Discover how to ‘grow easy’ with Anna Greenland, Michelin-starred chefs’ go-to gardener.

For Anna Greenland, the garden is inextricable from the food that we eat. For three years, she was responsible for Raymond Blanc’s extensive and legendary vegetable garden at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and remains his horticultural consultant. She then went on to establish the abundant veg garden that feeds Soho Farmhouse – all in four months ahead of its opening. Her herbs are the best in the business, and she is the woman to whom Michelin-starred chefs up and down the land turn if they want the best of the best.

These days, her attentions have turned towards her own plot of land in Suffolk, where she is busy renovating an old threshing barn that will, when finished, become a gardening school. But until that moment, we can still mine Anna’s expertise courtesy of her first book, Grow Easy (Mitchell Beazley), which instructs on how to cultivate your own veg and herbs – and what to cook with your harvested bounty.

Here she tells us which failsafe edible plants we can all learn to grow no matter how much space we have; why we should all be supporting our local farms; and how her hands fatefully passed the Raymond Blanc test.

Follow Anna on Instagram here.

Photo: Richard Allenby-Pratt

Your new book, Grow Easy, comes out this month. Huge congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about it?



Grow Easy is a simple grow-your-own guide for beginner gardeners who are starting from scratch, perhaps with small gardens or growing in pots. It cuts through the high-brow gardening chat and makes it accessible. But there is plenty for more experienced veg growers, as it includes a directory of my top 30 edible plants and how to grow them. Plus, I’ve shared some of my favourite recipes to make the most of the harvest.



You have some amazing, eulogising endorsements from the likes of Raymond Blanc, Melissa Hemsley and Gill Meller. That, of course, totally fits since the garden is so bound up with food for you. Can you tell us a little about how you first caught the gardening bug?



I made a renegade move to leave London and move to Cornwall in my early 20s, where I worked as a waitress at Fifteen Cornwall, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. The house I was renting had a greenhouse and I started growing tomatoes and herbs. I loved it and was hugely inspired by some of the suppliers for Fifteen who would come into the restaurant with armfuls of beautiful local, organic produce. Eventually I started working with them and growing for the restaurant myself. I invested in my first polytunnel and was in heaven.

What I love about the concept is that you don’t assume that everyone has acres to play with. You also have ideas for how to grow edibles on balconies, front steps and in window boxes. What are some of the easiest things we can grow without having a lot of space?



For windowsills it has to be microcresses. All you need is a seed tray or a recycled plastic food tray (like tomatoes or mushrooms come in), some peat-free potting compost and seeds. Think red mustard, Greek cress, pea shoots, coriander, red cabbage, pak choi and ‘Rambo’ Radish. You harvest these once they have their first or second set of leaves as little seedlings and they have fantastic flavour. Scatter them on salads, eggs or just about any dish as you’re serving.



Herbs are another must have for small spaces – they enliven your cooking and support wellbeing while taking up little space. Basil, chervil, lemon verbena, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme all work well in pots and are featured in the book, along with edible flowers like calendula, French marigolds, violas and nasturtiums.

Do you believe that anyone – even those who think of themselves as terminally non-green-fingered – can grow their own?



Yes absolutely. It just requires a little patience. If something fails it isn’t the curse of the person growing it. It’ll be the conditions that are wrong. Spending some time getting the soil right first is a must – applying compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter will add nutrients and improve structure. Or buying good quality peat-free, organic potting compost if you’re growing pots. Everything starts with soil. If you get that right you’ll be off to a flying start.

There is obviously a huge satisfaction in growing your own food. The sense of achievement is truly an amazing thing. Does it also have health benefits (both physical and mental)?



Yes, various studies have now proven the health benefits that gardening and being outdoors in nature bring. There is also a studied link between the soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae and a happier state of mind. Us gardeners have known forever that having your hands in the soil makes you feel good. But scientists have now found that this particular microbe acts as a natural antidepressant, causing cytokine levels to rise, which results in the production of higher levels of serotonin.

We are a nation used to buying out-of-season fruit and veg, imported from other countries. Do you think the tide is turning on this – and what should people look for when shopping for their fruit and veg?



In lockdown when supermarkets were less reliable, the cracks began to show in our global food system. People started looking locally for produce and veg boxes and CSAs were in demand. I hope their popularity continues. Always seek out your local organic farms who provide boxes or attend farmers markets. Their organic produce is always seasonal and tastes completely different to anything you buy in supermarkets (even organic). Farms to Feed Us is a helpful database that can link you to farmers and producers in your area that are farming regeneratively or organically. Farmerama is also a fantastic podcast highlighting wonderful producers and hugely enlightening about our food system.

Also be guided by the hedgerows around you. Buy yourself a good foraging book – anything by Richard Mabey, John Wright or the superb new book by Liz Knight. There is a lot of wonderful free, seasonal food out there for you to enjoy (responsibly!).

You worked for Raymond Blanc, who is famous for his extraordinary restaurant and for how much produce comes straight from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons’ gardens. What was that experience like?



It was life-changing. I learned so much from Raymond and he has remained a wonderful mentor and friend. His enthusiasm for quality, flavourful produce is intoxicating. He was a pioneer of the garden-to-plate movement in the UK and has created something magical at Le Manoir. I can’t pretend it wasn’t stressful at times. The gardens are pretty vast and there were always a million projects on the go at once. Keeping up with Raymond’s pace of ideas was a job in itself, but it was a privilege to work there.

You also grow herbs and veg for a host of Michelin-starred chefs. How did that begin, and what has been the best bit about working with such top chefs on your produce?



The joy of working with chefs at the top of their game is seeing what they create with the produce you grow. They are true artists and come up with ideas I would never dream of. Getting into working with chefs at this level was pure chance. I just saw a job advertised to work at Le Manoir. I was incredibly nervous going to the interview but Raymond put me at ease asking to see my hands…he wanted to know if they were rough enough to be a true gardener. Luckily, they passed the test!



You also established Soho Farmhouse’s gorgeous vegetable garden – can you tell us what that experience was like?



In a nutshell totally mad! I had about four months to create a big abundant vegetable garden before the whole site opened. I was given about 20 builders and told to get on with it. But we made it happen and it felt good to create something entirely from scratch. My garden tours often had the odd celebrity on them – it was quite surreal!

How can more restaurants be encouraged to use either home-grown or locally (or at least domestically) grown ingredients?



Consumers need to demand it. Ask questions about the menu when you go to eat there. They should aim to partner with local farms and let seasonality lead the menu. I always look to the relationship between Fern Verrow and Skye Gyngell as a beautiful one. Once we’re up and running, I’d love to invite restaurants/chefs to my new project in Suffolk to encourage them to understand the value of using local, organic produce.

You now live in Suffolk and, I think, will be hosting courses at your home before long. Can you tell us more?



We are currently renovating an old Suffolk threshing barn and creating kitchen gardens and a gardening school. The plan is to create a hub of all things organic and regenerative growing and eating. I will run classes to engage people with growing-their-own and hope to partner with cooks and chefs to create garden-based events. We feel immensely grateful to be custodians of this magical plot of Suffolk land, and plan to do our very best by the soil and landscape to create a diverse, thriving ecosystem.

What other gardeners do you most admire, past or present?



Charles Dowding and his ‘no dig’ methods have been a big inspiration, as have Joy Larkom for her wonderfully written books on vegetables and Sarah Raven with her cut flowers and delicious recipes. I’m also a big fan of Tom Stuart Smith’s garden designs.

On a more personal level, Sean O’Neill who runs Good Earth Growers in Cornwall was an early mentor of mine and a hugely responsible in lighting the fire of organic growing in me. Similarly, David Blake from Worton Kitchen Garden in Oxfordshire really knows his onions! Wendell Berry, the American environmental activist, poet and farmer is also someone I admire.

I look to Maude Grieve author of The Modern Herbal for herbal inspiration from the past and can’t not mention Lady Eve Balfour, a co-founder of the Soil Association.



And your favourite garden of all time?



Rousham Gardens in Oxfordshire with its magical mulberry tree will always hold a special place in my heart.

Finally, for our green-fingered readers and those hoping to start growing their own food, what are your top jobs in the garden for September/ October as we prepare for winter?



September is a big harvest month but as it reaches its end and we move into October crops can start to be cleared, the garden tidied up and a layer of compost or rotted manure added to replenish soil. If you’re starting a garden for the first time, these are good months to build beds and spread compost ahead of winter.

Winter lettuce and Asian leaves can be sown in early September for winter and early spring supplies. I also sow calendula and violas in September and overwinter them for early blooms the following spring. September is also a good month for planting pot-grown or bare root strawberry runners for fruit next summer.

By Nancy Alsop
September 2021

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