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An Interview with the Organic Gardener and Writer

Claire Ratinon is a self-described “career changer grower,” a former documentary producer who fell hard for gardening after a chance visit to the Brooklyn Grange (a rooftop farm in New York) led her to trade in the cameras and lights for compost and loppers. She went on to grow edible plants in a range of roles, including growing organic produce for the Ottolenghi restaurant, Rovi. Today, she lives in rural East Sussex, where she finally gets to tend her own vegetable patch. She writes about her gardening journey in a regular column for the Guardian’s Saturday magazine and in books, the latest being Unearthed: On Race and Roots, and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong, a memoir that explores how working with the land has connected her to her Mauritian roots. Last month, Claire debuted her online course, “Grow Your Own Food,” via the Create Academy.

Read on to find out why the organic gardener and writer thinks “growing plants is the only thing that genuinely makes sense” these days. 

Photography courtesy of The Create Academy, unless otherwise noted.

Above: Claire shares her gardening wisdom in her columns for The Guardian. You can find them here.

Your first garden memory:

I’m a career changer grower, so although I have early memories of the sunny, blousy marigolds and fragrant roses that my mother grew in the garden where I grew up, my most important plant memory was stepping out of an elevator onto the rooftop farm, Brooklyn Grange, to see rows of crops basking in the sun. The orientation of my life changed in that moment.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Joy Larkcom’s Grow Your Own Vegetables is a bible for vegetable growing. I go back to it to double -check myself all the time and direct people towards it if they’re looking for guidance.

Instagram account that inspires you:

A Growing Culture shares fascinating and important content speaking to global issues around agriculture, food sovereignty, and land justice.

Plant that makes you swoon:

A July harvest of tomatillos. Photograph via @claireratinon.
Above: A July harvest of tomatillos. Photograph via @claireratinon.

Currently, I’m eagerly awaiting the return of the tomatillos. We grew them on the farm where I work last season and the plants yielding an abundance of delicious fruit so I ate them pretty much every day. I’m hoping to do the same this summer!

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Can’t get on board with celeriac.. sorry!

Favorite go-to plant:

Above: Claire practices the “no-dig” gardening approach, mulching her vegetable beds with a layer of compost every year and leaving it for the soil life to incorporate.

Tomatoes. Not exactly original but homegrown are simply better than anything I’ve ever bought in a greengrocer or supermarket. I grow the varieties ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Purple Calabash’ every year.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

That most edible plants can’t be grown indoors. Not really an opinion as much as it’s a fact, but people don’t like to hear it!

Hardest gardening lesson you’ve learned:

Claire attempted to grow margoz, also known as bitter melon, a vegetable she grew up eating in her Mauritian household. &#8\2\20;These two are off in the post to my mum and dad and maybe next year I’ll do better than two small bitter melons,&#8\2\2\1; she wrote in an Instagram post. Photograph via @claireratinon.
Above: Claire attempted to grow margoz, also known as bitter melon, a vegetable she grew up eating in her Mauritian household. “These two are off in the post to my mum and dad and maybe next year I’ll do better than two small bitter melons,” she wrote in an Instagram post. Photograph via @claireratinon.

That no matter how much you know, how hard you try, how desperately you want it, some crops just won’t thrive under your care that season and the causes of that failure will often be beyond your control—so it’s not worth getting too upset about.

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