Happy Friday to you all! It’s time for another Spotlight on the blog. I think the craft community has been hogging the limelight in previous weeks, so I am delighted to introduce the fabulous Fiona Kelly from the award winning blog Fiona Grows Food. I just cannot read enough of Fiona’s writing and after reading this spotlight, I know you will be looking to learn a little more about her. Grab that cuppa, get comfy and read on:

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Question 1: Some of my readers may not know a lot about the gardening world. Could you tell us a little about how you got started in the Malahide Allotments and where that interest originated from?

The fabulous Fiona Kelly

The fabulous Fiona Kelly

I began my little allotment project in 2012. I had been out of a job for a long spell and the country was in the midst of a bad recession. At the time, I was looking for something to pass the days while I was looking for work.

My parents had gotten an allotment in 2010 in a beautiful walled garden in Dublin and I had spent a bit of time visiting their plot and enjoying their harvests. I guess I always followed in their footsteps; being an only child, I have a really close relationship with both my Mam & Dad and their influences have really shaped me over the years. So, when I saw an advertisement up for a new allotment project in Malahide, I was first to put my name on the list. I got quite lucky to get a plot so quickly, most allotments here in Dublin have waiting lists that stretch for years. The first day on site was overwhelming! It was just a huge, empty field with the plots marked out with a post at each corner. Because Malahide Allotments were a brand new project, I didn’t take over a previously worked plot and I had a 100 square meter pile of muck and had no idea where to start. It was a long process to get it from where it was then until now. I was the first plot holder in Malahide to plant anything on site, which will always be my own personal claim to fame; that and my pink shed!

Question 2: Congratulations on your win at this years Littlewoods Blog Awards, I’m sure that feels amazing! You started your blog and allotment venture quite young. Can you tell us why you decided to blog about it? 

Thanks a million! It’s a bit surreal, there were some really amazing blogs in my category so I was shocked to get an award. Garden blogging is pretty niche so it wouldn’t have as many followers as the other lifestyle blogs out there so to win was a pretty big deal for me.

My age seems to be one thing people always comment on when they ask about the allotment (that and my gender), probably because allotment gardening is often associated with older males; though a trend is emerging of more young women involved in allotments and community gardens so perceptions are beginning to shift in that regard. I guess I was pretty young when I started my allotment, the very first day on site was my 27th birthday, so I share a birthday with my plot which is pretty special. I never saw my age as an inhibiting factor and in fact, in regards to the blog it has worked very much in my favour.

I suppose I began the blog as I just love writing and I felt it would be a nice way to keep my friends updated about the garden. I also wanted to encourage young people to grow some of their own food. It’s pretty spectacular to marry my love of gardening with my love of writing. The blog turned into an entirely different beast than I ever envisioned. It started as a small little project to keep me busy while unemployed but turned into a great way to connect with other growers & horticulturists around Ireland. I’ve made brilliant friends and have great supporters, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

 

Question 3: How do you managed to balancing working full time, look after the allotment, blog and manage to write for Grow? 
In a nutshell? Five hours sleep a night. 😛
I don’t talk about my job much online but I have a busy, full time management job which I’m tied up with for most of my week. Making time for my allotment can be challenging at times. Sometimes, I have to forgo time in the garden in order to see family and friends but most weekends, I get to visit for a while. It’s far easier in the summer months when I have long evenings after work but in winter, my time in the garden is more limited. I guess it just takes a bit of determination and dedication, there’s little room for laziness in the food garden. Unfortunately the blog is the thing to suffer the most when I’m busy, I have to make the garden my priority, so I don’t update the blog every day, I’m more of what’s known as a “slow blogger”, I’d rather have quality content over a daily bombardment just for the sake of it.
I think the reason I manage to juggle my job, blog, garden and other commitments is that I just love what I do. I’m excited by it. It makes me happy and that is always worth spending time on.
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Question 4: For someone who wants to start growing their own food do you have any tips or advice? 
Where to start?! I guess the best piece of advice I could give you is don’t be afraid to fail. Growing food is all about patience and time. Nature does all the work for us, all we need to do is plant the seeds. Sometimes, crops just don’t work out and it’s not your fault.
You don’t have to have a large garden, it’s possible to just grow a pot of herbs or a chilli plant on a windowsill, take baby steps.
Grow what you like to eat.
In terms of practical advice, I can tell you, soil is the soul of a garden. Always spend time on your soil, even if you’re just growing in containers. Avoid weed killers and chemicals of any kind, they destroy the environment and kill our pollinators, grow organic. Read your seed packets, keep a diary and label your plants. Keep your plants well weeded. Water, water, water.
Question 5: I know from trying to work with our garden here that there are times it just feels like Mother Nature has decided she doesn’t like you any more and it’s personal. What was your lowest point with the Allotment and how did you overcome that to the wonderful space it is now?
I’ve had to admit defeat so many times over the years in the garden and it’s a humbling experience but there was only one occasion when I really wanted to give it all up.
It was during the summer & autumn of 2013. I’d had the plot for a little over a year and I really loved it but that June I had a major upset in my personal life and was unable to visit my allotment for four weeks. When I finally did pluck up the courage to go, I remember I looked around the plot and just burst in to tears. The place was a disaster, the weeds were hip height, my crops had died and I was so overwhelmed by what had happened to my life and my garden that I just sat there and cried for an hour. I had a bereavement a couple of months later so the allotment suffered again. At that point, I really couldn’t see how I could continue and I considered giving it up. But with some encouragement from my Mam, I decided to keep it at least until the lease was up the following spring. Of course, by then I had gotten on top of everything and in fact, the allotment became the place I went to when I was racked with grief so it really became my haven. The garden kept me going (until I broke my foot but that’s a whole different story).
I’m so glad I decided not to give it up because it has gone from strength to strength since that day. Sometimes I still think “Fudge! This is too much.The weeds are a joke. The weathers too bad. My potatoes have blight. Slugs ate my seedlings.” But then I see a hare on my plot or I pick some tomatoes and I know I’ll continue to grow, despite all the challenges. The joy of the garden outweighs the hardship.
The famous pink shed of the Malahide Allotments

The famous pink shed of the Malahide Allotments

 

Question 6: What surprising lessons have you learned along the way? 

To be patient, not something I’m always good at. You can’t speed up time in a garden, you have to work with the seasons.

That it’s ok if a seed doesn’t germinate or a crop doesn’t succeed, it’s ok to admit defeat and start over. Gardening has grounded me.

Slugs hate coffee but love cabbages. Slimy little weirdos!

That gardeners are generally the soundest and most generous people around. I’ve been blown away by the support and kindness of the gardening friends I’ve made over the past few years. If you want to experience kindness, befriend a gardener.

That there’s more to learn about muck than you can possibly imagine.

Oh and that fingerless gloves are the greatest item of clothing ever invented.

 

Question 7: We are big fans of GIY International here and their magazine Grow. Can you tell us how your collaboration with them started? 

Glad to hear you’re a fan! GIY are a great organisation to be involved with and I’ve been a fan for years. When I first got my allotment, I joined a local GIY group and I found the meeting so helpful and it was nice to meet some other growers and share tips. I was contacted by GIY in April of this year. They had read my blog and asked me if I’d like to write something for their summer edition. I had to pinch myself really, it was very unexpected. For me, it was pretty much a dream come true. I think what GIY are doing for Ireland is inspiring and very important. The staff are an incredibly warm supportive group of people and it’s a joy to work with them.

 

Question 8: I have to ask, do you have any craft hobbies?

My Mam is a brilliant knitter and taught me from a young age. I was a serious stitch dropper though and always, always ended up ripping back the whole thing countless times before crumpling into a ball of frustrated tears! Thankfully as I’ve gotten older I’ve improved somewhat and now I’m a pretty ok with needles! The day I mastered cable knitting was a huge deal for me and my clumsy hands! Sadly, I don’t have the time to knit very often with all my other commitments. I’ve dabbled with making jewellery, I can weave with a bead loom and do some wire work. I also went through a big crossstiching phase when I was about 12 and even tried my hands at quilling for a while.

So, I do like to make things with my hands, particularly for my garden. I guess I see writing as my true craft though, I’m happiest when I’m stitching words and weaving stories.

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Question 9. With such a strong love for sustainable living, what do you want your legacy to be? or how do you want to be remembered? 

Terrible gardening puns. That’s what I’d like to be remembered for.

Nah, I don’t see myself as having a legacy, I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of person; but I would like to know I helped the bees in some way and if I can encourage just one young person to get growing, that’s the best I can ask for.

 

Question 10: What does the future hold for Fiona? 

I’d love to undertake study for an RHS qualification in Horticulture (you know, because I’m not nearly busy enough already) but it all depends on time. I do have some exciting plans as far as my blog is concerned but I’m keeping that under wraps for now. I’ve also got some more collaborations with GIY in the works so I continue to be blessed. Mostly though, I’m just hoping for plenty of days spent digging, watering, harvesting and dancing around my garden in the summer rain.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today Fiona. I have to admit after I read these questions, I was in awe. If like me your looking for more from Fiona, you can find her Seasonal Container Growing segment on GIY Soundcloud . Fiona has also appeared with Peter Donegan on The Sod Show were they chat about starting the allotment in Malahide and how to rock a sexy wellie. If you want to get in touch with Fiona and congratulate her on a fab interview, you can find her on Twitter,  Instagram and of course her blog FionaGrowsFood.com.