Used to addressing demands in the Political Arena, Wales’s First Minister, Carwyn Jones also has a few challenges closer to home, in his garden. “Our soil is very poor,” he explains, “We have got a large garden and in the 12 years we have lived here, I have planted lots of trees, fruit canes and got a vegetable patch going. The trouble is,” he confides, is that the veg patch I had at our previous house was really easy digging and a pleasure to look after. Now I’ve got really heavy clay so it’s hard work. It doesn’t break down at all, I just about manage to turn it over but getting a tilth is impossible.”
“I have concentrated mainly on fruit and veg and planted a lot of soft fruit, plums, loganberries, pears and a lovely mulberry tree. It only went in four years ago so it’ll be another 3 years before it fruits. And as the soil is so alkaline, I’ve put blueberries in pots, in ericaceous compost. I think the garden needs a bit more colour now so I’ve just bought some heathers but they’ll have to go in pots too,” he adds knowingly.
It appears Carwyn ‘knows his onions’ then? “I can talk a good garden,” he laughs, adding quickly, “but I can’t grow pumpkins and all my peas died last year, every single one. I’m still not sure why. Possible causes sparked a lively debate at the local gardening club,” he adds humorously. “I think I’ll stick to root veg this year because of the soil.”
“And I’m determined to sort the lawn out this year too. When the house was built they basically put a wall around a field for the garden, so the lawn is just a meadow. It’s got everything growing in it, even bluebells, so it’s difficult to cut the grass. I want to get a healthier and stronger lawn.”
It appears gardening is a family affair, as Carwyn continues, “The kids grow sunflowers every year and have got their own herb garden under an old apple tree. They do show an interest and certainly know their herbs, though I think turning the soil put them off a bit. And Lisa, my wife, takes care of the pot plants and helps eat the veg,” he adds affectionately.
“It’s great for children to see where their food comes from, as well as experiencing and understanding the different seasons. A lot more schools have got gardens now, which is great. And there are the health benefits of course, not only do they get more exercise but I think they enjoy eating what they grow so that encourages a healthier diet too.”
Passionate about growing his own, the First Minister likes to cook his own too. “I like cooking, when I have the time. I think cooking skills are important and there’s nothing nicer than veg from the garden. My Dad, Caron, does a lot of gardening too, so keeps us well supplied. He’s got a greenhouse so he grows tomatoes and cucumbers as well as lots of radishes, lettuce, kidney beans and gibbons, or spring onions,” he adds.
When I mention the advantage of trading with surplus veg, Carwyn laughs. “Dad’s trading position is far stronger than mine, all I grew last year were potatoes to try to break up the heavy soil. They were a great success though.
“We are still eating our own potatoes,” he adds proudly.