Veg plot from scratch

A restau­ra­teur’s voy­age of veg dis­cov­ery

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Bangladesh-born restau­rant owner and chef Shaish Alam doesn’t be­lieve in tak­ing things slowly. Just four years af­ter pick­ing up a trowel for the first time, he’s thrown him­self into grow­ing food with a whole­hearted, in­fec­tious de­light that won view­ers’ hearts when Gar­den­ers’ World vis­ited him on his three-and-a-half-acre plot in west Wales. His only pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of gar­den­ing was scrump­ing ap­ples, black­ber­ries and wild rasp­ber­ries from church­yards and rail­way sid­ings in east Lon­don as a child .“Oh my god! So tasty,” he re­mem­bers. It was those in­tense, just-picked flavours that he yearned to use in his restau­rant Yas­min’s. “I couldn’t af­ford chan­de­liers, so I thought, how about I just grow things?” he says. “If I have the finest in­gre­di­ents, then maybe I can turn peo­ple’s heads.” Shaish had no idea where to start, though, and kept putting it off. But then came the tragic loss of his daugh­ter Kamilla at just ten months old. Shaish re­alised he talked about do­ing all sorts of things, but didn’t carry them through. “The day af­ter the fu­neral, I started gar­den­ing,” he says. Most begin­ner gar­den­ers would go cau­tiously at first. Not Shaish. Within weeks there was a 19m poly­tun­nel out­side the restau­rant; then he added a sec­ond poly­tun­nel, as well as chick­ens and bees, in a field be­hind his home. It worked. His restau­rant has won a clutch of awards, and Shaish’s gar­den is lush and green with sal­ads, chi l l ies, cauliflow­ers and broc­coli. This is veg grow­ing Bangla style, with seeds sourced from fam­ily and from Asian food shops. Among Shaish’s spinach is climb­ing, bur­gundy-stemmed Mal­abar spinach ( Basella rubra); he sprin­kles its fleshy leaves lib­er­ally into sal­ads and gar­nishes. Among his aubergines are long, slen­der Bangladeshi brin­jal, and he grows or­di­nary radishes but picks their ‘oniony’ leaves for cook­ing. His pride and joy, though, are his ‘Ben­gal Naga’ chillies; hun­dreds of plants laden with

I grow or­di­nary radishes but pick their ‘oniony’ leaves for cook­ing

blis­ter­ingly hot, lip­stick-red fruits. One day, Shaish wants to grow the world’s hottest chilli, but right now he just wants them to get through win­ter. “We tried soil-warm­ing ca­bles but they short-cir­cuited,” he says. He’s started build­ing a hot com­post heap to heat wa­ter pumped around the plants’ feet. “I don’t need it to be trop­i­cal, I just want the roots to sur­vive,” he says. The gar­den has be­come a cher­ished way of life for him, shared daily with his part­ner, three bois­ter­ous chil­dren – “they’re grow­ing up to be like Tarzan” – and Pomera­nian-Shitzu-cross Boo­boo, “the cra­zi­est dog in the world”. He adds: “I wake up, I go straight to the gar­den. My mis­sus comes with the kids and off we go. I’ve got a car­a­van, a tree­house, an abun­dance of food, I have pic­nics ga­lore – I have more pic­nics than any­one on earth!” He’s still learn­ing on the job; but, he says, “mostly, ev­ery­thing grows”. And, he be­lieves, it’s sim­pler than you might think. “The de­sign of a cab­bage is real ly com­pli­cated, but luck­ily you don’t have to un­der­stand a cab­bage,” he says. “You just have to put it in the right place, and the cab­bage un­der­stands what it has to do. And it grows into a beau­ti­ful veg­etable.”

Aubergines and sweet pep­pers thrive in a poly­tun­nel or green­house, as long as they’re kept well wa­tered

Sow seeds of ‘Ben­gal Naga’ chillies now for fiery har­vests this au­tumn

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