Feature by Marthe Hensmann
A fine summer’s day is best spent outdoors and even better at Ryton Organic Gardens: ten acres of beautifully landscaped gardens where the vegetable is king and where you can find out everything about organic gardening and food.
Have a closer look at the gardens
Click the images button below to see a gallery of photographs from the gardens.
Plenty to see and learn for everyone
If you want to know how to turn your small backgarden into a lush organic paradise or just have a relaxing stroll - the 30 individually themed gardens lure not only the keen gardener but offer plenty for the whole family.
The Herb Garden
"Our aim is to encourage and enable people to buy, grow and eat their own food", explains director Jackie Gear, "but of course you can just come for a lovely day outdoors as the gardens are attractive in their own right".
Even if you are a complete novice on horticultural matters, the gardens make you aware of the benefit of ‘going organic’ - the natural way of growing and eating food without the use of chemicals.
Our aim is to encourage and enable people to buy, grow and eat their own food.
Director Jackie Gear
One of the highlights I found on my recent visit was the wonderful herb-garden, where lavender, thyme and tea tree grow.
I also enjoyed the bee-garden, which hosts not only a small colony of nature’s little helpers but also an array of plants on which they feed.
The composting display
The Vegetable Way and allottment show you how to grow your own vegetables, which is a tasty and cheap enterprise.
The Vegetable Kingdom is the newest addition to the gardens, recently opened by the Prince of Wales. Exploring the world of veggies, it offers plenty of information on their history, diversity and benefits. Did you know that there are 360 varieties of tomato in Britain, for example?
There are amazing varieties of vegetables people don’t know about.
Kids can be kept busy by the many interactive features and computer games to do with the healthy stuff, while the debate chamber lets you make up your own mind about controversial issues of the day, such as GM food.
In the Herb Garden
Jackie, who together with husband and co-director Alan has recently been awarded an MBE in recognition of their work in organic horticulture, wants to encourage people to learn more about vegetables.
"There are amazing varieties of vegetables people don’t know about," she said. "We want to praise British food and make people appreciate the traditional varieties. We aim to put that across in a fun way."
It is actually illegal to sell seeds that are not registered on a National or EU list.
You can also have a peek at the laboratories of the Heritage Seed Library, where rare vegetable varieties are saved and made available to gardeners. Jackie stressed this was very important work as: "it is actually illegal to sell seeds that are not registered on a National or EU list, because of the expensive registration costs many varieties fall through the net."
The pest and disease control garden
You can support them by "adopting a veg". Become the proud mother or father of a rare variety for a year and help keep the species alive. Incidentally, Prince Charles adopted the Rat’s Tail Radish!
Towards the end of the Vegetable Kingdom experience, there’s a chance to have a look at some recipes contributed by some famous chefs, including Ainsley Harriott’s Moroccan pumpkin and potato stew.
And these get the taste buds well-and-truly primed in time for a visit to the adjoining restaurant. As a devoted vegetarian, I especially enjoyed the smoked flavour of my baked aubergine with mediterranean vegetables and pine-nuts.
The world's biggest flowerpot
The gardens are run by the Henry Doubleday Research Association, a charity promoting organic farming and gardening with over 41,000 members.
Jackie joined it nearly 30 years ago because of concerns about the food being eaten then - and still being eaten now.
Five daily portions of fruit and veg
"People thought we were mad when we started and now even the government recommends eating five daily portions of fruit and veg," she said.
"It is proven now that kids are eating food high in fat and sugar and not enough fruit and veg. That puts them at great risk from diseases such as cancer."
Apart from hosting the biggest organic research centre in the country, the organisation is also involved in projects for sustainable farming in Africa and India.
"We are very much a grass-roots organisation, " explained Alan, "and we think that you cannot feed the Third World through high-tech seeds but by better farming techniques. We see the danger of the world’s food resources being concentrated in very few hands."
On GM food, they unsurprisingly take a strong position. Jackie said: "GM food terrifies us. The risks have not been assessed properly. And in my opinion, they are too high".
The gardens make a great day out
The organisation successfully campaigned against the set-up of a trial GM test field in nearby Wolston.
"We took on the GM industry and were the only organisation ever to have achieved a stop. We also lobbied the government and especially former environment minister Michael Meacher was very supportive," she said.
A great day out
Ryton Organic Gardens make a great day out, especially now the summer’s colours are at their brightest. The remarks of one visitor I met sum it up nicely: "We found there was a lot more to see than we thought. We spent all afternoon here and could have spent longer."