“Living on one of the most southernmost parts of the UK does have its benefits. Fresh sea air, great beaches and a fine selection of dinosaur bones falling out of the eroding cliffs are a great start. However, for the budding gardener or the food producer alike, it’s the growing conditions here on the Isle of Wight that are really exceptional.
I tend to a 200 acre estate which is home to a community of Benedictine monks. Quarr Abbey is located on the northern coast of the Island and is unmistakable with its striking architecture. Blessed by its unique setting, the site includes woodlands, pasture, orchards, ornamental areas and a walled garden enclosing the Abbey’s vegetable plot, farm and tea shop. The vegetable plot is where the horticultural magic happens as I have tailored the growing plan around heritage, heirloom and local varieties of plants and fruits. From Shetland Blacks, a small deep purple potato (reputed to have been rescued from an Armada wreck in the Shetland Isles) to the Chioggia Pink beetroot, a pink and white beetroot from 1840s Italy. There are plenty of interesting varieties of fruit and vegetables available to try from our vegetable plot.
I feel hugely passionate about growing great tasting, quality and somewhat unusual produce using sound growing practices. This satisfies a growing market of customers who want to know the provenance of produce and the growing methods of the food that they eat. I’m not surprised of this intrigue, as I too am one of those people.
But why is the Isle of Wight such a good place for growing and sourcing produce? Geographically, the Island is very well placed to enjoy more than its fair share of sunshine. With long standing records as being one of the sunniest places in the UK, parts of the Island have been known to bask in over 2000 hours of sunshine per year. The other bonus of its location is that in the summer months, the Island can usually escape seasonal unsettled weather when the winds are in its favour and clouds can be seen gathering over the mainland and not overhead. This all said, there are areas that maintain a micro-climate such as Ventnor Botanic Garden who are able to showcase an amazing subtropical and exotic plant collection.
It’s not just the Isle of Wight’s location that is key to growing great produce, it’s the people too. There are many individuals who put a huge amount of effort and passion in to what they grow and harvest, a real labour of love. I think this is because ultimately, people do recognise that you get out what you put in. Feed and nurture the land in a caring and responsible way and the land will then yield. The Island is home to family run farms, such as Living Larder, who supply popular fruit and vegetable box schemes through to large commercial growers. One such large producer who specialises in its ‘field’ is The Tomato Stall, supplying a mind boggling range of the not-so-humble tomato (as the name suggests!). Other Island growers welcome the public in to their growing spaces including The Garlic Farm, who invite visitors to take a tour around the farm and supply everything garlicky in the on-site shop.
Fortunately, the love of food and produce runs deeply on the Island and you are never far from a farmers market, food fayre or food themed festival. Favorites for me and my family are the Garlic Festival, usually around the middle of August, Bembridge Harbour Food Festival in late September and the Farmers Markets in Newport (Fridays) and Ryde (Saturdays).