Growing for gold

Medwyn Williams is a name synonymous with veg growing, and with 12 consecutive Gold Medals at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he is one of the worlds foremost experts on growing and showing vegetables. Here he talks to Grapevine podcast host, Daniel Heighes

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Q: Medwyn, Queen Victoria has just turned up in a time machine and she wants the walled vegetable garden at Osbourne re-designed and you Medwyn to oversee it! She has said you can borrow the time machine to choose 3 assistants from the past or present to help plan and do the work. So Medwyn who is on your Garden Dream Team to assist you? And why?

A: What a great honour, it would be my privilege to create the best and most rewarding and colourful vegetable garden at Osbourne house. Three heroes of mine would help me achieve this -Edwin Becket was Head gardener at Aldenham House , Elstree, Hertfordshire. Edin Beckett has been my motivator in staging displays as he used to win with large stands of vegetables at London shows around the 1920- 30. My second would be Geoffrey Smith a solid Yorkshire man who had a vast knowledge of gardening in general and vegetables in particular. He used to have a television gardening programme on a Sunday afternoon that always started off with a brass band. Together with that music and his motivation and drive you could not help but dash to the potting shed or greenhouse and get growing, he was inspirational.
Last but not least, my father Owain Richard who helped me so much to gain a passion for growing vegetables. My father was a man of his square mile, shy and reserved and worked as a farmworker for most of his life. What he didn’t know about soil wasn’t worth knowing and he knew from instinct and from his father and grandfather before him how to treat the soil. The four of us would create one of the most abundantly rich and diverse vegetable garden in the land.

Q: With your new found fame working for Queen Victoria this has led to a deluge of offers! But which one do you choose Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice, SAS Who Dares Wins or Great British Bake Off?
A: It definitely wouldn’t be anything to do with dancing as I have two left feet! And as for the SAS its completely out of the question as I’m 79 next birthday! What I could be reasonably good at would be baking, I have been known to make a few mice pies around Christmas and many pancakes over the years.

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Q: Do you think horticulture/nature studies should be included in the curriculum for younger children?
A:Most definitely, it will give them a great grounding for the future and an appreciation of where their vegetables come from.

Q:We have seen an extra boom in the interest in Gardening over the last year. How do you think we can keep up the interest?
A:Not an easy question to answer – Gardening clubs are a great help in this respect as they can talk to like minded growers as well as finding out what seems to grow best in their local area. Growing your own veg and experiencing the real taste when they are harvested will get them hooked.

Q: And who have you admired most over the years for their contribution to the world of horticulture/ gardening?
A:Geoffrey Smith was my great hero when I was really getting into growing vegetables seriously. He wrote in Garden News the same time as me (I have been writing weekly in GN for the past 35 plus years) I met up with him a couple of times and the last occasion was when I staged a display at the Harrogate show where we chewed the cud over new varieties of vegetables. Sadly he died very soon after that from a severe stroke.

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Q: We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens to visit. Where would you recommend people to visit if they get the chance? And why?

A:Bodnant garden ion the Conway valley is a must see attraction, particularly when the Laburnum arch is in full flower.

Q: If you were a Fruit or Vegetable, which one do you think would best represent you? And which one would you most like to be like?
A:Probably an onion as I think they are, like myself, very versatile !

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Q: If you had to choose what would be your favourite season of the year?
A:Autumn would just about win it from spring. In the field where I have established a small nursery, and in the hedgerows, there are plenty of fruit in abundance such as elderberries, sloes, hazelnuts as well as some lovely warm autumn colours. The autumn is the start once again of another growing for showing season when I start off my leeks from bulbils or pips from the leek heads.

Q:Do you grow much fruit?
A:Not too much fruity a couple of plums and apples, a few raspberries down the land that are more or less left to their own devises also a\f few plants of strawberries in tubs.

Q:I think it’s fair to say you live and breathe vegetables, as you also run a very successful seed company? How did the move happen from grower of veg to supplier of seeds as well?
A:This was by accident over 46 years ago when I found that I had a lot of leek bulbils developing on a head as well as plenty of my fathers long carrot seed heads so I took a gamble and paid for an advert in Garden News, the rest as they say is History.

Q:What’s the week before a big show like Chelsea or Malvern like?
A:It’s very stressful and hectic whilst at the same time being very exhilarating, particularly when you pull some excellent long roots that is the first time you have set eyes on them. Constantly checking on my notes to make sure I have everything I need to complete the display, imagine arriving at Chelsea and finding out that you haven’t got the black cloths!


Q:Medwyn, I’ve entered the local garden club flower show a few times, (Couple of firsts!) but can you give us a few tips to get the judges eye?
A:My first advice would be to join the National Vegetable Society where you can then buy some DVD’s made by top growers on different kinds of vegetables. You should also get the NVS and RHS judges handbook which will explain how to prepare and arrange the vegetables. Cleanliness is important, make sure everything is fresh and clean and root vegetables to be washed in clean water.

Q:What’s your favourite veg fresh from the ground?
A:I am very lucky indeed that I enjoy every single vegetable that I grow, some of course better than others, I particularly love carrots with ‘Sweet Candle’ being a variety that I love for its sweetness. Brussels sprouts is also a favourite if they are not over cooked. My mother used to work on a farm as a maid in the big house and as the water used to come from a well they were always told to boil things well so my sprouts always landed on my plate like spinach, boiled to death! The absolute favourite though has to be the first crop of new potatoes. When I was a child my father always grew ‘Sharpes Express’, not the best cropper but certainly had the flavour particularly with butter – the only way to eat new potatoes.

Q:What are the greatest lengths or depths that you have been too in the name of growing veg?
A:The greatest lengths or challenge was growing vegetables for a display in Cincinnati Ohio USA during the month of April. We did this twice and won a Gold and Best exhibit on both occasions.

Q:I know the world of Big Veg growing can be quite competitive and secretive in the techniques but can you give any aspiring grower some good tips to grow their own mega parsnip or carrot for instance?
A:The main thing is to get the right strain or selection of whatever you are going to grow, some have the natural DNA to grow to a large size, whether it be length or weight. For the longest carrot grow ‘New Red Intermediates’ or our own selection. This selection currently holds the world record by an American grower for the heaviest carrot as well. The best long beet would be our Own ‘Long Black’ and parsnip would be any of the newer hybrids such as ‘Viking F1’. The selection of ‘Kelsae’ onion is a must for the heaviest onion, these have to be started off during late October and grown using artificial lights and heat as well as under protection of glass or polythene. Long roots are grown in long pipes on a slope. These giant vegetables are no flukes, it takes a lot of skill and dedication to grow a World Record of any species.

Follow and buy Medwyn’s seeds
Medwyn is an avid user of social media sharing his growing trials and tribulations with us . You can follow Medwyn on Twitter: medwynsofangles
For seeds visit www.medwynsofanglesey.co.uk

*If you haven’t done so do check out the September 2021 issue of Kitchen Garden magazine for more of this interview from Medwyn including some of his growing tips

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Emma Rawlings
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