Q&A: Dee Sewell Talks Gardening

Dee Sewell is a community based entrepreneur based on the Carlow/Kilkenny border. Dee created Greenside Up in 2009 to help promote the grow your own ethos and raise environmental awareness. She helps people to garden using organic principles, to consider biodiversity and food waste, and to live more co-sufficient lifestyles with an emphasis on social, community and therapeutic gardening. Today we ask Dee a few questions on gardening, we hear of the lifestyle benefits of gardening and learn how and where to start with your garden.

Dee you’re a qualified horticulturist. How did you become interested in gardening?

I used to help my Dad when I was small, then when I left home, I became interested in herbs and container gardening. I found herbs such a fascinating topic, their history, usage, etc., and when I was living in rented accommodation and could move my plants with me. Also, garden centres sold the best cake, so I’d often head to cafes with girlfriends for a natter and catch up. It was hard not to be tempted to buy plants once we were inside. I returned to adult education in my 40’s to studying horticulture and since then, learning myself, and educating others has become a passion.

Can you tell us about the therapeutic benefits you and others have experienced from gardening?
There are so many therapeutic benefits from gardening and being outside in the natural environment. Almost within minutes, it doesn’t matter what mood I’m in when I go outside, I find I’m calmer and in a better headspace. I think that’s an almost universal feeling. *Studies have shown that gardening increases our life satisfaction, vigor, psychological well being, sense of community and cognitive function. Reductions in stress, anger, fatigue and depression and anxiety symptoms have also been documented. One piece of feedback from a garden participant in addiction recovery, when asked for their thoughts afterwards was: “I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, but I did. The garden, gave me solace, and made me realise what’s important in life, such as family and friends.”
How can we encourage biodiversity in our gardens?
We can encourage biodiversity with just a few steps. First, stop using chemicals. It doesn’t matter whether they’re bought or homemade, they will kill or harm the organisms around them. We can stop being tidy, leave habitats for wildlife such as nettle patches for butterflies, strips of lawn uncut for wildflowers and insects. 

We can feed the birds, plant pollinator friendly plants and create log piles for beetles and insects. There are a couple of great resources freely available if you would like to learn more: and the Gardening for Biodiversity guide by Juanita Browne,  available from Juanita Browne (naturenerd.ie)
What are the essentials of starting a vegetable garden?

The main thing is to simply start growing. After that, my number one tip is to start small. It’s easy to get carried away, but if you have too big an area for vegetables, it can become overwhelming if you’re trying to work it into an already busy lifestyle. Also, grow what you like to eat. There’s no point growing 20 cabbage heads if nobody likes it. 

Next, it’s all about the soil. Soil is more than just dirt, it’s teeming with microorganisms and thanks again to research, we’re beginning to learn about the connection between the health of the soil that our food is grown in, to our own gut and subsequent brain health. It’s a fascinating topic, but worth remembering, if we look after our soil, the soil will look after our plants. Adding lots of well rotted organic matter regularly is one way of doing that.

Can you grow vegetables if you live in an apartment?

Yes, absolutely. During the first lockdown I was following a lady on social media who was locked into her Dublin apartment. She was growing a myriad of fruit and vegetables on her balcony. From cucumbers to sunflowers, beans and herbs. The main considerations are wind, weight, sun and shade, container size and watering. I wrote more about it here How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden (greensideup.ie)

Where can we learn more?
I’ve an extensive blog over at www.greensideup.ie with over 500 gardening and lifestyle articles. The FAQ section in particular links to some of the more popular gardening and community gardening questions. I’m on most of the social media channels and all the links can be found from the website www.greensideup.ie, or you can find me on twitter and instagram @greensideup.ie  
Thanks so much to Dee for her time.
We hope this interview will inspire you to spend time gardening. Climate action comes in many forms and nurturing biodiversity with the space we have can be an action many of us can take up and enjoy. You can read more Sustainable Living Tips on our blog. Plus, Read Q&A01 with Jenny Murphy to learn more about veganism