“The garden hasn’t taken over my life – it IS my life! I love it so much. It’s almost an obsession bordering on hysteria!” laughs Bryony Hill when I asked her about her garden. She has a two-acres in Sussex that has a mixture of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers from which she creates recipes that she binds into books.

Her latest is called ‘Grow happy, cook happy, be happy’ in which she shares not just her recipes, but her gardening tips, photography and watercolour paintings, too. Bryony comes from a long line of female gardeners but she herself started gardening relatively late in life. Her husband was the late Jimmy Hill and, as a well-known professional footballer then television sports presenter, the house was typically full of sport whether on the television, radio or in conversation.

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Jimmy and Bryony at Buckingham Palace

“I hate sport!” she admits when I asked her how she came to garden. “The garden was my escape from it.” In 1985 the couple moved into their Sussex home. It was November and, while the garden was dormant, there was little there except lawn and a few shrubs. Bryony’s mother Bridget was keen to pass on her horticultural knowledge and was as excited at the prospect of developing the garden as Bryony was and began to amass seedlings and cuttings in readiness.

Bryony herself became impatient and so began to make new beds. “Jimmy was frequently away for work and each time he went away I’d make another bed and extend the ones I’d already made.

"I’d start with the intention of just lifting a little of the turf but as I peeled it away it would reveal the most wonderful soil so I’d just keep going. Jimmy came back from a trip one day, looked at the garden, saw a new bed I’d dug and protested, “That was my chipping green!””

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Consequently, the garden is higgledy piggledy having taken form in an organic way with no straight edges. Bryony grows the majority of her produce in raised beds in which she grows potatoes, another for peas, asparagus, salad leaves, cucumbers and fruit.

“I plant what tastes best fresh and I make sure I’ve always got something to harvest. Being down the garden with a colander and a knife is therapeutic and calming, I love being at one with the world around me. The fruit and veg are fresh, they’re good for you and they taste excellent. Picking a pea from a pod that you have grown from seed it so exciting and rewarding. It’s your own work and it’s good for heart and soul.” Bryony finds that she’s a more confident gardener than her mother. She won’t hesitate to move a plant in the wrong season or in hot sunshine. She breaks rules and finds that part of the fun and the freedom of gardening.

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“I love the feeling of creating something from nothing. If it’s not planted it won’t grow, seeds won’t come to anything if they’re left in the packet. Even if the date is past I’ll plant them. The important point is to have a go and to enjoy it. If you’ve never gardened before, as I hadn’t, I say choose something that you like to eat. Buy a cherry tomato plant and learn to take out the tips. Plant a couple of potato plants in a small bucket. It’s like digging for gold when they’re ready! Beetroot, spring onions, carrots and lettuce are all great because they’re simple and rewarding to grow. Nasturtiums are a great starting point, too. They come in all colours, they’re good to eat and they don’t mind poor soil. They’re also good for little fingers as they have big seeds. Don’t buy anything too complicated to start with, build your confidence – from small acorns grow...! It’s the pleasure of growing and it’s an exciting moment when you get to enjoy your harvest. Nature is there so don’t fight her, just go with her.”

Bryony grows carrots in plastic storage boxes to avoid carrot fly. They’re deep and she keeps them on a table so they tower way above the low flight path of the carrot fly. Companion planting works too and she alternately plants with spring onions and garlic.

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She remembers how her mother used to grow peas to disappoint raiding mice. “My mother became so angry with mice laying waste to her pea seedlings. I can still see her now filling nylon tights with compost, stuffing each leg. She’d then lay it in a piece of guttering. She smoked then, so she’d go along the whole lengths of the tights burning holes with a cigarette then planting a pea seed in each hole. They looked like deadman’s legs and the sight of her struggling to both stuff then carry each of these heavy legs will never leave me! I instead fill guttering with soil and pea seeds and when the seedlings are 2inches or so it’s then really easy to push them off the end of the guttering into the trench. I'm sure Ma was the first person to think of using guttering for this purpose.”

When it comes to herbs she doesn’t bother with seeds but instead buys small pots of curly and flat leaf parsley and prises the plants apart into pluglets which she then plants in her rosebeds.

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“They’re a bit floppy to begin with but parsley is tough enough to keep going. I do the same with salad leaves before the ones I’ve planted in the greenhouse are ready. One punnet has so many plants and varieties. For basil I buy a pot which I keep near the sink and I break off a few branches which I root in water. This way I have a constant supply.”

Bryony’s joie de vivre and the spirited way she talks and writes about growing is infectious. The same energy fills her books, her recipes, illustrations and photographs.

“Jimmy was so proud of my garden, he really loved it. For me, gardening is boundless in the joy it gives. My mother was known as ‘The Wild Woman’ and I have turned into my mother.”

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‘Grow happy, cook happy, be happy’ by Bryony Hill (£20) will be published on June 14.

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. For your copy subscribe here or buy from your local newsagent.