Grow Your Own: An interview with MAC's Gardener

Thu 19 August 2021

We recently did a quick-fire interview with MAC’s new Gardener-in-residence Matt O’Callaghan, who started working with MAC in April this year.

In the lead up to EcoFest 2021, Matt discussed the benefits of growing your own and how it’s a fun, cheaper and more environmentally-friendly alternative to buying fruit and veg from supermarkets.  

Find out how you can get started growing your own and what to expect at this year’s EcoFest.

Why do you believe in growing your own?

Well, it's fun, it's healthier - because the stuff that you're eating is fresher, all the flowers etc - and it keeps things local. So, you're not using air mails meaning it's good for the planet. You incorporate exercise, get a tan...

How easy is it to grow your own? What are the main supplies needed?

Water and a willingness to give it a go. It's very easy. You don't need even need a balcony; you can do things on window sills. Just be prepared to have an adventure really.

What's your main mission as an associate of MAC?

Debbie Kermode (MAC’s CEO) asked me to come along to work on integrating the green spaces into the fabric of the building and how it works, looking at how people interact with the spaces. There's a lot of research that's shown that people are actually kind of ‘bolstered’ mentally when they're surrounded by greenery, so that's what we're hoping to do, is make it a more a greener place, quite literally.

How has MAC’s Garden advanced?

Obviously, the Pocket Garden had already been planted up by the designers, so it's been interesting seeing what things are coming up and how things are developing. Debbie just sent me a photo because a tree got so big it collapsed, and asked “What do we do with this?”

So, it's with things like that, I just need to come in and do pruning and work out how things will develop over time. But with any garden, you always sort of leave it a year before you start making any changes, just to see what's going to happen.

What's your ultimate goal for MAC’s Garden?

Well, we're very keen to work with the people who use MAC, so both the staff and visitors, because obviously it's all about engaging with them. We're hoping to set up a volunteer scheme as well so that visitors, if they haven't got their own garden or they just want to do a bit more gardening, can come along and help us develop the spaces over time.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who's thinking about growing their own for the first time, what would it be?

Don't be afraid and give it a go. Start with something easy. You can grow basil on your windowsill, and broad beans if you've got a bit of space, really, really easily. Tomatoes, flowers, anything. Grow what you want as well and not just things that you think you ought to.

What's your favorite thing to plant and why?

Artichokes, because I love them. They look fantastic. They're great for insects and they're really nice to eat. I think we don't grow enough of them in this country.

Will you be attending EcoFest this year?

I hope so yes, that’s the plan. We'll be doing something in the Pocket Garden.

Why do you think events like EcoFest are important for charities like MAC to programme?

I think it’s important for any organisation to put the environment and ecology at the heart of what it's doing, especially having seen the IPCC report this week. We've all got a responsibility to help how we can as individuals, and not be not be disheartened by the news.

MAC's Gardener Matt O’Callaghan with CEO Debbie Kermode