Get to know Sara Venn
Find out more about what the outdoors means to urban gardener Sara.
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
I need to spend time outside for my wellbeing; it’s really important for me to keep me well, both physically and mentally. I’ve also realised in the last few months, since I’ve been recovering from being poorly, that there’s actually lots about being outside that’s really calming and it keeps you on a level. It’s really important for me.
I was always brought up outside, and the outdoors was something that we were in as kids, so it’s always been important for me to be outside and be very aware of nature and wildlife, flora and fauna, all of that stuff.
So why do you think having access to the outdoors is important?
I think as more and more people move into cities, we haven’t got that access to the outside and therefore to nature, so we’re alienating ourselves from it. But we need it as a species - it’s vital that we all have that connection to outside, to nature, to where our food is grown, to the soil, to insects. The amount of kids who scream if they see a spider and try to kill it because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. I think we need to teach respect to children, and nature and the outdoors is a really great way of doing that.
Is there anything you don’t like about the outdoors?
I’m not a big fan of snow, I don’t like falling over – I’m famed for falling over in the snow! But other than that, no not really. I can remember my mum saying to me when I was a kid, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, you’re just not dressed properly’, and I guess that’s kind of true. I’m outdoors in all weathers.
And what’s your favourite thing about the outdoors?
I think just being. Just watching what’s going on around you, not trying to analyse anything, just sitting with a tea and watching the bees. Seeing what I’ve managed to create in my own garden, just with a few plants and not much else, opening everything up and welcoming everybody in.
Do you enjoy the outdoors more on your own or with others? How does it differ?
I enjoy the outdoors by myself and in a group, but in different ways. For my own wellbeing, it’s good to be out there by myself, but in a group, I’m usually gardening with them or doing something, so I’m more conscious of how they’re reacting to being outside; being in the city means you’re often with people who aren’t used to being outside. It’s about sharing your joy in the outside, whatever that looks like, and supporting them to enjoy what’s going on around them.
Being able to share my love of the outdoors and gardening with people who haven’t had the same opportunities as me is really powerful and immensely humbling. You see quite a lot of people who might be in transition, who might be quite challenged and finding different ways to lead their lives, and you see them grow into someone who’s actually achieving something in life and I think that’s really powerful. It’s about just bringing people together I think, so they feel they have a voice.
Do you spend time outdoors in any other way, other than gardening?
Yes, I’m outside in lots of different ways. I love to walk, to sit on the beach, I’m an outside person so I don’t like to just garden.
How did you get into horticulture in the first place?
When I was three, my next door neighbour sat me on his knee and taught me how to grow sweet peas. Little did I know that this was all part of a plan, because my mum was pregnant and about to have my brother, and we sowed these things just in time for mum to be given the first bunch of sweet peas when she came home with my brother. We had the peas for dinner as the first meal home from the hospital. And that was it, I was hooked.
What were you doing before you moved and started Edible Bristol, and what inspired the move?
Before I moved to Bristol, I was working in mainstream horticulture in a very large nursery just outside London, growing plants and managing people and all that goes with working in a large production nursery. I moved to Bristol because I got offered what I thought was going to be an amazing job which was actually hell, so I left that job having with absolutely nothing to do but knowing I was going to stay in Bristol, I got involved in some local projects: Windmill Hill City Farm, some private gardening stuff with some friends of mine who do garden design, and I started to look at was available for people to get involved with in Bristol. I quickly realised that there wasn’t an Incredible Edible, and that there probably should be.
Now I run Incredible Edible Bristol, but I am also vice chair of the Incredible Edible network, and a regional facilitator which means I look after all the Incredible Edible groups in the South West.
So how did you get into urban gardening and why is it important?
I got into urban gardening because I moved to the city in a flat that didn’t have a garden, so it was obvious to look for something that was shared. I found that hard because when I tell people I’m a horticulturalist, they assume I want to take over, but I really just want to do some digging! So after about a year, I realised there was room for an Incredible Edible group in Bristol, so Incredible Edible Bristol was born.
What does urban gardening mean to you personally?
For me, urban gardening is about gardening in the public realm - on the roadside, on a roundabout, in Millennium Square – but for most people, urban gardening just means gardening. Urban gardening and rural gardening are the same thing, they’re just in a different place. The best part is that urban gardening is incredibly inclusive, anybody can come along. If it’s hard for you to get outside, it’s even more important for you to get outside and connect with nature.
How does your own garden compare to the community gardens that you work in?
My garden is tiny: it’s 3m x 3m, rammed full with plants and a lot of pots but there’s also a tiny little border and it’s a riot of colour from early spring through to the end of autumn. My own garden is just that, my own, so it just has to give me joy. I just grow the stuff that I like: far more flowers, probably far less food than in our community gardens. For me, my own garden is more about being outside with nature and creating space for wildlife rather than a food space.
How did your garden help you stay connected to the outdoors?
Because it’s just there, I treat it like it’s another room in the house. If you want me between 7 and 7:30 in the morning, I’m sitting on the chair, probably in my pyjamas, covered in a blanket with a cup of tea and just waking up! It’s really just part of my daily routine.
Having my own garden just means I’ve got that outdoor space that I can go and relax in and use for whatever I need to use it for at that point. It’s important to me.
I also like to bring the outdoors in by having lots of houseplants that I’m not very good at looking after! But I love them, and it’s a good thing to have.
What’s your favourite season in the garden?
My favourite season in the garden is the season I’m in at that moment – but I do prefer spring and summer.
What kit do you wear in the outdoors?
I’m really bad at sorting out what kit I wear. I tend to wear whatever falls out of my wardrobe, usually my oldest clothes, and typically I can be found wearing totally inappropriate clothing for being outside! I do love a pair of wellies, and I do love a fleece I have to say, but basically whatever I pick up off the floor.
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