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Planting for food and wildlife

Meet London gardener and founder of The Barefoot Planter, Chauntelle Lewis, as she takes a look at how to grow fruit, herbs and other crops while also helping wildlife.

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Here at The Barefoot Planter, we cultivate a diverse range of edible crops, spanning from flowers and herbs to fruits and vegetables, utilising their versatility for cooking, medicinal purposes, and attracting wildlife, all while looking after them naturally and organically. 

Why growing crops is good for wildlife too

Enhancing biodiversity is crucial for a balanced and healthy ecosystem but we often overlook the growing process. During pollination, the flowering stage of various crops not only aids in their reproduction, but also serves as a magnet for essential pollinators like bees and butterflies.

At this time of year I grow tomatoes. While often considered vegetables for culinarily and nutritional purposes, they are botanically fruits. Throughout late May to June, I'll also sow or plant other crops like courgettes, pumpkin cucumbers, sweet corn, green peas, and chillies, which are technically fruits too, ensuring a diverse array of produce.

Blossoming herbs that are bee-friendly too

A super underrated aspect of herbs is that some of them flower, making them good for pollinating insects such as bees too! Rosemary, chives and Sage are all examples of flowering herbs.

Many herbs can be grown through propagation rather than seeds. Propagation is the magical process of creating more plants by making cuttings of existing plants or separating smaller sections and repotting them. After propagating rosemary 'foxtail’ from store-bought cuttings, three years later, it finally burst into tiny gem-like purple-hued blooms.

Other flowering herbs I grow each year include chives and Dill, which pair perfectly with savoury dishes. I’ll be adding thyme and oregano to my list this month.

Nurture a healthy balanced environment

Safeguarding wildlife in gardens begins with using non-chemical pest control methods, such as companion planting. This reduces the need for harmful pesticides. Ladybirds, and their larvae especially, serve as natural predators, fostering healthier and more sustainable gardens by maintaining ecological balance.

One tip for discouraging woolly aphids is to tackle them organically with a homemade mixture of neem oil and eco-friendly washing-up liquid in a spray bottle.

A raised brick garden bed, growing a combination of edible plants.

What to plant with strawberries

One staple that I grow annually for traditional purposes are strawberries, which my nephew thoroughly enjoys picking each year. What better way to introduce children to gardening than with a naturally sweet and tasty treat?

In the past, I've experimented with a range of local varieties, but ironically, 'Cambridge favourite' has become my favourite. I grow them vertically on trellises and pair them with flowers like nasturtiums or marigolds. These ‘companion plants’ attract the insects, keeping them away from the strawberries.

Exploring the exciting world of edible flowers

Edible flowers are another treat to grow. My favourite edible flowers to grow in time for my carrot cake birthday decorations in August are nasturtiums. I always joke that if I were stranded on a desert island, my chosen item would undoubtedly be a packet of nasturtium seeds. The reason? Their remarkable ability to self-seed annually ensures a vibrant surprise each year.

Nasturtiums are stunning and versatile, thriving vertically or trailing along the ground. Plus, as well as being edible, they also serving as fantastic companion plants. Pair them with peas or French beans on bamboo sticks or plant them in pots with strawberries or lettuce. The companion list goes on really!

I highly recommend choosing a variety of colours to brighten up the garden; my top selections are ‘Ladybird’ (peach), ‘Dwarf nasturtium’ (yellow), ‘Garden nasturtium’ (disk-shaped blooms in vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and red), and ‘Empress Of India’ (scarlet to crimson). Some nasturtiums can also be good caterpillar food for Large White and Small White butterflies.

A combination of potted and unpotted plants growing in the corner of a garden.

It’s also not too late to add a few alternative edible flowers to your growing list such as borage, cornflowers, pansies, marigolds, or calendula. These can be added to drinks and dishes, showing that a little really does go a long way!

However, be sure to exercise caution when consuming edible flowers, noting seed packet advice, especially if pregnant or with health conditions. You may also want to introduce slowly to monitor for allergic reactions. 

Clusters of small blue flowers on a green, leafy stem

Vibrant blooms and tasty treats

By planting a diverse range of flowering plants, herbs and fruits, you can look forward to vibrant blooms and a fruitful harvest. I hope you found something to inspire you!

About the author

Chauntelle Lewis is a London-based Independent Consultant and Strategist, Founder of The Barefoot Planter. She is passionate about reconnecting people with outdoor activities and fostering climate change solutions. Chauntelle actively supports external community initiatives as a Board Trustee for Badu Sports CIC and Southstainable CIC.

The Barefoot Planter provides a journey from seed sowing to garden-to-fork and a celebration of farm-to-table. We champion multi-faceted individuals, communities, and their needs through our sustainable gardening workshops by prioritising accessibility and inclusion.

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