How recession turned Britain's fingers green

Grow-your-own boom producing most food 'for a generation'
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The Independent Online

Rising numbers of people are being tempted by the "good life", with more food being produced in back gardens this year than for a generation, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has said.

With the force of the recession still being felt, increasing numbers of homeowners are turning green-fingered as a means of keeping their food bills down. In the past month alone 25,000 of them have signed up to an RHS pledge to grow more of their own.

Over the past three years, more than 750,000 people have contacted the society asking for information on how to grow fruit and vegetables.

Interest is at such a level that the RHS, which runs the Chelsea Flower Show, is launching a smartphone application to help amateur gardeners. Bob Sweet, head of shows development for the RHS, said: "It looks like more food will be grown by people for their own consumption this year than there has been for perhaps a generation. There's been huge interest in growing your own and it shows no sign of waning." People with the smallest spaces to cultivate plants are the most likely to contact the RHS for advice, suggesting that those on the lowest incomes are most anxious to cut their food bills.

Mr Sweet said it was not necessary to have a huge garden to grow plants for the table, as they could be grown virtually anywhere, including on balconies and in concrete back yards using pots.

The most popular foods grown by amateurs are herbs and salad leaves, followed by tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and strawberries. In 2008, according to the Horticultural Trades Association, sales of vegetable seedlings and seeds of edible plants rose by 30 per cent. Regionally, the south of England is leading the charge, followed by the West Midlands and Scotland. The East Midlands is the least likely place for people to grow their own food.

Guy Barter, head of horticultural advice at the RHS, said: "Those who expected the grow-your-own boom to be short-lived will be confounded by the enthusiasm for 'pledging' [to cultivate more food at home]; there is clearly an enormous desire to grow at least some food in home gardens, workplaces and allotments."

Features on the RHS's phone app include alerting users when they should water their plants, when to feed them and when to re-pot seedlings. It is being released in three stages and more than 3,000 people have already signed up to the first element since it was launched earlier this month. The second stage is released on 19 April and the final section on 1 May.

The first phase advises users which fruit and vegetables would be most suitable for their gardens and takes into account the time they have, and their skill.

Next week's release, which like the first is free, offers advice on sowing, growing, harvesting and tackling diseases. The final stage, which costs £1.79, provides access to RHS forums.