Lucy Hutchings’ days used to be spent in her studio, her fingers expertly creating statement jewellery worn by the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue, and regularly featured in fashion magazines including Grazia.
Today, though, her fingers are most often splattered with earth, as Lucy pots up tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in her greenhouse, waters the microgreens in her window boxes or adds compost to her kitchen garden. For despite the success of her couture jewellery label, Lucy gave it all up and now has a blooming new career that’s all about growing your own, whatever space you have. Her first book, Get Up And Grow, is out this week.
‘I faced the decision of taking the business to the next level or walking away,’ she says. ‘And at that point I realised that despite wanting to be a jewellery designer since I was young, I was so stressed and anxious, I just wasn’t enjoying it. So much of my time revolved about the management of the company and worrying about money; I wasn’t spending enough time being creative any more.’
Taking time off to decide what to do next, and also to enjoy time with her two young children, she indulged her love of horticulture. ‘I’d always mucked about growing things but plants that provide food really spark my imagination,’ she says. ‘When I was at university, I had herbs on the windowsill of my student house; when I lived in a flat on the 15th floor, I had a green wall for herbs and lemon trees in pots.’
This time around she had a small veg patch in her back garden and working in it became like therapy, especially as she was also going through a painful divorce.
‘My everyday life was breaking down and reforming and the stress of it was all-consuming – but the garden was an escape, it was the one place where I felt uncomplicatedly happy,’ she says.
In early 2019, encouraged by her sister, Lucy began @shegrowsveg on Instagram. Very quickly, she grew a huge following, which today stands at 116,000, and this kick-started a career promoting home-grown food. ‘I think people were drawn to my attitude,’ says Lucy of her Insta success. ‘I had no horticultural background, so a lot of the time I was flying by the seat of my pants, learning as I went along and breaking the rules, and I think people liked that.’
Although tropical plants are thought not to fruit in the UK’s cool climate, Lucy grows banana trees that give her plump, sweet fruit as well as orange and lime trees. She also champions heirloom plants – old varieties that are often tastier than modern ones but have fallen out of fashion because they can’t be grown on an industrial scale. ‘They may be a tiny bit more complicated to grow but the reward from a taste perspective is huge – they are just so much more delicious to eat and often healthier, too,’ she says.
Lucy believes anyone can grow a wide range of delicious edible plants even with no outside space at all. ‘Why should apartment dwellers, balcony gardeners or small garden owners be excluded from a taste of the good life just because of the traditional image of how food can and should be grown?’ she asks.
Lucy grows herbs in over-door hanging storage racks, tomatoes in wall planters and microgreens on windowsills. ‘You can successfully grow edible plants, including tropical plants that will give you fruit, inside,’ she says. ‘If you have houseplants, why not also grow those that can provide you with food? The action of nurturing a plant from seed and then being able to harvest a crop that you can eat is incredibly rewarding. It can also reduce your shopping bill and it’s better for the planet, too. There is no downside at all.’