The BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge saw gardening mates Alex and Ed crowned the inaugural champions as a result of their fine veg and flower growing, pickle making and flower arranging. We had a chat with Ed to find out some of the secrets of their success…
You timed your run to perfection to take allotment glory. At what stage did you think you were in with a chance of winning?
I think that once we won the topiary tree – and we found the floristry hardest – then we believed we could win. We had confidence in our flowers and veg so never thought we we off the pace there, only in runners and gladioli I suppose. Eat challenges we enjoyed but it was tricky to make two things Thane liked in a week!
You definitely got the hang of flower arranging by the end of the show. Did you have any experience of this before you entered?
We never really worked out the foliage part. Alex and I really just wanted to put as many flowers in as we could and the scale never really suited our choices of flowers – we grew quite few smaller varieties and the arrangements got bigger and bigger.
Experience wise, there is a category at our allotment show for men: arrangement in a teacup, in a shoe, in a hat… that was my experience. They better watch out this year!
Fellow contestants Rupert and Dimi made some mean looking chilli vodka for the final. Did you have a glass to celebrate your victory?
A little bit. I’m quite chilli tolerant at the moment so the things Thane found hot I was OK with. Alex and I made a weekly curry part of our routine – Chennai Dosa in Reading amazing. I had to drive home after the show so I only had a nip, but it was good.
Come the end of the show there were only three pairs of challengers left, but we assume all of the contestants had been growing melons and sweetcorn for the final before they were eliminated. Did anyone else’s melons look like they were going to be a match for yours?
We were not allowed into each other’s greenhouses, so it was difficult to tell. Garry and Pete said they had lovely melons, but I think their vines fell down. It was difficult to grow them. I expect there were others but cannot be sure.
Your melons were spectacular. What’s the secret?
Lots of heat and sunshine, and regular feeding. Hand pollinating. Stopping the vines at one melon each. And culling them down to one on each plant (but only for showing). I guess you could leave more to ripen at home for the table. I’m trying water melons this year as they are hardier and can go outside.
Were there any flowers or veg you grew that you were unfamiliar with? Did you have much time to learn how best to grow them?
Aubergines were new, and melons. We grew lots of annual flowers that were new – rudbeckias, zinnia and asters for example. The internet and second hand bookshops were an amazing source of knowledge. We researched and planned well. It was an amazing time to learn so much.
You and Alex were described as the most competitive team. What was it like reading comments about you both in the media?
I think we were the most passionate about winning, but we still gardened in the right way. Our spare plants were shared and we were open about presentation tricks. If no one listened when we said sweetpeas need to be standing proud from the top of the vase that is not our fault!
Some commentators found me a little excitable but I wear my heart on my sleeve, you can’t have us upset when our friends left and then not pumped up when we won things. Our reaction on winning the title was subdued and respectful of the others and that is just as “us” as the table slapping.
I didn’t think we were bad losers when challenges went against us and losing well is more important than winning well. I think it was fun to read about myself, even if I didn’t agree with every comment.
Will you be changing what you grow or the way you grow things on your own allotment as a result of being in the competition?
I’ll be growing more varieties of flowers but not any foliage!
And finally, has your success brought you any exciting new opportunities?
I’d love it to. I’ve really enjoyed the experience, but no one is banging the door down yet! I’m sure I’m findable if people want me, you did!