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Not your 'garden variety' gardener

Windowsills. Allotments. Inner-city rooftops. For Alys Fowler gardening is about making the best of the space you have. And with a changing climate to contend with, that's never been more important.

From rural roots to urban spaces

Growing up on a smallholding in the Hampshire countryside, Alys Fowler's love of the great outdoors began at an early age. But when she moved overseas to study at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, she swapped rural life for the big city, and found herself with only a fire escape to grow plants on.

The new environment inspired her to explore Manhattan's thriving community of gardeners, and she soon found herself part of a scene that included young artists and musicians.

"At the time, gardening in Britain was seen as something you tended to take up as you got older, but in New York it was different - people were doing it because it was a really creative and expressive thing to do."

It's clear from her newspaper columns, bestselling books and television programmes that creativity is a big part of gardening for Alys. But she also acknowledges the scientific side, in the need to understand how things grow - and even a semi-spiritual element of gardening. As she explains, "You're making something beautiful by creating a garden, but you're also cultivating a relationship with the natural world around you."

A garden for all seasons

It's that sense of a connection to nature that has made Alys acutely aware of the increasing unpredictability of our weather. Gardening is very much about seasonal rhythms, and so a changing climate can cause innumerable difficulties when it comes to growing any plants - including food. Once there were strict planting dates for carrots - and specific seasons when apples would ripen. Today things can be much more erratic.

"The thing that becomes really apparent when you spend a lot of time outside, working with nature is how the cycle is becoming less and less predictable. And that's so risky for us, because we can't predict what our growing pattern is going to be."

Her response is a proactive one. She tries to grow lots of different produce so no matter what the weather throws at her, she can be sure that something, at least, will succeed. Planting large volumes - and a wide variety - of plants also entices vital pollinators, such as bees, back to the garden.

"Encourage as much life and variety as possible. The more you put in, the more you'll support all the life around the garden - and the less weeding you'll have to do."

Going green

For Alys, it's important to make the most of what you have, whether that's an unseasonably dry summer or wet winter, big back garden or just a windowsill. Her top tip for tiny spaces is to plant salad.

"You can grow an awful lot of salad in a small space. A packet of seeds will provide you with a summer's worth to eat, and it will be local and organic, because it's grown on your back door."

Trying to be as organic as possible is a big part of Alys' mission, too. She avoids using peat at all costs and stays away from pesticides, which "by their very nature kill insects, but kill a lot of life in the soil, too". And she encourages amateur gardeners to make their own, homemade compost, because "it's the very best thing you can give to your plants... and it's free!"