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Black Britain: It's time to go green

LORRAINE THOMPSON is a green-fingered guru. So strong is a passion for gardening that she set up her own blog Lorraine Gardens, to share her insights about all things green.

Inspired by her childhood memories of watching her dad tend his garden, Thompson set up her blog in the hope of encouraging others to reclaim the one-time tradition of growing vegetables and keeping allotments – a trend that seems to be slowly dying out amongst younger generations of black Brits.

Strongly believing in the health benefits of growing your own produce, Thompson hopes more people will consider stepping into spring with a new-found interest in gardening. Here, she tells us more about passion.

What inspired your love of gardening?
My greatest inspiration came from my parents. As a child I grew up watching my dad tend to his garden, which was a labour of love for him. Everything was done with love and pride, from his magical dahlias, roses and hydrangeas to the thyme, sweetcorn and tomatoes that would be planted for mum to pick and cook. So, I believe the scene was set very young, but it was when I first had a home and garden of my own that my own passion came to the fore.

Why did you decide to start a blog and what does it cover?
Gardening is usually a community orientated endeavour and I wanted to share my love of it with others and to get feedback and ideas from other gardeners. The blog covers tips, success, failures and things learned along the way. It also covers cooking whole foods, using edible produce from the garden to make healthy nutritious meals and beloved Jamaican recipes. The blog is designed to appeal to everyone but with a particular focus on my generation – aged 35-50 – with a Caribbean heritage.

GROW YOUR OWN: Thompson’s homegrown produce

Why do you think gardening is particularly important for the black community?
Fundamentally, this is about our health as a community. In the first instance, there are the obvious health benefits of physical exercise. In addition there are also the benefits of being amongst nature, which helps with our mental well-being.
But for me, this is really about accessing fresh, healthy food. This is the conversation about food sovereignty and the relationship between food and oil. Quite simply put, food is oil. Fluctuations in the price of oil hugely impacts food prices, which in turn affects shopping bills.
In this environment, fresh foods are replaced with processed, high sugar, high salt, poor fat, chemically laden foods. This affects low and middle income brackets the most and therefore, our community perhaps more than others. This is especially of concern as we suffer from disproportionately high instances of preventable diseases like blood pressure and diabetes.
Growing our own means having greater access to fresh, organic and culturally relevant foods on our terms.

What produce do you grow?
I have an urban garden so I grow things that are possible in a small space. I have lots of pots and tend to use those as I have limited border space. I grow beetroots, salad crops – mustard leaves, rocket, lettuce – tomatoes, thyme, callions, strawberries, scotch bonnet, celery, peaches, apples, raspberries, rhubarb and much more. I keep heat-loving plants like basil and okra in the kitchen where they can get plenty of light and warmth.

INSPIRING: Thompson’s homemade leek, sweet potato and ginger soup

How do you think young people could be inspired to take up gardening?
It's great if gardening is part of what a family does together. Getting young people to grow is about letting them engage in and take ownership of the entire growing cycle. With young children, something fast growing like sunflowers or runner beans are a great way to capture their imaginations. Let them plant the seed and care for the plant right through to flowering or fruiting. There is a natural nurturing process that takes place as you plant a seed and you want to watch it grow into this amazing plant. Older children may want something more challenging like tomatoes or greens. I think this is also key to young people eating more fruit and veg. If you grow tomatoes, you eat tomatoes.

What initial tips would you offer someone who wanted to take up gardening?
Start with something simple and beautiful like creating a pot of tulips, or grow beans to have something delicious for the pot and to learn about the importance of pollination. If you are interested in growing fruit and veg, then grow those that you like to eat; this will inspire you to grow more.

Anything else you care to add?
You don't need to have a huge garden to enjoy this hobby. Whether you have a windowsill in your city flat or a sprawling plot in the suburbs you can experience the joy of growing something – and something delicious at that!

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