"It’s all about companionship really,” mused Dave Hamilton, Tresco’s kitchen gardener. Leaning on his fork, Dave was summing up his approach to growing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.
“Companion planting is something that I use quite a lot to deter pests: marigolds with the tomatoes; alliums with the carrots and parsnips. But I think it goes beyond that – it’s about the companionship between plants and the soil. There’s an old gardening adage ‘Look after the soil and the plants will look after themselves.’ I would definitely subscribe to that!”
The kitchen garden at the Abbey Garden is testament to Dave’s approach. Through the seasons there are serried ranks of leeks, lettuces, beans and strawberries, as well as banks of flowers destined for the vase. For Dave, it all starts with the soil.
“One of my favourite jobs of the year is collecting seaweed from the shoreline. Seaweed is a brilliant conditioner for the soil and as an island gardener nothing beats taking a trailer down to the beach for “sea-manure”. It’s heavy work with a pitchfork and the smell isn’t always that sweet but it’s great to take full advantage of our amazing natural environment.”
Traditionally, the kitchen garden has always focussed on providing fruit, vegetables and flowers for the Abbey and the garden café. This year Dave is looking to expand the production of certain crops to make them more widely available across the island.
“2013 is going to be all about growing more tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, rocket and salad leaves. We’re looking to provide more and more homegrown produce for the island’s restaurants and for Tresco Stores. I love the idea of people coming to have a look at the kitchen garden during the day and then enjoying eating some of the harvest for their dinner.”
Dave’s duties are not confined to plant life. His day begins with feeding the ducks and the chickens. This winter he was also responsible for looking after Tresco’s new arrivals, the red squirrels. “When I first moved here, I never imagined that this would be part of my job but it was fascinating to learn about these wonderful creatures.”
Dave, his wife Mandy, sons Hamish and Luke and daughter Heather moved to Tresco from North Cornwall eight years ago. “Mandy’s parents are Tresco timesharers and we came to know the island as holiday-makers but always wanted to move here – it’s a dream come true.”
Working in the exotic Abbey Garden has expanded Dave’s vegetable repertoire. “With the mild climate, I have been experimenting. We had our first crop of sweet potatoes last year and our olive grove is coming on nicely too!”
With sweet potatoes and new potatoes side by side, Tresco’s kitchen garden has some unexpected companions but companions all the same, from the exotic to the familiar and the productive to the ornamental. For Dave it’s all about a natural balance of good gardening and good produce…produce that everyone can enjoy.