

Woman Gardener (1969)  ~  The Rose Garden (1962)  ~  Green Fingers (1948)  ~  Flowers for Leeds (1953)

The concept of ‘Home Grown’ certainly doesn’t stop at flowers. In fact, the phrase itself is often associated with the idea of growing your own food. You don’t need big farms or plots of land to do this - it can be done with a reasonable patch of soil or a greenhouse in your own little garden. Before large supermarkets and convenience stores were popular, many people grew their own fruit and vegetables to use in their own cooking or to sell at the markets.

Now, this is still popular amongst hobbyists who love spending time in their gardens, but many people do this for various other reasons. Firstly, it’s very beneficial to those looking for a greener way of life - growing your own food means less packaging, less waste, less pollution from factories or farms managing large quantities, less pollution from importing from other countries, and less harmful chemicals involved in production. Secondly, it’s beneficial economically. Due to factors such as Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’, many foods have increased a lot in price, meaning it’s difficult for some people to afford them; growing your own reasonable amounts of food only costs the price of seeds and any fertiliser products you might want to use. 

Super Tattie (1976)

This film shows just how much joy growing your own vegetables can bring. Here, a family is using the home-growing experience as a fun, hands-on family activity in the garden that may not be for any particular reason other than the sheer excitement of the end result (lots of delicious potatoes!).

Gardening Calendar (1973)

Potato growing isn’t this easy all the time - like with any plant or flower the conditions have to be just right, which includes the weather and temperature. The film ‘Gardening Calendar’ is a good example of this, by showing the cycle of planting, tending to and harvesting in the garden as the seasons change.

The Precious Soil (1971)

Sometimes, conditions such as light and temperature can be just right, but your crops still won’t grow. This is usually related to soil management; chemicals and nutrients are important for fruit and vegetables to thrive. This documentary explains the science of soil and agriculture, and suggests some good methods for maintaining a good soil environment for optimum growth. 

Disability, Satisfaction and the Garden (1970)

The seasons and the soil quality aren’t the only obstacle when growing your own foods or plants - personal circumstances may also be a factor. This film shows a man with a walking disability enjoying the work he does in his garden, including growing his own grapes in a greenhouse. He is a prime example of showing that ‘home grown’ related activities and hobbies are accessible to many people, which is just another good reason to get involved!

About Britain: Land of the Giant Leeks (1976)  ~  Roots (2000)

Growing your own foods isn’t always about sustainability, greener living and the cost of supermarket brands. For many, it is a symbol of community and wellbeing. This is true in many UK allotments. Allotments are hired or bought spaces where people can grow fruit and vegetables on their own patch of land amongst other people all doing the same thing on their own patches.  The routine and responsibility of looking after the growth of crops means that people can become quite invested in the activity, and it becomes near enough to a routine hobby, or even a job for some people. The fact that others with the same interest are all enjoying the same allotments allows people to bond and make friends - sometimes they even form their own growing ‘clubs’.  The community aspect is sometimes the most important part; leeks are very popular to grow on allotments in the North East of England, but it’s not just that leeks are simply the best choice of vegetable on your dinner plate, but that the leeks are a symbol of the societies of people who grow them, and are treated like prized possessions as opposed to only humble food.

These lovely films (although slightly dated in some ways) follow the lives of leek growers, who explain their love of leeks and show how important the whole affair is within their communities.

National Garden Festival Gateshead  (1990)  ~   National Garden Festival Stoke-on-Trent (c. 1985)

However, as seen in the films, sometimes there’s a competitive spirit in the air, when such clubs hold competitions to judge the grown produce. It’s usually all in good fun, but sometimes it can be taken very seriously!

Competitions like these were, and still are, very popular. Plants, fruit and vegetables were often judged in different categories, such as size, colour and overall quality. These are typically held as part of garden festivals or village shows, so that members of the public can marvel at the leaks, pumpkins, marrows and other such food items before the official judging takes place. Take a look at some of these films, which show the buzz of the crowds at these types of events, followed by the fun community celebrations which typically take place afterwards.

David and Madge Briley Halifax (1975)

Sometimes growing the fruit and vegetables from scratch isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, however what you do with them afterwards can be. Homemade cooking and baking is a very popular hobby, whether it’s a vegetable stew or an apple crumble. This was very true during the times before ready-meals or pre-packaged desserts, but there was a very recent resurgence of home-baking during the covid-19 lockdowns when people decided to try new hobbies that involved staying at home.  Here’s David and Madge Briley from Halifax, who enjoyed venturing to public blackberry-picking hotspots in the 1970s, so that they could make their own delicious homemade jam from fresh, locally grown produce.

Rural Studies in the Primary School (1967)

Like with any activity, growing anything from scratch is not a skill we are born with. We might be taught how to do this by passionate family members or perhaps informative documentaries. In some cases, skills like gardening and agriculture are taught in schools, particularly in schools based in rural or countryside areas where these abilities might come in handy. This film shows exactly that, in which children are taught how to sow seeds and take part in husbandry projects; they keep a diary of all the tasks they are carrying out, including the growing of their own vegetables.

Home Grown (1999)

Whether it’s solitary in a garden or together on an allotment, growing your own flowers, fruit and veg is a wonderful way to engage with nature directly, by nurturing it from its source. It might not be for everyone, but it can certainly be honoured for all the positives it brings. Home Grown is a film that documents the celebrations of such things in the form of a festival for like-minded people, who not only grow food but hand-make and repurpose a lot of their personal possessions too, with the benefit of our planet in mind. 

If you’d like to get involved with growing your own flora or food, but don’t have access to a garden or allotment, why not have a look at local growing groups in your area?


Nature Matters is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with thanks to National Lottery players.